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Not You Again! : As Usual, Stakes Are High for Matchup Between NFC's Best, the Cowboys and 49ers

November 12, 1994|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They know each other's secrets, understand each other's dreams. They see every strength, recognize every fear. They can make each other squirm.

This being the fourth time they have met in the last three years, the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers will arrive at Candlestick Park Sunday bearing all the characteristics of aging rivals--admiration, respect, jealousy, spite.

If it is like their NFC championship game last season, there will be fists thrown--during the pregame warmups.

If it is like their regular-season game last year, one team will wilt under the pressure.

If it is like their NFC championship game two years ago, the winning quarterback will become a national hero, the losing quarterback a local disgrace.

Then again, it could be like their NFC championship game 13 years ago, the day somebody made a catch that will be remembered forever.

The Cowboys and 49ers. For the last three years, theirs has been the most important game of the NFL season whenever it was played, no matter how many times it was played. So it will be Sunday.

The Cowboys have the league's best record. Upon the 49ers' shoulder pads rest the league's biggest chips.

The Cowboys have won three consecutive times against the 49ers,twice for the NFC championship.

The 49ers have spent millions on eight new players in hopes of ending that streak.

Right now.

With aging personnel and an overweight payroll, it may be a decade before they get another chance.

"Everything we have done so far points to this game," said Ken Norton Jr., a 49er linebacker who defected from the Cowboys. "On Sunday, we will find out if this organization has bridged the gap."

In a game with as many angles as Cowboy enrollees in traffic school, only a few things seem certain:

--The teams will meet again this season. How about for a third consecutive NFC championship game on Jan. 15?

With the Cowboys leading the 49ers by one game in the conference standings, the winner of Sunday's game will probably be the home team in that matchup.

Yes, that's why the Cowboys will be playing so hard.

--The losing coach will be one step closer to coaching his last game for that team.

George Seifert of the 49ers must prove he can win a championship on something other than Bill Walsh's inheritance. His bosses figure that if he can't win it with this collection of stars, he never will.

If the Cowboys don't go to another Super Bowl, Barry Switzer might decide to go back to Oklahoma after only one pro season.

Although he has done a splendid job of keeping America's Most Wanted team focused, Switzer had no idea of the stress that has been put on his constantly sore back and incredibly shrinking ego.

--Nobody will guarantee a victory.

This happened before last year's NFC championship, when then-Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson stunned his team and infuriated the 49ers by promising the Cowboys would win.

Then he delivered.

"I'm not in that business," Switzer said this week. "I haven't had five or six Heinekens yet."

Everything else is up for grabs. Some of the interesting matchups:

MICHAEL vs. DEION

This duel will be watched by everyone. Maybe even Switzer will notice it.

Michael Irvin of the Cowboys is the best big-game receiver in the league. Deion Sanders of the 49ers is the best big-play defender.

Irvin makes his living running over smaller cornerbacks or running past the big ones. But what does he do with a guy who is both big and fast?

"Deion has everything," Irvin acknowledged this week.

In two previous games against Sanders with Troy Aikman throwing the ball, Irvin caught 11 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown.

But in only seven games with the 49ers, Sanders has already returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

Maybe they should just call it a draw, clean out their lockers, and open a jewelry store.

Advantage: Michael.

STEVE vs. CHARLES

This is the duel that will be noticed by nobody, as long as 49er tackle Steve Wallace can stop that nutty Cowboy defensive end, Charles Haley.

Haley was once a 49er, but not a happy one, judging from the time he confused a teammate's car with a toilet.

He plays the 49ers hard and loves using quarterback Steve Young as a sofa.

Advantage: Charles.

SH OLD UNIFORMS vs. NEW UNIFORMS

By special decree of the commissioner, the 49ers will be wearing their throwback uniforms for a seventh game. They are 6-0 in them.

Seifert says he is not superstitious, nor does he believe in good-luck charms or hexes. He says he is just a creature of habit. Right.

The Cowboys will be wearing their 1994 uniforms. Funny, but, in them, they are also unbeaten.

Advantage: The team that has not been ordered to spend Saturday night watching reruns of "Bewitched."

GEORGE vs. BARRY

Seifert's biggest advantage over Switzer is that Seifert actually coaches.

Seifert will have an additional edge this weekend in that Switzer will have to remain with his team on Saturday night instead of flying off to see his son, Doug, play college football.

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