Super Bowl XXVII (Bills vs. Cowboys): An Ultimate Recount of the Game

Today we have Super Bowl XXVII, which was held on January 31, 1993, at the Rose Bowl in beautiful Pasadena, California, between the third-time AFC champion Buffalo Bills and the record-setting sixth-time NFC champion Dallas Cowboys. If you’re looking for the full story of this 1992 season, pick up my Nifty Nineties book and you’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know about that year and the rest of the nineties.

As always, we have a pop quiz, and then homework at the end of the episode. The pop quiz question for today is this: the teams in this Super Bowl combined for 69 points, tying it with Super Bowl XXXVII for the third-most points in Super Bowl history.

What were the only other two Super Bowls to have more points? Here’s a hint: one of them came shortly after this one, while the other one happened just a few years ago. The answer will come near the end of the podcast.


Prelude to Super Bowl XXVII

The Buffalo Bills had won the last two AFC Championship Games, but both of those came at home. This time, the Bills entered the playoffs as a wild card team despite starting the season 4-0 and 9-2. A late-season collapse, including a season-ending 27-3 loss to Houston, dropped them into the #4 seed in the AFC, with Miami winning the AFC East instead.

Starting quarterback Jim Kelly went down with an injury in the wild card game, also against Houston, who took a 35-3 lead early in the third quarter. That’s when backup quarterback Frank Reich led the greatest comeback in NFL history, bringing the Bills back to put the game in overtime, tied at 38. A Steve Christie field goal won the game in the extra session, and the Bills became the first (and only) team to recover from a 32-point deficit to win a game.

The Bills then visited the #1-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers, and they cruised by them 24-3. They went to Miami for the AFC Championship Game, and they came away with a 29-10 victory to punch their ticket to their third straight Super Bowl.

Kelly’s numbers weren’t all that great: 23 touchdowns to 19 interceptions and a passer rating of just 81.2. He did throw for 3,457 yards, 913 going to receiver Andre Reed. Running back Thurman Thomas followed his MVP season with another great one: 1,487 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground, and 58 catches for 626 yards and three more touchdowns.

Receivers James Lofton and Don Beebe also both were over 500 yards receiving.  As for the Dallas Cowboys, they were only three years removed from going 1-15. In 1992, they started out 3-0 and 8-1. They went on to finish 13-3, winning the NFC East. The Cowboys easily dispatched of the Philadelphia Eagles 34-10 before an epic showdown in San Francisco against the #1-seeded 14-2 49ers.

The Cowboys came away with a 30-20 victory on the road, and head coach Jimmy Johnson had his team in the Super Bowl in only his fourth year at the helm.
Johnson had put together an All-Star lineup by drafting and trading better than anyone else. He had quarterback Troy Aikman from a #1 overall pick, and Aikman threw for over 3,400 yards and 23 touchdowns in 1992.

He had running back Emmitt Smith, who rushed for 1,713 yards and 18 touchdowns. He had receiver Michael Irvin, who caught 78 passes for 1,396 yards and seven scores. And he had a defense that was the most underrated unit in the whole league. Not a single Cowboy defensive player was selected to the Pro Bowl. They were about to unleash their revenge on the NFL for overlooking them.

Super Bowl XXVII: First Quarter

This Super Bowl was the final one to be contested at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. After this game, every subsequent Super Bowl has been at a home stadium of one of the teams in the NFL. To toss the coin was Buffalo Bills legend O.J. Simpson.

This being 1993, Simpson was one of the most respected and celebrated former players of all time. He was an extremely popular choice for this honor, judging by the fans’ reaction at the Rose Bowl. Of course, we all know what happened in the near future.

Kelly threw to a wide-open Reed on the first play of the game for 14 yards. That would be the only first down on this drive, and the Bills punted. Special teams ace Steve Tasker made the tackle of receiver Kelvin Martin on the return at the 15. The Cowboys then went three-and-out.

Punter Mike Saxon had his punt blocked by who other than Tasker, and the ball went out of bounds at the 16. “Oh, my!” NBC announcer Dick Enberg cried, perhaps thinking this Super Bowl was going to go different from the two before.

And perhaps he was right. Kelly was sacked by defensive end Charles Haley, and Bills tackle Will Wolford, fell on the ball. That would have forced a kick, but the Cowboys were called for holding on the play. Given another chance, Thomas ran it in from two yards out, and the Bills took a 7-0 lead.

Aikman threw to tight end Jay Novacek for nine yards, and Smith picked up the first down from there to the 40. Smith then had a run for another first down wiped out by an illegal formation penalty. The Cowboys were forced to punt again, and this one went for a touchback.

