Super Bowl 48  

 

Cowboys got big boost from unlikely source in Super Bowl XXX

Beth Keiser / Associated Press
Larry Brown's two second-half interceptions helped the Cowboys secure a third Super Bowl win in four years.

It was 1996. A defensive player hadn't been named Super Bowl MVP for 10 years. Then came Larry Brown and his two interceptions against the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX, a 27-17 Cowboys win.

Hang on a second. Who was Larry Brown? Super Bowl MVPs are supposed to be quarterbacks and the running backs, right? The glamour boys. And suddenly here's Brown, a good player on a team with names that were larger than life, and he's the guy? Suddenly, everyone knew his name as well.

However, if you hear Brown tell it, the important people already did.

"To be honest with you, (my life) changed a little. People knew more of who Larry Brown was," Brown told me this week. "I started since my rookie year. If you're a starter, players and coaches in the league know who you are. When you start for six years, it's more than just one game. The Super Bowl just gave me more notoriety."

But he did have to admit there were a few perks along the way after the champagne stopped flowing.

"I went on Letterman, I did Married With Children. It was a blast. I felt like I knew what it was like to be Emmitt Smith or Troy Aikman for a month. I said 'There's no way I could live like this,' " Brown laughed.

It was quite a whirlwind for Brown, especially in a season that began with the incredible pain of losing a child who was born 10 weeks premature. Aikman was blown away, saying he couldn't fathom even returning to the field after suffering such a loss. Defensive tackle Russell Maryland said the success "couldn't happen to a better guy."

Everyone remembers Brown's MVP game because of his defensive position, and because he was a Cowboy. And, well, because everyone who saw the interceptions thought, "I could have made those plays! The passes went right to him!"

Yes and no.

"The first interception, it was windy and it got away from Neil O'Donnell. I'll call it a gift," Brown said. "The second one, we had an all-out blitz. I jumped the route and beat the receiver and beat him to the point. A lot of people blame Neil O'Donnell, but it was the receiver's fault."

And hey, if there was a Cowboy who had a better game, he would have been the MVP. But there wasn't.

Brown's first pick and his huge return set up Smith's third-quarter touchdown. The second pick late in the fourth quarter sealed the win for Dallas and officially put him in the history books as the hero. O'Donnell wore the goat horns, but as time has gone on, he's shouldered less of the blame for that last interception. Brown was correct -- Andre Hastings misread the play, cutting upfield instead of out. Hasting's mistake was compounded when Brown took a gamble on that play and went to where he thought the ball was headed.

What if O'Donnell pulls it down and waits? History could be different. But of course, he didn't.

Brown couldn't replicate his Dallas days with the Raiders, however. On the heels of his MVP performance, Brown signed a five-year, $12.5 million dollar contract with Oakland. He hurt his foot and missed most of the 1996 season, and then he was on the bench for most of the season after that.

Head coach Joe Bugel suspended him at one point for what was termed "conduct detrimental." It was ugly. The Raiders waived him after he played in just 12 games.

It's only natural to wonder how his career would have been different had he stayed in Dallas? But Brown refuses to play the "what if" game.

"Obviously you make decisions and they don't always work out," Brown said. "If I had to do it all over again -- and I can't do it over again -- but if I had to, I would look to go to an organization with maybe a little more stability.

"It was what it was and I don't have any regrets. I don't blame anybody. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. I have no regrets."

When Brown looks back at his career, it's with nothing but fondness. He played his first Super Bowl at home, with Michael Jackson (his favorite recording artist) performing at halftime. He played in (and won) three Super Bowls with Dallas. Despite his extensive big game experience, Brown didn't really know what the Super Bowl meant until after he retired.

"I had a chance to cover the Carolina [Panthers] Super Bowl in Houston," Brown said. "At that point I was doing broadcast work, and I was assigned to the losing team locker room. And that moment, that's when it all really came home to me, what this was about. I never experienced that side of it. The disappointment, the frustration, the anger."

So where's Brown now? Well, he's still a Cowboy, working for the team's broadcast department during the season. Brown also is involved in his charity work with Big Brothers & Big Sisters when he's not running a youth football league in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. That's a pretty busy retirement, but he believes in sports and academic programs for children to help teach them principles. And just this past summer, his two worlds collided.

During training camp in August, the Cowboys were set for their first outdoor practice at Valley Ranch. However, heavy rains scuttled their plans. They needed an indoor facility for the morning workout. Once again, Brown who stepped up.

Brown had booked Cowboys Stadium that day for a series of games for his football league. While he's getting set for the big day, Brown's phone rang and a pretty important person was on the other end asking if the Cowboys could use the field.

"Mr. (Jerry) Jones called me and told me ... 'I won't be upset if you say no,' " Brown said. "Obviously, I'm not going to tell Mr. Jones no." The Cowboys got to practice, the kids got to watch, and then they played their scheduled games. Everyone was happy.

Once the season began and Dallas was playing unevenly, Brown got another opportunity to shine.

"I had a chance to speak with the team this past year," he said. "I told them we won three championships, and we played a lot of close games. They're all going to be close. When you're a young team there's this sense of you have so much talent you're just going to blow through teams."

Unfortunately, that turned out to be the Cowboys' Achilles' heel: closing out contests in the final few minutes. But hey, don't blame Brown. He wasn't playing. He was just giving out advice, trying to help save the team. Again.

Jason Smith writes fantasy and other NFL pith on NFL.com daily. Talk to him on Twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.

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