As a guy who grew up in Texas, there is one thing I can be proud of this morning: Barry Switzer is from Arkansas.
All good things come to an end, to be sure.
The Dallas Cowboys could no more be champions of the NFL for infinity than the Pistons could be champions of the NBA forever. And losing with class proved as elusive for Switzer as it did for Detroit’s infamous Bad Boys.
The book on Switzer all season was this: He’ll do fine if he stays out of the way, far enough back from the sidelines. His biggest job was not to become the obstacle the Cowboys could not clear and Sunday he became just that, then pouted and whined and blamed Dallas’ 38-28 loss on the field.
Well, on the field and the officiating.
Ah, make that the field and the officiating and his own kickers.
Wait! Make that the field, the officiating, his own kickers and his defensive coordinator.
The fault, in other words, belonged to everyone except the head coach. And you may buy that if you care to, but the most serious indictment of the Switzer method was delivered by Cowboys guard Nate Newton, who said, “The best-prepared team always wins.”
The most basic truism of the coaching profession is this: Once the game begins, players have to make plays.
And in the opening quarter Sunday the Cowboys made plays that contributed to a 21-0 San Francisco lead, with an interception and two lost fumbles.
The most a coach can do after the opening whistle is to give his team an opportunity to win, to get them in position to play for the victory. Switzer couldn’t run, block, tackle or recover fumbles, but he could have helped get his team back in the game by solid coaching, and he blew it.
On a third-and-10 from San Francisco’s 12 in the first half, the Cowboys called a draw play for Emmitt Smith. When it was smothered, they tried a field goal that was no good.
With seconds left before halftime, he had quarterback Troy Aikman throw on third down from his 17 instead of running out the clock. When the pass fell incomplete and Cowboys punter John Jett kicked just 23 yards, the 49ers scored on a pass from Steve Young to Jerry Rice with 8 seconds left for a 31-14 halftime lead.
And Switzer’s final mistake came with 6:07 left. Dallas trailed, 38-28, but Aikman was moving the Cowboys. San Francisco’s Deion Sanders interfered with Michael Irvin on a pass play but no flag fell and Switzer - rightfully indignant - stormed on the field, an action that should have brought a penalty. But the officials did not flag him until he bumped one of them and suddenly the Cowboys were facing third-and-25 from their own 42 instead of third-and-10 from San Francisco’s 43.
For Cowboys fans - heck, for any fans who admire character and class and grit - it was a difficult loss, because once the Cowboys stopped shooting themselves in the foot, they wallowed in the Candlestick Park mire and mud and made a case for themselves.
Smith played until he pulled his other hamstring. Rookie offensive tackle Larry Allen gamely tried to block somebody, anybody, despite only one good ankle. And Aikman kept picking himself up from beneath a mound of 49ers defenders and limping back into action.
And what did Switzer have to say about his guys?
Well, he called his kicking game “flat comical.” And when someone wondered about that abysmal strategy with the clock at the end of the first half, Switzer replied: “We short-punted. That’s why they got the ball. The kicking game killed us.”
And about the TD pass from Young to Rice after that short punt: “Rice, playing him one-onone, that was really smart. Know what I mean?”
And about Chris Boniol’s missed field goal: “We’re on the 17-yard line, and we can’t make it. It was a disgrace to play a championship football game on a field like this. Why didn’t the league take over and do something? They take over everything else.”
The 49ers’ victory signaled the passing of the torch to a new team of dominance in the ‘90s.
Dallas defensive lineman Charles Haley announced after the game that he was retiring, and a handful of the Cowboys’ best players - including Irvin and Alvin Harper, their best receivers - are free agents. So there will be holes to be plugged before the Cowboys play for the championship again.
And you know the worst part of all of this?
Somewhere, Jimmy Johnson is sitting, every hair in place, an irritatingly smug little smile on his face, saying: I told you so.
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