For openers, opposites are top attraction Week 1 preview

"Prime Time" meets "Slash."

That will be just one of the intriguing matchups Sunday, when the Pittsburgh Steelers play host to the Dallas Cowboys in a rivalry that is almost as good off the field as on it.


The two franchises, who have combined to win nine of the 31 Super Bowls and have met in Super Bowls a record three times, are both highly successful but as different as glitzy Dallas and blue-collar Pittsburgh.

Under owner Jerry Jones, the Cowboys are a money-making machine playing in a stadium filled with luxury boxes. Jones spends his millions on bonuses to lure such stars as Deion Sanders, who will take a break from his baseball day job to defend against Kordell "Slash" Stewart, making his debut as the Steelers' quarterback.


The Steelers, by contrast, play in an old stadium in a Rust Belt city with some of the cheapest ticket prices in the league. That means owner Dan Rooney, who doesn't have Jones' oil money and heads one of the last of the old family franchises that dates to the 1930s, watches the team's spending carefully.

The result is that Steelers lose a lot of high-profile players -- Rod Woodson, Chad Brown, Neil O'Donnell and Eric Green, to name a few -- but keep reloading.

Dallas, meanwhile, is trying to show that Emmitt Smith can bounce back from a subpar (for him) 1,204-yard season, and he'll face no better test than the blitzing Pittsburgh defense. Michael Irvin, meanwhile, will try to victimize former Maryland cornerback Chad Scott, who's starting as a rookie.

The Cowboys also say Sanders can play cornerback without any training camp, although Stewart may be too young to realize that the superstar cornerback isn't supposed to be challenged.

Since NBC has the doubleheader this week, Fox can only show the Cowboys-Steelers feature game in 52 percent of the country (including Baltimore and Washington), but it deserves a prime-time showcase on Monday night.

This time, though, "Prime Time" will have to settle for Sunday afternoon.

A look at the other games on opening weekend:

Best of the rest


Chiefs at Broncos: Since seven of their past 12 meetings have been decided by four points or fewer, this is the NBC doubleheader game.

It features coach Marty Schottenheimer against his old nemesis, John Elway, although the Chiefs had won four of five before Elway beat them with three first-half touchdown passes in the second meeting last year.

L The winner of this one gets an early leg up in the AFC West.

Redskins at Panthers: The TNT Sunday night game features two teams trying to overcome off-the-field problems and an unhappy defensive player. The Redskins had to deal with the Michael Westbrook incident, and Carolina quarterback Kerry Collins, who's out with a broken jaw, apologized after allegations that he used a racial epithet that offended some of his black teammates.

Carolina released Kevin Greene after a long holdout, and Sean Gilbert is still holding out in Washington. The winner can put the problems behind it, but the loser will have to live with them.

Worth a look


Bears at Packers: Why is this game the Monday night opener? Chicago is an old Packers rival, but it can't compete with Green Bay. The question is not whether the Packers will win, but how well they play while doing it. It'll be like judging ice skating. Will the Packers get a 5.9? Green Bay has won the past six meetings.

Saints at Rams: This game is interesting because it matches two coaches back from the broadcast booth -- Dick Vermeil and Mike Ditka. The sideline cameras will be waiting to capture the first time Ditka gets mad at Heath Shuler. Shuler, meanwhile, is trying win enough games so that the Saints don't get the top pick nTC and draft Peyton Manning.

Jaguars at Ravens: Jacksonville will be trying to prove it can win with Rob Johnson at quarterback and that its playoff run last year wasn't a fluke. It's easy to forget that when these teams met the first time last year, they were on the same level with both teams at 3-6. The perceptions have changed a lot since then.

Jets at Seahawks: All the hype about this game is about Bill Parcells' Jets debut, but the game is more important to Seattle after new owner Paul Allen spent big bucks in the off-season for Chad Brown, Shawn Springs and Walter Jones.

