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NFL '97 / WEEK 1 | DALLAS 37, PITTSBURGH 7

Cowboys Get Their Act Together

September 01, 1997|From Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — They spent last year in controversy and courtrooms, sometimes even in handcuffs. This year, it was a player thrashing of a dormitory and a handgun charge against their coach.

With all the off-the-field problems, people were saying the Dallas Cowboys weren't what they used to be on the field.

They were right. The Cowboys might be even better.

Troy Aikman, making his 126th NFL start, gave Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart, making his first, a lesson in the art of big-play quarterbacking by throwing four touchdown passes as the Cowboys routed the Steelers, 37-7, Sunday.

So much for the rematch of the 1996 Super Bowl, in which the heavily favored Cowboys struggled to defeat the Steelers, 27-17. Pittsburgh was outgained, 380-174, in its worst defeat in Bill Cowher's six seasons as coach.

"With all of the emphasis put on things in the off-season, it was quite a road for us mentally and physically," wide receiver Michael Irvin said. "The whole object is to get back to having fun and playing football,"

Irvin, suspended for last year's opener and a magnet for some of the Cowboys' off-field problems, picked on both of the Steelers' new cornerbacks, rookie Chad Scott and Donnell Woolford, for touchdown receptions. He finished with seven catches for 153 yards.

"It's been quite a while since I had this much fun. I think you can start not loving what you do, and that's what happened," said Irvin, who considered retiring after pleading no contest to a cocaine charge.

Aikman, admittedly embarrassed by the Cowboys' numerous mental breakdowns last season when they were held to 12 points or fewer in six games, looked Super Bowl-ready by completing 19 of 30 for 295 yards with no interceptions. It was his most proficient game since he threw for four touchdowns against the Buffalo Bills in the 1993 Super Bowl.

Aikman had only 12 touchdown passes last season.

"And Troy is going to have even better days than this," Dallas Coach Barry Switzer said. "Once he and our receivers get in sync, who knows what kind of day Troy can have?"

As for Stewart, he never got into a rhythm against a Cowboy defense that constantly altered its coverages and blitz schemes, going 13 of 28 for 104 yards.

"Kordell Stewart was introduced to the NFL today," Cowher said.

The loss was the Steelers' worst since a club-record 51-0 defeat to Cleveland in the 1989 opener.

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