This Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys will come to Heinz Field to challenge the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is a game that I always look forward to. Steelers-Cowboys has always been a rivalry that any true fan could appreciate. However, I was shocked back to reality (and reminded of my age) when a young Steelers fan asked me “what’s the big deal about the Steelers-Cowboys?”
After I finished choking on my food, I realized that his question wasn’t as silly as it initially sounded to me. I look at the rivalry from the perspective of an “old head”. To me, Steelers-Cowboys stirs up memories of Bradshaw vs. Staubach. I think of the larger than life Cowboys’ coach Tom Landry roaming the opposing sideline, while Chuck Noll manned ours with equal intensity. I think of Lynn Swann making an amazing catch in Super Bowl X. I think of Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Randy White. I think of Tony Dorsett & Franco Harris. I think about the Steelers’ tough Steel Curtain defense contrasted against Landry’s fancy “flex defense”. The Steelers were “smash mouth”. The Cowboys were high tech.
Even the aura of their towns and fans were different. Dallas had been anointed as America’s team. They had the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, who were just as famous as the Cowboys themselves. They were the rock stars of the NFL. In stark contrast stood the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers didn’t want to be America’s team. They were Pittsburgh’s team, and their players reflected that fact. They were a rough and tumble bunch led by guys like Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Mel Blount, L.C. Greenwood, and “Mean” Joe Greene. They were the personification of the blue collar town that they called home.
Twice during the 70′s these two teams met in the Super Bowl (Super Bowl X and Super Bowl XIII), and twice the Steelers vanquished their Texas rivals.
During the 90′s, the two historic rivals met again for Super Bowl glory. This time it was January 1996. Super Bowl XXX in Tempe, Arizona. Once again, the hated Cowboys came in as the media darlings. They were led by the much ballyhooed trio of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith. As with the Cowboys of old, this bunch behaved more like rock stars than football players. Michael Irvin, adorned in his fur coats and jewelry, epitomized the Cowboys. Even in my wildest imagination, I couldn’t create a player who was more of a polar opposite to everything that the Steelers stood for than Michael Irvin. He was brash, and cocky, and full of himself. He talked almost non-stop, and the media ate up his every word. He had constant brushes with the law, something that wouldn’t have been tolerated by Steeler Nation. Despite his obvious talent, Michael Irvin could never have been a Steeler.
Going into Super Bowl XXX, nobody gave the Steelers even the slightest chance of winning. Supposedly, the Cowboys were bigger, stronger, faster, and well…..prettier than the Steelers. This group of Cowboys had already tasted Super Bowl glory twice, and were looking to add their third ring in four years. The prevailing opinion was that the Steelers had no chance against the Texas juggernaut.
Of course, somebody forgot to tell the Steelers how helpless they were supposed to be against the Cowboys. Greg Lloyd, Kevin Green, Bam Morris, Yancy Thigpen, Carnell Lake, and the rest of the steel town boys came into the game with the confidence of David going against Goliath. The supposedly over-matched Steelers brought their hardhats and lunch pails and went to work. They beat the Cowboys in almost every facet of the game.
The Steelers should have won their fifth Super Bowl title, the elusive “one for the thumb”, on that day. The Steelers beat the Cowboys in just about every statistical category. However, He-Whose-Name-Is-Not-To-Be-Spoken had another idea. He threw three interceptions, two of them to an otherwise unknown Cowboys’ cornerback named Larry Brown. Those three interceptions snatched victory from the Steelers’ grasp. Larry Brown was named MVP of that game, but He-Whose-Name-Is-Not-To-Be-Spoken was really the Cowboys’ MVP that day.
The Steelers and Cowboys have met in the Super Bowl more times than any other two teams. In my opinion, That alone qualifies them as eternal rivals.
But enough of my digression down memory lane. The Steelers and Cowboys of today aren’t really rivals. I get that. They rarely play one another. Moreover, how can two teams be considered “rivals” when they don’t even play in the same division? Heck, the Steelers and Cowboys don’t even play in the same conference.
For Steelers fans who are in their early 20′s or younger, the Cowboys are just another team. They probably don’t have many memories of Super Bowl XXX, and they weren’t even born when Super Bowl X and XIII took place. They know the Cowboys more for signing problem players, like Terrell Owens and PacMan Jones, than they do as a rival for the Steelers. From their perspective, the Cowboys probably seem more like an over-hyped team that hasn’t won a playoff game since Bill Clinton’s 1st term as president. My generation will always see these two teams as rivals, but this generation? Not so much.
Going into this season, many were picking Dallas as the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Clearly, Pittsburgh is one of the best teams in the AFC. With quality quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo at the helm, both the Steelers and Cowboys should be quality teams for the foreseeable future. Perhaps they’ll even meet again in a Super Bowl someday. If that happens, then maybe today’s young fans will learn to see Steelers-Cowboys as a great rivalry, just like I do.
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