D4 THURSDAY, JANUARY 25. 1996 SUPER BOWL THE SALINA JOURNAL T COMMENT T SANDERS-STEWART JOHN LINDSAY Scripps Howard News Service SMITH 'Swoosh, Pittsburgh will win Super Bowl The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to win Super Bowl XXX. No, I am not under psychiatric care or severe mind-altering medication. And yes, I am writing this perfectly sober. And I will point out that the last time I took to this kind of crystal-ball gazing in a big game, I wound up waxing poetically on how Florida would beat Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl. But I repeat: the Steelers will beat the Cowboys in the Super Bowl. Not only cover the 13-1/2- point spread, but win the game. Do not waste my time with the sad-sack AFC's wretched numbers in this game. I know them all. Eleven straight losses by an average of 38-16. The Bills, the Broncos, the Chargers, whoever. They all wind up like roadkill by early in the second half. The Steelers are different. Here are three reasons why: Better defense Without question, the Steel- ers' physical defense is the best unit the AFC has brought into this game since the Raiders wacked Washington, 38-9, Super Bowl XIX in 1984. Statistically, Pittsburgh's defense is actually superior to Dallas (Pittsburgh gave up 30 yards less per game, 28 of it rushing, while also holding a 42-36 edge in sacks and a 22-19 advantage in interceptions). What's more, the Steelers have the type of hard hitters such as linebacker Greg Lloyd and defensive ends Kevin Greene and Ray Seals to match up with Dallas' mammoth offensive line and contain running back Emmitt Smith. And as always, controlling Smith is the key to beating Dallas. The Cowboys were 10-1 when Smith surpassed 100 yards rushing, 4-3 when he did not. Switzer factor Barry Switzer is no more an NFL coach than Maria Maples- Trump is an Oscar-winning actress. In the Cowboys' four losses, either Switzer or his staff contributed heavily to each defeat. Aside from Switzer's two ridiculous fourth-and-short failures in a 20-17 loss to Philadelphia in December, there were other blunders. Why did Switzer kick two short field goals instead of going for it on fourth-and-short in the second half of a 27-23 October loss at Washington? Why was cornerback Deion Sanders not covering the 49ers Jerry Rice when Rice turned a quick slant pass into a long touchdown in San Francisco's rout in Dallas in November? Why was the Cowboys' defense so slow to adjust to different formations the Redskins' offense used in Washington's 24-17 win in December? Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher and his staff simply do not beat themselves. That gives them a big edge over Switzer and company. Dallas vulnerability The Cowboys are not the usually formidable NFC powerhouse. Witness two losses to the 6-10 Redskins. And the December struggles including consecutive defeats to Washington and Philadelphia followed by a last- second win over the lowly Giants (with much help from the officials). And since they did not beat the 49ers to get to the Super Bowl, Dallas is probably not even the NFC's best team. So everything is in place for an estimated 150 million Americans to enjoy a "feel-good" Super Bowl. Face it, this nation is rooting for the Steelers. There's simply so much to dislike about the Cowboys. The arrogance and selfishness of owner Jerry Jones. Switzer's lowlife reputation from his college days at Oklahoma. All of Sanders' stupid TV commercials. The way Dallas smugly refers to itself as "America's Team." This one goes to the good guys. Pittsburgh 23, Dallas 17. The Associated Press Dallas multi-talented star Deion Sanders played offense, defense and special teams this season for the Cowboys. He Is looking for his second straight Super Bowl ring. T PITTSBURGH STEELERS Stewart, Sanders both give their teams much needed versatility By DAVE GOLDBERG The Associated Press ' TEMPE, Ariz. — Kordell Stewart was in a restaurant the other night when he spied Deion Sanders at a table across the room. The man they call "Slash" walked over and introduced himself to the man who wears the Nike "Swoosh." "We just said, 'Hello. How are you?' Things like that," Stewart said Tuesday. "I wanted to meet him." An appropriate meeting, indeed. For if two players have revolutionized the sometimes predictable NFL game, it's Slash and Swoosh. Who is more versatile? Kordell Stewart or Deion Sanders? Both. "I told our coaches not to let Kordell Stewart outshine me," Sanders said. "I might play quarterback. I want to do everything Kordell does. If he punts, then I'm gonna punt." That's probably the one thing neither Stewart nor Sanders will do Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers challenge the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl. Otherwise, the two most versatile players in the NFL will provide an entertaining sideshow, even if the game, as usual, is one-sided. Stewart is the new face, drafted by the Steelers as a quarterback last April, then enlisted as a receiver .and running back. He never played either; he turned