In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The San Francisco 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys 38-28 in the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park. It was the third straight season that the two teams played with a shot to the Super Bowl on the line. It was at the height of the NFC’s dominance, making the game the de facto Super Bowl. The Niners took command early, scoring three touchdowns in the first eight minutes and never looked back as Steve Young erased the notion that he could not win the big game.
In 1994, the NFL was ruled by two teams, the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers. At the time, the NFC was on a run of winning 14 straight Super Bowls, most of which were complete mismatches. This had all eyes focused on the battles between the two heavyweights when they met in the NFC Championship Game in three straight seasons. The Dallas Cowboys who quickly rose from the ashes of a 1-15 season in 1989 beat the 49ers in 1992 and 1993, before beating the hilariously inept Buffalo Bills in Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII.
Following their second straight win, the Cowboys experienced turmoil as Jimmy Johnson was fired after a fight with Owner Jerry Jones over who had deserved credit for the team’s success. Jones would hand the team over to Barry Switzer, a longtime personal rival of Johnson, who led Dallas to a 12-4 record in 1994. The one game that counted most was on November 13th as the Cowboys were beaten by San Francisco 21-14 in a game that decided who would get home field in the postseason when they met again. The Cowboys easily beat the Green Bay Packers 35-9 in the Divisional Round to earn that rematch with the Niners.
All the pressure was on the San Francisco 49ers as the 1994 season began, as Steve Young needed to silence the doubters who felt that Joe Montana was not treated right in his final seasons and should have never lost his starting job. San Francisco spent the entire offseason landing veteran stars to help them finally get past the Cowboys. These stars included Ken Norton Jr., who had played with Dallas in the two previous seasons, Deion Sanders, Gary Plummer, Bart Oates, Ricky Jackson, and Richard Dent. When the season began, the Niners stumbled, losing to Montana and the Kansas City Chiefs and suffering a 40-8 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, which saw Steve Young blow up at coach George Seifert. The team would rally around Young the rest of the way, as they would win the next ten games and posted a record of 13-3. In the playoffs, the Niners easily bat the Chicago Bears 44-15 to set up the showdown with the Cowboys.
The Cowboys got the ball first in the NFC Championship Game. Just one minute into the game, the Niners had taken control as Eric Davis returned a Troy Aikman interception 44 yards for a touchdown. On the Cowboys’ second drive disaster struck again as Michael Irvin was stripped by Tim McDonald, giving San Francisco the ball at the 39. After a big fourth-down conversion, the Niners made 14-0 on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Steve Young to Ricky Watters out of the backfield. On the ensuing kickoff, Kevin Williams fumbled at the 35, setting up San Francisco again. The Niners capped the drive with a one-yard power run by William Floyd to make it 21-0. Just eight minutes into the game, the 49ers had three touchdowns off three Dallas turnovers.
Down 21-0, the two-time defending champions showed they would not go down without a fight as Troy Aikman connected with Michael Irvin on a 44-yard touchdown pass. The game would settle down from there, as Cowboys stopped the Niners and got the ball back right away, but Chris Boniol missed a 27-yard field goal attempt. Following a 34-yard field goal by Doug Brien, the Cowboys drew closer with a four-yard run by Emmitt Smith. The Niners, though had an answer as Jerry Rice hauled in a 28-yard touchdown pass, giving the Niners a 31-14 halftime, as Eric Davis intercepted Aikman’s Hail Mary at the end of the half.
After getting boat raced in the first half, the Cowboys got a break to start the third quarter as Adam Walker fumbled the kickoff, leading to a scoring drive with a second touchdown by Emmitt Smith to get back in the game. As they had all game, San Francisco answered using a long steady 70-yard drive that was capped by a three-yard run by Steve Young to extend the lead to 17 points again. With the game heading toward the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were forced to throw the ball more, taking Smith out of the equation suffering the effects of a sore hamstring. This enabled the showdown between Michael Irving and Deion Sanders to take center stage. Sanders frustrated Irvin all game and pulled down Aikman’s third interception of the game, to stop big Dallas drive and knocked another potential big pass play down, as the Cowboys complained that Sanders should have been called for pass interference.
The Cowboys would get a touchdown in the fourth quarter as Aikman connected with Irvin from the ten, but they could never overcome the early mistakes, as the Niners defense held the rest of the way. The Niners would win 8-28 to advance to Super Bowl XXIX, where they defeated the San Diego Chargers 49-26.