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

Today we have Super Bowl XXVIII, which was held on January 30, 1994, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, between the record-setting fourth-consecutive-time AFC champion Buffalo Bills and the seven-time NFC champion Dallas Cowboys. If you’re looking for the full story of this 1993 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.

For this episode, I have to start with tragic news. John Madden, famed coach, broadcaster, pitchman, and video game icon, passed away at the age of 85 this week. I can’t think of anyone else who meant as much as he did for football. George S. Halas and Pete Rozelle are the only people I can think of who have made as much of an impact on the game as him. For that reason, I’d like to hold a moment of silence in honor of him.

As always, we have a pop quiz, and then homework at the end of the episode. The pop quiz question for today is this: before the Buffalo Bills went to four straight Super Bowls, who was the last team to go to four or more consecutive NFL Championship Games? The answer will come at the end of the podcast.


Prelude to Super Bowl XXVIII

1993 was a “revenge tour” for the Buffalo Bills. They played all three teams who had beaten them in the Super Bowl in the first half of the season. First, they got by Dallas 13-10, then they beat the Giants 17-14. They followed that up with a 24-10 win over the Redskins, on their way to a 7-1 start. They stumbled at midseason with a 1-3 stretch, but they won their final four games to finish at 12-4.

In the playoffs, the Bills defeated the Raiders 29-23 to advance to the AFC Championship Game at home. They faced the Kansas City Chiefs and their new quarterback Joe Montana. In what proved to be Montana’s final championship game, the Bills knocked him out of the game on their way to a 30-13 victory. They were on to their fourth straight Super Bowl.

It was another banner year for quarterback Jim Kelly. He threw for 3,382 yards and 18 touchdowns, though he also was mistake-prone, throwing the same number of interceptions as touchdowns. Running back Thurman Thomas was Pro Bowl-bound again, rushing for 1,315 yards and six touchdowns.

The Bills had four receivers who went over 500 yards receiving: Andre Reed, Bill Brooks, tight end Pete Metzelaars, and Don Beebe. They also had the best special teamer in the league, Steve Tasker, who was selected to the Pro Bowl once again.

The Dallas Cowboys were coming off a Super Bowl win, and running back Emmitt Smith wanted to be paid accordingly. Owner Jerry Jones refused. Smith held out into the regular season, and the Cowboys lost their first two games. Jones finally relented and got out the checkbook for Smith.

The results were overwhelming: Smith went on to lead the league in rushing and be named MVP. The Cowboys won their first seven games with Smith back, then lost two in a row, including a bizarre loss against Miami on Thanksgiving Day. They finished the season with five straight wins, including an overtime win against the Giants that clinched the #1 seed in the NFC.

The Cowboys got Green Bay in the first round, and they won that one 27-17. Going into the NFC Championship Game at home against San Francisco, head coach Jimmy Johnson called into a radio show and guaranteed a win. The Cowboys lived up to his hype, defeating the 49ers 38-21 even though quarterback Troy Aikman was knocked out of the game with a concussion. It was Dallas vs. Buffalo for the second straight year in the Super Bowl.

As previously stated, Smith led the league in rushing, going for 1,486 yards despite missing the season’s first two games. He rushed for nine touchdowns and averaged 5.3 yards per attempt. Receiver Michael Irvin caught 88 passes for 1,330 yards for a Pro Bowl spot. Tight end Jay Novacek was also selected to the Pro Bowl after catching 44 balls for 445 yards.

Fullback Daryl Johnston was another Pro Bowl pick, catching 50 passes from Aikman. And of course, Aikman was in the Pro Bowl, having passed for 3,100 yards and 15 touchdowns with only six interceptions.

For the first time in Super Bowl history, the same two teams met in the big game for two straight years. Also, for the first time since Super Bowl II, the same network broadcast two games back-to-back.

NBC won a sealed bid for Super Bowl XXVIII, meaning that they’d get two Super Bowls in a row after having swapped spots with CBS for the previous Super Bowl. Dick Enberg and Bob Trumpy were on the call again, with this being Enberg’s sixth Super Bowl as lead play-by-play announcer.

Super Bowl XXVIII: First Quarter

For the 25th anniversary of his amazing Super Bowl III victory, Joe Willie Namath was chosen to toss the coin at this Super Bowl. His toss came up tails, and the Cowboys won and chose to receive. Kevin Williams returned the opening kickoff 50 yards all the way to midfield, and Aikman got the Cowboys immediately into field goal range with a pass to an open Irvin at the Buffalo 28.

Surprisingly, Jimmy Johnson chose to throw on two out of the next three plays, and the Cowboys did not get another first down. Kicker Eddie Murray made a 41-yard field goal, though, and the ‘Boys started off up 3-0.