out to be a natural at both. The world knows Sanders, who likes to say, "I'm household already." The full-time baseball player won his first Super Bowl ring last season with San Francisco, then joined the Cowboys this season for $35 million, including a signing bonus of $12,999,999. Stewart, a second-round pick, was paid $240,000 to go with his signing bonus of $132,500. He certainly earned it. A quarterback at Colorado best known for a "Hail Mary" pass that beat Michigan in 1994, Stewart was considered a good prospect by al- STEWART most every NFL scout. But most wanted him as a receiver; he wanted to be a quarterback. He even hired Leigh Steinberg, agent to many of the NFL's top quarterbacks. At last February's scouting combine, Stewart even refused to work out with receivers or running backs. Early in the season, Stewart was the fourth-string quarterback behind Neil O'Donnell, Mike Tomczak and Jim Miller, working with the scout team that runs opponents' plays for the regulars. Sometimes he was a quarterback, sometimes a wide receiver, sometimes a running back. "I saw him running routes on the scout team, and I thought, 'Wo*!' said Yancey Thigpen, the Steelers' top receiver. "I asked him, 'Hey, have you ever done this before?' But he's a great athlete and he can do whatever he sets his mind to." His coaches saw the same thing. When Charles Johnson, Stewart's former Colorado teammate, was lost for the season with a knee injury, Pittsburgh needed an extra wide receiver. Stewart was it. Suddenly, the Steelers' conservative offense was wide open. Stewart would play quarterback with five wide receivers spread out, including O'Donnell. Against Cleveland, he threw his first touchdown pass; against Cincinnati, he caught a 71-yard touchdown pass; and late in the season, he began lining up as a running back. Season stats: 15 carries for 87 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown run; 14 catches for 238 yards, an average of 16.8 and five completions in seven attempts for 60 yards and a touchdown. In two playoff games, he had four more catches for 45 yards and a controversial touchdown against Indianapolis. Replay showed he stepped out of the end zone before the catch. Pittsburgh has won 10 of 11 since he started playing and 1 he became "Slash" — as in quarterback-slash- wide receiver-slash-running back. "It's the first nickname I've ever had in football," Stewart said. "I'm Slash, he's Prime Time." Prime Time was treading water while Stewart was emerging. Signed in September, he didn't start at cornerback for the Cowboys until Oct. 29 after recovering from surgery for an ankle injury incurred during the baseball season. And he didn't have the impact during the regular season that he had with San Francisco. Without dad, Bowl isn't so super for O'Donnell Pittsburgh quarterback has had tough time filling void left by his father Jack's death By ALAN ROBINSON The Associated Press TEMPE, Ariz. — He is the youngest of nine children, and 30 relatives have traveled cross country to share in his biggest moment. It is a king-sized family reunion, and the Super Bowl is its center stage. But Neil O'Donnell, whose inner strength and stubborn resistance to losing are so respected by his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates, still feels very much alone at times. Everything he has ever wanted is here — except for his mentor, his hero, his best friend, his kindred spirit. His father. "I've thought about it a lot, and I wish he could be here," O'Donnell said of his father, Jack, a retired car dealer from Madison, N. J., who died late in the 1994 season. "So I'll try to go out and win the game, and try to win T SUPER BOWL NOTES it for him." Many athletes maintain close relationships with fathers who were always there for them, from that first touchdown in Pop Warner, the ups and downs of high school football, the college scholarship. But O'Donnell's love for his dad, who was better known in their hometown as "O'D," was special because he shared it with so many others. All but one of O'Donnell's five older brothers played college football, and there were three sisters, too. Christmas was complicated in the O'Donnell household, and so were the sports seasons, too, with so many kids and so many games to watch. Jack O'Donnell made sure he watched them all. When Neil landed a scholarship to Maryland, mostly on the recommendation of Ted Monica, his brothers' high school coach, the elder O'Donnell traveled to nearly every, game. When he retired from his Buick dealership a few years later, his youngest son said, "All he wanted to do was play golf and watch me play football." But, for the final two years of Jack O'Don- nell's life, it was Neil who was forced to watch, and it often grew quite painful. A stroke in August 1992 forced his father first into a wheelchair, and, later, into a rehabilitation center, and O'Donnell agonized as his father's health, and life, deteriorated. His father could not play his beloved golf, or attend Steelers' games in person, and the thumbs-up positiveness he