Aikman’s 4 TD Passes Highlight 37-7 Victory In Cowboys’ Final Visit To Three Rivers
Troy Aikman didn’t mince words about the fact that the 1996 season was something less than enjoyable for the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback. During a long, tedious slate filled with untimely suspensions and lackluster execution, Aikman endured his worst season since his rookie campaign of 1989, tossing 12 touchdowns against 13 interceptions on the way to his team being bounced by Carolina in the Divisional playoffs. It was only after contemplating retirement that Aikman decided to return for the 1997 season.
What was received as good news for the Cowboys in early spring turned into an afternoon of bad news for the Pittsburgh Steelers on opening day. To begin his ninth NFL season, Aikman looked to be every bit the quarterback that led the Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles from 1992-95, passing for 295 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-7 rout of the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium.
The Cowboys, quite possibly for the first time since their Super Bowl XXX triumph over Pittsburgh twenty months previous, appeared to be in championship form from top to bottom. The offensive line handled the Steelers’ zone blitzes, providing Aikman a clean pocket to operate from, and the defense made life miserable for Pittsburgh quarterback Kordell Stewart. Making his first NFL start, Stewart completed just 13-of-28 passes for 104 yards.
“We’re more focused around here than we’ve been in a long time,” said Cowboys All-Pro safety Darren Woodson, the unquestioned defensive captain. “This was strictly business.”
It was the business-like Aikman who began carving up the Pittsburgh secondary early in the second quarter on the way to breaking a scoreless tie. A 31-yard completion to new Dallas wideout Anthony Miller down the middle of the field beat a Steeler blitz and put the Cowboys in scoring position. Then, on third-and-7, it was Aikman finding Miller again over the middle, this time in the end-zone for a 12-yard touchdown to cap a 10-play, 81-yard march.
On the next Dallas possession, Aikman looked deep for Michael Irvin, who had slipped past cornerback Donnell Woolford with a double-move along the right sideline. The high, arching pass dropped in perfectly at the 2-yard line, and allowed Irvin to fall across the goal-line to put Dallas ahead 14-0 with 5:12 remaining in the first-half.
Little did the Steelers know that the Aikman-to-Irvin connection was just getting warmed up. With 42 seconds before intermission, Irvin broke free of rookie cornerback Chad Scott, and Aikman delivered again for a 55-yard gain. That big play led to a 52-yard field-goal by Richie Cunningham just before the gun.
The beatdown continued early in the third quarter. On second-and-11 from the Steeler 15-yard line, Aikman lofted a pass for Irvin in the back left corner of the end-zone. This time Scott was in good position to defend the pass, but proved to be no match for the leaping Irvin, who snared the ball with two hands and brought it in to make the score 24-0. Irvin’s second touchdown of the game tied his total scoring mark from the previous season, while also moving him past Sterling Sharpe on the NFL’s all-time receptions list (586).
Aikman’s fourth and final scoring pass of the day later in the frame went to fullback Daryl “Moose” Johnston on a swing pass in the red-zone. The 13-yard touchdown gave Dallas a 34-0 advantage, and sent many of the Steeler faithful heading for the exits. Also, it gave the Cowboys 17+ points in two different quarters of the same game for the first time since Thanksgiving Day of 1994, when Jason Garrett orchestrated a franchise-record 36-point second-half outburst to overtake Green Bay.
So comfortable was the margin during the final quarter that even Aikman couldn’t help but flash a few smiles over on the Dallas sideline. It was a fitting end to a fun day of football that had the Cowboys, and their fans, dreaming of another possible title run.