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On This Date in Sports January 28, 1996: Three in Four

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Dallas Cowboys became the first team to win three Lombardi Trophies in four years and become the second team to win the Super Bowl five times as they beat the Pittsburgh Steeler 27-17 in Super Bowl XXX at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. Emmitt Smith, who had a record 25 touchdowns in the regular season, scored twice as Larry Brown is named Super Bowl MVP with a pair of interceptions. 

After their disappointing ouster in the 1994 NFC Championship Game, the Dallas Cowboys looked to get back to the Super Bowl by signing Deion Sanders. Most expected the season to come down to a showdown between the 49ers and Cowboys again. The teams had met in the NFC Championship three straight seasons, with the winner going on to cruise in the Super Bowl. Barry Switzer was in his second season in Dallas and relied heavily on Emmit Smith, who led the league in rushing for the fourth time in five years and had a record 25 touchdowns as the Cowboys posted a 12-4 record. The Cowboys crushed the Philadelphia Eagles 30-11 in the Divisional Round but did not get a rematch with the 49ers, instead beating the Green Bay Packers 38-27 in the NFC Championship to become the first team to make it to the Super Bowl eight times. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers were the team of the 70s, winning four Super Bowls in six seasons. After not being in the Super Bowl in the 80s, they appeared on their way back with coach Bill Cowher in 1994 but were stunned at home by the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Championship Game. The Steelers were once again one of the top teams in the AFC in 1995, posting a record of 11-5. Along the way, Kordell Stewart, nicknamed "Slash," often came into the game and began to revolutionize the quarterback position. This created an awkward relationship with Neil O'Donnell, who was to become a free agent in the off-season. The Steelers crushed the Buffalo Bills 40-21 in the Divisional Playoffs. They then escaped another heartbreak, beating the Indianapolis Colts 20-16 in the AFC Championship, as Jim Harbaugh's Hail Mary pass slipped was batted away by Randy Fuller. 

The Cowboys got the opening kick off and drove down the field for a 42-yard field goal by Chris Boniol. After the Steelers went three and out, Dallas looked poised to make the game a blowout as Troy Aikman connected with Deion Sanders on a 47-yard pass deep into Pittsburgh territory. The Cowboys capitalized on the deep strike as Jay Novacek caught a three-yard pass to make the score 10-0. The Steelers faced a decision early in the second quarter and punted from the Dallas 39. Rhon Stark's punt went into the end zone for a touchback, as the Cowboys went on to add a second field goal from Boniol to take a 13-0 lead. Late in the second quarter, the Steelers got on track, scoring with 17 seconds left in the half as Yancy Thigpen caught a six-yard pass from Neil O'Donnell. 

Despite the domination by Dallas, the Steelers had a new life, trailing 13-7 at the half. Midway through the third quarter, Neil O'Donnell began his audition for the New York Jets as he was intercepted by Larry Brown. Two plays later, the Cowboys again had a two-score lead as Emmitt Smith punched it in from the one. Facing desperation, the Steelers got the ball to midfield but turned it over on downs, as the Cowboys held a 20-7 lead entering the fourth quarter. 

The Steelers would not roll over, as Norm Johnson hit a 46-yard field goal. The Steelers were able to recover the on-side-kick, and suddenly Super Bowl XXX got interesting again as Bam Morris capped the drive with a one-yard run to bring the Steelers to within three points. After Dallas failed to move the ball, the Steelers had a chance to take the lead when Neil O'Donnell was picked off by Larry Brown again. Brown returned the ball to the Pittsburgh six. Two plays, later Emmitt Smith scored as again as the Cowboys were well on their way to victory. O'Donnell would be picked off a third time by Brock Marion to end the game, as the Cowboys won 27-17.

The third meeting between the Steelers and Cowboys in the Super Bowl and the first won by the Cowboys after the Steelers won Super Bowl X and Super Bowl XIII. It was the first time in five trips to the big game that the Steelers lost. Larry Brown used the Super Bowl MVP to get a big contract from the Oakland Raiders, becoming the first Super Bowl MVP to leave his team after the game. Neil O'Donnell also would depart Pittsburgh, signing with the Jets, where he struggled for a team that would go 1-15. The Cowboys won with most of the players that Jimmy Johnson signed, they have not been back to the Super Bowl since, as Jerry Jones has been unable to duplicate the early success. It was also the first time that the Super Bowl trophy was presented on the field following the game.