Chargers at Patriots: This is the Patriots' first chance to show they can win without Parcells. Nobody will remember they started 0-2 last year under Parcells. They just remember the way they finished, and new coach Pete Carroll has to live with those expectations.

Colts at Dolphins: The Dolphins had lost four straight to Indianapolis before Dan Marino bombed them, 37-13, with three touchdown passes in the second meeting last year. Coach Jimmy Johnson keeps trying to develop a running game, but winds up counting on Marino's arm.


49ers at Bucs: Since the 49ers haven't lost to the Bucs since 1980, this game would usually be a rout. But the 49ers were unimpressive in the preseason and may be showing their age, and Tony Dungy is quickly building the Bucs into a team that may no longer be a doormat. That means the 49ers can't take this one for granted.

Vikings at Bills: These two teams suffered first-round exits in the playoffs last year and have quarterbacks, Brad Johnson and Todd Collins, respectively, still trying to prove themselves. It figures to be close since the four previous meetings were decided by 15 points.

Filling out the schedule

Eagles at Giants: Ty Detmer vs. Dave Brown is not exactly a memorable quarterback matchup. Bobby Hoying and Danny Kanell, both drafted in 1995, are the quarterbacks of the future for these teams.

Falcons at Lions: Two new coaches, Dan Reeves and Bobby Ross, are trying to straighten out a couple of teams with a lot of problems. Ross has one big advantage in Barry Sanders. Reeves, meanwhile, is one of the early favorites in the Peyton Manning Derby.

Raiders at Oilers: The Oilers didn't have a home-field edge as a lame duck in Houston last year and now they don't have one in Memphis because the Oilers are parking there for two years before moving to Nashville. The Oilers are starting the Steve McNair Era, and he needs to rebound from a shaky preseason.


Cardinals at Bengals: The Bengals hope to pick up where they left off last year when they finished 7-2 under Bruce Coslet. They'll be in Baltimore a week from Sunday, so they have a shot at a 2-0 start before their bye.

Vito Stellino's power rankings

1. Green Bay: If Brett Favre stays healthy, Packers will repeat.

2. Dallas: Can Emmitt Smith still carry the load?

3. Denver: John Elway has a bionic arm.

4. Pittsburgh: "Slash" shows he can play quarterback.


5. San Francisco: 49ers are starting to show their age.

6. New England: Will try to avoid a slow start this year.

7. Carolina: Are Panthers going to miss Kevin Greene?

8. Kansas City: Will Elvis Grbac break their hearts?

9. Jacksonville: It's make-or-break time for Rob Johnson.

10. Philadelphia: Ray Rhodes needs more players.


11. Miami: Jimmy Johnson may be missing Dallas.

12. Indianapolis: Jim Harbaugh needs a better offensive line.

13. Buffalo: Marv Levy is an awfully young 72.

14. Minnesota: Brad Johnson may not be the answer.

15. Washington: Michael Westbrook should have been suspended.

16. Oakland: Jeff George is no Daryle Lamonica.


17. Cincinnati: They don't miss David Shula.

18. Tampa Bay: Bucs have had 14 straight losing years.

19. Tennessee: Oilers are now a lame duck in Memphis.

20. Seattle: Paul Allen's millions didn't buy a winner.

21. Detroit: Barry Sanders needs a supporting cast.

22. Ravens: A year late, they start rebuilding.


23. St. Louis: Can Dick Vermeil salvage Lawrence Phillips?

24. N.Y. Giants: When will Dave Brown be benched?

25. N.Y. Jets: Bill Parcells can be a hero at 6-10.

26. San Diego: It has been a long fall from the Super Bowl.

27. Chicago: Rick Mirer has flopped once again.

28. Arizona: Kent Graham isn't the future.


29. New Orleans: The Heath Shuler Era may not last long.

30. Atlanta: Is Peyton Manning in the Falcons' future?

Pub Date: 8/29/97