displayed during family visits dissipated O'DONNELL into depression soon after their departure. Just as his father was always there for him, Neil O'Donnell tried to be there for his father. He debated skipping a Steelers game when his father became gravely ill, but decided his dad would want him to play. Sometimes he flew back just for a day, even for a few hours alone with his dad, and he never gave up hope he would get well. Then, suddenly, Jack was gone, before he could watch the biggest season of his son's career, and, now, his biggest game. This has been a breakthrough season for O'Donnell, one that has elevated him into the elite inner circle of NFL quarterbacks, yet it has seemed like am empty season, too. His numbers have been excellent, and, even, sensational during the Steelers' transition from a power-oriented, run-at-all-costs offense to one driven by the pass. Not even Terry Bradshaw, armed with wide receivers named Swann and Stallworth rather than Mills and Thigpen, ever had four 300-yard passing games in a single season like O'Donnell did. O'Donnell, in fact, broke most of Bradshaw's single-season passing records despite missing an entire month with a broken right hand. "Going to four and five wide receivers and going into the hurry-up offense more has given me a chance to show off my talent," said O'Donnell, the first Steelers quarterback since Bradshaw to be voted as the team MVP. Cowboy makes pitch to Air Force Academy Henning hopes to help clear the way for Russ to play next season By Scripps Howard News Service TEMPE, Ariz. — The Air Force let Chad Hennings out of his service commitment to join the Dallas Cowboys. Now Hennings thinks the Air Force should do the same for linebacker Steve Russ, the talented linebacker Denver drafted last year. "I think it's time for him (to play)," Hennings said. "Every time my name is mentioned in the papers or in the media, or during game time, you'll see Chad Hennings: United States Air Force Academy. "It could be the same way for him: Steve Russ — United States Air Force Academy. It's a great recruiting tool not only for the Academy but also for the Air Force in general. "Eventually, that's what the service academies are going to have to do to be able to compete on an NCAA Division I level." Russ recently was denied admis- sion to flight school, which means he could be available to the Broncos for the start of the 1998 season. Russ is scheduled to spend the next two years at a military base in Dayton, Ohio. Hennings, the 1987 Outland Trophy Winner, believes the Air Force should "possibly" consider releasing a prospect from active duty immediately after graduation, although some form of duty should still be required. "They should serve in some capacity," Hennings said. "Either transfer it to a guard or reserve commitment, or serve in the off-season on weekends, or dp a few years and then be able to serve in an active reserve role." • SWITZER KEEPS IT CLEAN: Dallas coach Barry Switzer defended his "positive, upbeat" style: "I don't have to dog cuss anyone to get my message across. I do it my way. When I played and someone gave me a pat on the back, I gave them greater effort." • SPRING FEVER: Dallas defensive end Charles Haley is trying to overcome back surgery and a viral Source: NFL infection to play against the Steel- ers. Haley missed practice Monday because he was running a 101-degree temperature. Switzer said he's optimistic Haley will play Sunday, although Haley joked that it might come with a high price. "Well, I might die," he said. "Or the head man might decide not to put me out there. But otherwise, there's no question I'll play." • HELLO: Emmitt Smith finally was stopped. The' NFL's leading AP/Ed De Qasaro rusher rushed into his Scottsdale hotel room after arriving Sunday night, only to find it already occupied by a family. There had been a key mix-up at the hotel. • LOUSY NUMBERS: In two games against Dallas, both losses, Pittsburgh quarterback Neil O'Donnell has completed only 30 of 62 pass attempts and not thrown a touchdown pass. In the 1994 season- opening game, O'Donnell was especially ineffective, as the Steelers lost 26-9. "I remember it was a long day," he said. "It wasn't one of our best performances." • RAVE REVIEW: Emmitt Smith has nothing but praise for the Arizona Cardinals' training complex, which the Cowboys are using this week. "I walked in and was in awe," he said. "It's really, truly a nice facility, and those guys have something to be proud of." And the team itself? "They have a lot of work to do man," Smith said. • AD IT UP: A fans survey tied to advertising conducted by Eisner & Associates, Inc., in Baltimore, found that more viewers expect to catch "some" of the ads during this year's game but significantly fewer viewers expect to watch "most" of the 58 ads that will ah- between kickoff and the end of the game. The survey also found that just two percent of the viewing population is motivated to watch primarily because of the lure of new commercials. tf..
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