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SUPER BOWL XXVII : Homecoming for These 2 Is a Big One : Cowboys: Washington and Norton, former UCLA teammates, return to Pasadena and play key roles in stopping crucial goal-line stand in first half.

February 01, 1993|JOHN WEYLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the final margin of defeat qualifies as a blowout in the NBA, it might be a bit of a reach to call any one play--or even a series of plays--the turning point of Super Bowl XXVII. But when the Dallas Cowboys' defense lined up with their backs to the goal line early in the second quarter and held their ground for four plays, it very well might have marked the beginning of another heartbreak for the Bills.

Dallas went ahead, 14-7, with 1 minute 21 seconds to play in the first quarter, but Buffalo appeared to be on the verge of getting back to even terms after Jim Kelly hooked up with Andre Reed for a 40-yard pass play that gave the Bills a first down at the Cowboy four-yard line.

"We'd been in that situation before, and we got together in the huddle and said we were determined not to let them score," safety James Washington said. "Ken (Norton) came up to me and said, 'We're going to help each other out on this, and we're not going to let them score. We ain't letting them in.' "

The former UCLA teammates, who had shared glory in the Rose Bowl in the past, made good on their promise on the Bills' first-down play. Buffalo fullback Carwell Gardner popped up the middle for three yards before Norton and Washington teamed to drag him down at the one-yard line.

"Everybody had different reasons to get it together but we were all determined to make our last game of the season our best game of the season," Norton said. "We were playing so aggressive, a special kind of football. We were going for it and we were going to keep driving and driving."

Second and one.

The Bills went to their man for all reasons, Thurman Thomas. But the player who gained more yards from scrimmage than anyone in the NFL this season came up with a big zero when he ran into Cowboy linebacker Vinson Smith. Thomas also injured his right ankle on the play, limped off the field and finished with only 19 yards in 11 carries.

Third and one.

Kenneth Davis got the ball, and this time it appeared the Bills had called the right number. But before Davis crossed the goal line, Norton straightened him up and wrapped him in a bear hug. The two players slid along parallel to the goal line for a couple of steps, almost suspended in time, before Washington came up to help make the play of his professional life.

"I've made some big hits in goal-line stands before, but never one in a Super Bowl before," Norton said, grinning. "Seven points would have really hurt us at that point. I just came across and met him straight on in the hole. We were both driving our legs as hard as we could, and I was just the stronger man on that play."

Fourth and one.

Buffalo Coach Marv Levy decided this was no time to play it safe and rejected a sure three points for a shot at seven. It was a mistake. The Cowboys hurriedly sent in another linebacker and another defensive back, figuring that the Bills would be as likely to pass as run.

It was the last great decision as a Cowboy for Dave Wannstedt, the Dallas defensive coordinator who was recently hired to replace Mike Ditka as coach of the Chicago Bears.

"We made the change at the last second to try and get some coverage in there, so we would have a good chance to play both the run and the pass," he said. "We didn't know what they were going to do, but we thought they might pass."

Seconds later, Wannstedt's educated guess was proven correct. Kelly rolled to his right and threw a pass over the middle into a congested area of the end zone. Gardner leaped for the ball and then seemed to pull his hands away at the last second, apparently believing the ball was intended for tight end Pete Metzelaars who was behind him in the back of the end zone.

Unfortunately for the Bills, safety Thomas Everett was in front of Metzelaars. Everett intercepted the pass and ran a few feet across the end zone before taking a knee and a touchback that sent the Bills away empty-hearted.

"We made nine turnovers, of course," Davis said, "but we got down to the goal line twice and got just the one field goal. And their goal-line stand early in the second quarter, when we had the chance to tie the game and we came away with nothing, that hurt us a much as anything."

The Bills' failure to score on fourth down seemed to take a back seat to Norton's play on third down of the stand. And, if this had been a closer game, maybe those four plays would have been forever recognized in pro football lore as "The Stand."

As it was, Norton's hit on Davis was described by Wannstedt as "as big a play as a player can make."

Defensive end Charles Haley, who has been a one-man, big-play highlight film during his seven seasons in the NFL, said it's wrong to discount the importance of Norton's play and the Cowboys' stand because of the final score.

"That was one of the biggest moments of Super Bowl XXVII," he said. "If they would've scored, the game would've been tied and it could have changed a lot. It would have given them a lift and it probably would have taken a little bit out of us.

"But when we stopped them, that not only jacked the defense up, but it really jacked the offense up, too. I mean, you say to yourself, 'We stopped them from getting one yard on three plays. Hey, we're pretty damned good. The Bills have a great offensive line and one of the best offensive backs in the game, so, hey, that's pretty damned good.' "

That pretty much describes the way Norton and Washington were feeling about their homecoming Sunday at the Rose Bowl. They hugged each other and traded high-fives in same tunnel under the same stands where they shared some other great moments.

"I mean me and Ken have won Rose Bowls here, and now we've won a Super Bowl here," Washington said, beaming. "I guess you can say me and Ken have shot the house."

And played a big role in shooting down the Bills Super Bowl dreams . . . again.

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