Kelly completed an 11-yard pass to Reed to get the Bills moving. Thomas then caught a short pass and went 24 yards into Dallas territory at the 39. Running back Kenneth Davis got it further to the 36, but Kelly’s next two passes fell incomplete. Kicker Steve Christie came out to try a 54-yard field goal, and he hit it right down the middle. It was the longest field goal in Super Bowl history, and it still is today! The score was tied, 3-3.

Bills defensive tackle Jeff Wright sacked Aikman to end the next Dallas drive. The Bills took over after a John Jett punt at their own 42. On the first play of their new possession, Kelly shoveled the ball forward to Thomas. He caught it briefly before losing possession. Defensive back James Washington knocked the ball out, and Darren Woodson recovered for the Cowboys. It was ruled that Thomas had the ball long enough for it to be considered a catch, and the ball went over to Dallas.

Smith caught a short pass for a first down at the Buffalo 39, then Aikman went to receiver Alvin Harper for another first down at the 15. Williams took a reverse down inside the 10, but that’s as far as the Cowboys would go. They settled for a 24-yard Murray field goal to go up 6-3.

Kelly threw to Metzelaars for a first down at the 34, but a couple of incompletions led to a punt. Punter Chris Mohr was run into on the kick by defensive back Dave Thomas. That gave Buffalo a first down. Back out on the field, Kelly threw to Beebe for a first down at the Dallas 43.

Reed caught a pass at the 34, but he went down with an injury as the first quarter ended. The second quarter began with Davis rushing for a pair of first downs. Thomas capped off the drive with a four-yard touchdown run, and the Bills led the Cowboys 10-6.

Super Bowl XXVIII: Second Quarter

Aikman started the next drive with a 15-yard pass to Irvin. Smith burst through a hole for 13 yards, but the ‘Boys couldn’t get another first down. Jett punted it down to the 1. Kelly started the new drive with a 19-yard pass to Reed, who was back in the game after coming out briefly.

Kelly then went to Brooks for a first down at the 31, and Thomas followed with a run for a first down at the 42. The Bills tried the shovel pass again, and this time it worked; Thomas got a first down at the Dallas 47. Kelly’s next three passes fell incomplete, forcing Mohr back on the field to punt.

Tasker ran down and downed this punt at the 1, meaning that the Bills went from their 1 to the Cowboys’ 1. Tasker continues to get the shaft when it comes to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he showed how important a good special teamer was. The Cowboys took over deep in their own territory.

The Cowboys began a good drive. Aikman threw to Irvin for a first down past the 15. Johnston caught one to get a first down at the 27. Aikman then went to Irvin and Novacek, getting a pair of first downs, as the Cowboys got to the 44 at the two-minute warning.

Next, Aikman fired to Novacek for a first down at the 48, followed by Smith rushing for ten more yards. The Cowboys looked like they were going to go 99 yards, but it all ended when Aikman threw an interception to defensive back Nate Odomes. He returned it to the Dallas 48.

The Bills added to their lead, starting with Thomas catching a pass and breaking tackles for 13 yards. Kelly then found a wide-open Reed for a first down at the 12. The Bills weren’t able to get a touchdown, however, after trying a curious shovel pass on the last offensive play, but Christie hit a 28-yard field goal before halftime to put them up 13-6 at the break.

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    Super Bowl XXVIII: Third Quarter

    The game turned on its head three plays into the second half. That’s when Thomas had the ball knocked out of his hands by defensive tackle Leon Lett. Washington picked it up and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown. Just like that, the Cowboys had tied the game up at 13.

    From there, it was obvious that the fumble had broken the Bills’ spirit. You could tell in their body language; they knew they were going to lose. They went three-and-out on their next drive, with Jim Jeffcoat and Charles Haley combining for a sack of Kelly to force a punt.

    The Cowboys then took it to the Bills, having Smith carry the ball on seven of the next eight plays. He simply ran right over the Buffalo defense, rushing for 61 yards on those seven rushes. On the final one, he went 15 yards for a touchdown, breaking a tackle as he went. The Cowboys were up 20-13, and even though they were only up seven, this game was practically over.

    The Bills got a couple of first downs on their next drive, but Thomas was not out on the field. The official reason was “cramps,” although you had to wonder how much it had to do with his fumbles. After a rush by Davis and a catch by Brooks for first downs, the Bills eventually had to punt, and Mohr got away only a 22-yard kick that gave the Cowboys the ball at the 23.

    Super Bowl XXVIII: Fourth Quarter

    Now, the Cowboys didn’t score immediately. In fact, they punted on their next two drives. But the important thing was that Buffalo’s offense was in an utter tailspin. Just as the fourth quarter began, Washington intercepted a Kelly pass and returned it to the Buffalo 34. That was the final nail in the Bills’ coffin. Smith caught a pass for a first down and ran the ball six times on the next drive, scoring from one yard out on the final one of those carries, and the Cowboys went up 27-13.

    Kelly picked up one first down before the Bills were forced to punt again, thanks to a sack by Jimmie Jones. Now it was utter torment for Buffalo. With the NBC cameras constantly showing an upset Thurman Thomas on the sideline, the Cowboys crawled down the field, picking up first downs and eating up clock.