Dallas defensive tackle Leon Lett was called for roughing the passer on first down, then Kelly fired to Reed for 21 yards to midfield. In a play that no one would remember by the end of the game, Cowboys defensive back James Washington picked off a Kelly pass to end Buffalo’s chances at taking a multi-score lead.

Aikman threw to Irvin on third down for 20 yards. Smith gained a first down on a draw play after a measurement. Aikman then fired to the end zone for Novacek, and the two connected for a 23-yard touchdown. The Cowboys tied the game at seven apiece.

On the very first play of the new Bills possession, Haley sacked Kelly and knocked the ball out, right to defensive tackle Jimmie Jones. He returned it two yards for a touchdown, and the Cowboys took a 14-7 lead. The 21 first-quarter points marked the most points in a first quarter of a Super Bowl ever.

Super Bowl XXVII: Second Quarter

After a good kickoff return, running back Kenneth Davis ran for a first down into Dallas territory at the 44. Kelly then found Reed for a 40-yard gain down to the 4. In a scene similar to that in Super Bowl XVI, the Cowboys defense stiffened and wouldn’t let the Bills into the end zone.

Fullback Carwell Gardner, Thomas, and Davis were all stopped short of the goal line. Bills head coach Marv Levy chose to go for it, but Kelly threw an interception in the end zone to defensive back Thomas Everett, and the Cowboys got a touchback out of it.

Aikman threw to Novacek for a first down and scrambled for a first down himself afterward. The Cowboys had to punt, though, and Buffalo got the ball back at their own 15. Davis ran the ball on three straight plays, getting a first down and moving the ball out to the 33.

On the next play, Kelly injured his knee, and he was in excruciating pain. He had to come off the field and be carted back to the x-ray machine. His day was over. Reich came into the game, hoping to lead a similar comeback to the one he had earlier in the month.

He threw to tight end Pete Metzelaars for a first down at the 40, and then to Reed for another first down at the 22. Davis took a reverse down to the 12 for still another first down. However, the Bills couldn’t get it into the end zone, and they settled for a 21-yard Christie field goal to make it 14-10.

The Cowboys wasted little time in responding. Aikman threw to Smith for six yards and to Novacek for a first down. Smith then busted off a 38-yard run down inside the Buffalo 20. After the two-minute warning, Aikman fired to Irvin for a 19-yard touchdown, giving Dallas a 21-10 lead.

Thomas fumbled on a pass reception immediately following the touchdown, with Lett stripping the ball, and Jones recovering. It took Dallas just one play to take advantage. Aikman gunned the ball to Irvin again, who caught it for an 18-yard touchdown to put Dallas up 28-10.

Reich threw a long pass that was intercepted by defensive back Larry Brown, marking the Bills’ fifth turnover of the first half. The Cowboys tried to score before the half, with Aikman throwing to Irvin for a first down at the Buffalo 45 with 12 seconds left. But Smith got tackled in bounds on the next play, and the clock ran out, with Dallas up by *only* 18.

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    Super Bowl XXVII: Third Quarter

    Smith got the ball to start the second half, and he ran twice to get a first down at the 39. Aikman threw to fullback Daryl Johnston for seven yards, then to a wide-open Irvin for 24 more. Smith ran for seven, before going for a first down. Next, Aikman went down the sideline to Irvin for another first down at the 7.

    It looked like the Cowboys were about to put the game away, but Aikman couldn’t find Novacek on third-and-goal. They settled for a 20-yard field goal by kicker Lin Elliott, and they increased their lead to 31-10.

    The Bills got just one first down before having to punt again. Kelvin Martin, nicknamed “K-Mart,” returned the kick 30 yards to the 42. “Almost a blue-light special!” NBC announcer Bob Trumpy said. Aikman threw to Novacek for a first down at the 45, but Smith was stopped on a third-down run a few plays later, and the Cowboys had to punt.

    Davis ran for a first down past midfield, then Reich threw to Reed for a new set of downs at the 37. Two plays later, after being pushed back to the 40, Reich rolled out to his right and threw a pass at the last possible second before going past the line of scrimmage. He found a wide-open Don Beebe in the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown, and on the final play of the third quarter, the Bills had cut the deficit to just 31-17.

    Super Bowl XXVII: Fourth Quarter

    The Cowboys were forced to punt, but so were the Bills, and the Cowboys got the ball back at their own 43. Smith plowed up the middle for 12 yards, then Aikman went play action. He found receiver Alvin Harper down the right sideline for a 45-yard touchdown. The Cowboys now had a 38-17 lead, and the game was pretty much settled.

    But after this, the Bills would just keep on turning the ball over and over. First, Reich threw an interception, this one also going to Everett, who returned it to the 7. After a sack by Bruce Smith, Emmitt Smith ran in a draw play from ten yards out to give Dallas a 45-17 advantage.

    It got worse. Reich fumbled a shotgun snap and never got a handle on it. Instead, linebacker Ken Norton Jr. picked up the loose ball and returned it nine yards for a touchdown. 52-17, Dallas. Only a play later, Reich threw a pass to Tasker, and even he fumbled. Jimmy Johnson put in all his backups now, and they ended up fumbling as well.

    But then came the play everyone remembers. Reich fumbled, and Leon Lett picked up the ball and headed toward the end zone. He began to celebrate before crossing the goal line, and Don Beebe came out of nowhere to slap the ball out of his hand to save a touchdown. It was a significant play; had Lett scored, the Cowboys would have held the all-time scoring record in a Super Bowl with either 58 or 59 points. Instead, the Cowboys had to settle for 52, and a 35-point margin of victory.

    Super Bowl XXVII: Aftermath and Awards

    Troy Aikman was named Super Bowl Most Valuable Player for his 273 yards on 22-for-30 passing and four touchdowns. His passer rating was a stellar 140.7. I can’t argue with that pick at all.

    However, if there was someone who deserved the “second-best” player award, it would be a tight pick between Michael Irvin, who had six catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns, or Jimmie Jones, who recovered two fumbles and returned one for a touchdown. I’ll allow the two of them to share the award.

    The most valuable player on the losing team? I’m going with Beebe. Not only did he slap the ball out of Lett’s hand to prevent the Cowboys from running up the score any further, but he also caught two passes for 50 yards and the Bills’ second and final touchdown. His decision to not give up and instead play all out to the bitter end was not lost upon NFL fans. Beebe became somewhat of a folk hero after this game.

    The least valuable player was Thurman Thomas. 11 carries for 19 yards. That’s putrid. Especially from a guy who won the league MVP a year before. Thomas failed to show up for the big game, and as a result, the Bills were destroyed by Dallas.

    The biggest play of this game was the fumble forced on Kelly down at his own goal line by Charles Haley. The ball came out, went right to Jones, and he raced in for an easy touchdown. That play put the Cowboys firmly in front, and they wouldn’t give up the lead again.

    But the biggest play no one remembers is Washington’s interception with the Bills leading 7-0. Who knows, if the Bills go up 14, do they end up making a game of this? Or would the game have ended 52-24? We’ll never know. What we do know is that there were 69 total points scored in this Super Bowl. Only two have had more: XXIX with 75 points and LII with 74. That’s the answer to today’s pop quiz question.

    The best player you don’t remember is Everett. He had that interception in the end zone with the Bills threatening to score at the goal line. Instead, Everett picked off the fourth-down pass, gave Dallas the ball at the 20, and turned the game in Dallas’s favor. Everett had 21 regular-season interceptions in his career, spent mostly in Pittsburgh, but also for two years in Dallas and then two unfruitful years in Tampa to close out his career.


    Assigning homework is getting harder and harder because while the older games have lots of books about them, these ones are a little too new for books. Nevertheless, I’m going with Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys Dynasty. 

    Obviously, when it comes to a dynasty, the books are going to be about more than just this one season, but that’s a good thing for you because you can read up on the next Super Bowls in advance. And you may find this book interesting for non-football reasons, too.

    Did you like Dallas vs. Buffalo? Because we’re doing it again in two weeks. Super Bowl XXVIII comes up next, with the same two teams, the same two announcers, the same television network, and the same result.

    If you want to read more about these teams, buy my book Nifty Nineties: The Stories of an Amazing Decade in Pro Football HistoryOr, if you’re into college football, buy my book Penn State Bowl Games: A Complete HistoryYou can find links to both these books and others at

    This is our final episode of 2021. I hope you had a better year than in 2020, and I hope 2022 is better than 2021. Until 2022 and the next Cowboys-Bills Super Bowl, this is Tommy A. Phillips signing off. So long!

    Lombardi Memories is a show that takes you back in time, into January or February, to the greatest one-day spectacle in all of sports. This is the every-other-Tuesday podcast that looks back at each and every one of the 50-plus Super Bowls and tells the story of who won and why.  Tommy A. Phillips is your host on this Super Journey.  He’s an author of multiple NFL books.  You can purchase below.

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