    After the Bills had used all three timeouts, Smith had a chance to score his third touchdown of the game. He was tackled short of the goal line, keeping him from setting a new Super Bowl record. That was the only victory the Bills could get. Murray kicked a 20-yard field goal, making it 30-13, and this one was over.

    The Bills went on a long drive, finishing up the game with a bunch of yards but no points. When Beebe ran out of bounds on a fourth-down catch short of the sticks, the Bills turned it over on downs. Cowboys backup quarterback Bernie Kosar took the final knee, and the Cowboys had won their second straight Super Bowl by a 30-13 margin.

    Super Bowl XXVIII: Aftermath and Awards

    Emmitt Smith was an easy pick for Super Bowl MVP – he rushed 30 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns. But maybe he was too easy a pick. The MVP goes to the offense so many times, that it’s no surprise Smith got the nod. However, if I were to pick the guy who had the best day overall, it had to be James Washington.

    He had an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble return for a touchdown. He was the biggest reason the Cowboys came back from that halftime deficit and took total control of the game. Smith put the game to rest, but it was Washington who made the difference in the comeback.

    Who was the most valuable player on the losing team? I have to go with Kelly. He threw for 260 yards on 50 pass attempts, and while he didn’t get the ball into the end zone, he at least kept the Bills competitive for a half.

    Unfortunately, you could tell in the second half that Kelly’s spirit was broken from all the Super Bowl losses. His body language gave that away. He put up a fine performance, but ultimately it was just not enough against a superior Dallas team.

    As for the least valuable player, that has to be Thomas yet again. He fumbled twice, losing both, and turned the game in Dallas’s favor. If Thomas doesn’t fumble, perhaps he’s the most valuable player, because he scored Buffalo’s only touchdown.

    Of course, that probably means that the Bills would have won and that he scored more than just that one touchdown. As it was, though, he fumbled the game away for Buffalo, and he knew it. It was truly sad to see him on the sidelines beating himself up for his team’s loss. He truly deserved better.

    The play of the game was Washington’s 48-yard fumble return for a touchdown. If the Bills just get a couple more first downs from there, they score another three points and go up by ten. Then who knows what happens?

    But Thomas had the ball knocked out by Lett, Washington returned it for a touchdown, the game was tied, and all the momentum went in Dallas’s favor. By the way, the popular opinion amongst the analytics guys is that there is no such thing as momentum. I challenge you to watch this game and still believe there’s no such thing because the momentum shift was so obvious and so great that there was no denying it.

    The biggest play no one remembers is one that made no sense; a shovel pass to Thomas at the end of the first half with time running down. Why didn’t the Bills go for the end zone there? A touchdown makes it 17-6.

    Instead, they went with a meek little shovel pass to Thomas that picked up only a couple of yards before calling a timeout for a kick. The field goal was automatic at that point with Christie as kicker. But head coach Marv Levy was too conservative, and you have to wonder if those four potential points would have led to a Buffalo victory.

    The best player no one remembers? How about Jim Jeffcoat of the Dallas defensive line? He had half a sack, and he had a big influence on the way the Cowboys shut down the Buffalo offense in the second half. Jeffcoat may not have been the one with the biggest impact, but all the other guys you do remember from the Cowboys, so I had to go with one that you wouldn’t think of.


    The Bills lost their fourth consecutive Super Bowl, and they haven’t been back to the big game since. The last NFL team to lose at least three consecutive NFL championships was the New York Giants from 1961 to 1963. But the pop quiz question is about which team played in at least four straight title games.

    That team was the Cleveland Browns, who played in the NFL Championship Game six consecutive years from 1950 to 1955. Yeah, beat that, Tom Brady. The only team to come close to that was the Giants, who managed to lose five NFL title games in six years from 1958 to 1963, but they failed to reach the title game in 1960.

    For homework, I’m going with America’s Team: The Authorized History of the Dallas Cowboys by Jeff Sullivan. It tells you pretty much everything you’d ever want to know about the Cowboys. It’s also very big and very heavy. 

    I got it for $2 at a used book sale; on Amazon it’s going for nearly $200. I’m sure you can find it cheaper than that, but it is worth a hefty price given how big it is.

    No more Buffalo Bills starting next episode. No, instead, we’ll have an even more hapless team – the San Diego Chargers, who epitomized everything about the AFC’s losing streak in Super Bowls, which reached ten straight years with this Buffalo loss.

    They are going to go up against the San Francisco 49ers, looking to become the first team in Super Bowl history to win 5 titles. This time around, though, there’s no Joe Montana; he got eliminated in the wild card round with the Chiefs.

    No, instead, it’s Steve Young claiming his spot in NFL history. Super Bowl XXIX between the Chargers and 49ers is next!

    Until then, you can find out all about these games with my book Nifty Nineties on 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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