Wednesday’s What If…? Jerry Fails to Sign Deion in 1995
The one player who might have stood between the Dallas Cowboys and their third consecutive Super Bowl title in 1994 was cornerback Deion Sanders. “Prime Time” played in 14 games in San Francisco, and he turned in one of the dominant defensive performances in NFL history by picking off six passes and returning three of them for touchdowns.
In 1995, Dallas owner Jerry Jones wanted to bring in Deion, and the team had a more definite need for the star when Dallas corner Kevin Smith went down with a season-ending Achilles injury.
You know what happened. However, what if history had been a bit different and the Cowboys had to finish the 1995 season without Sanders?
Both the Cowboys and 49ers pursued Sanders in 1995. The third team in the mix was the Denver Broncos, and at one point, newspapers in Denver had reported that the Broncos had a good chance to sign Sanders.
Many would say that the Cowboys would not have won Super Bowl XXX had they not signed Sanders. Without Smith, Dallas was stuck with Larry Brown and Clayton Holmes. Holmes only played in eight games in 1995 because he was suspended for drug use.
That would have left Alundis Brice and Charlie Williams to start for the Cowboys. It is possible that the Cowboys could have pulled off some other personnel move, but assume for now that the team would have stuck with Brice and Williams.
Dallas was 6-1 when the team went into its bye. By the time the NFL had suspended Holmes, Dallas was 8-1. However, the team had to face the 49ers on November 12 and had to face each of the four NFC East opponents in the final four weeks of the season.
Dallas, of course, lost to the 49ers, Eagles, and Redskins, even with Sanders. Deion may have been a factor against the Raiders, Chiefs, Giants, and Cardinals, but he wasn’t such a key difference-maker that the team could not have won without him.
Dallas needed a 12-4 record to earn home-field advantage in the 1995 playoffs. Could the Cowboys do it without Deion?
Sanders made a bigger splash in the playoffs—especially on offense. His 21-yard touchdown on a reverse gave Dallas a 10-3 lead against the Eagles in the divisional round, and had hauled in long passes against both the Packers and the Steelers in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl respectively.
Then again, even with Sanders playing for the Cowboys, Brett Favre managed to pass for more than 300 yards. And Dallas was not able to shut down either Andre Hastings or Ernie Mills in Super Bowl XXX. Perhaps all of the playoff teams would have moved the ball at will had Deion not lined up for the Cowboys, but it’s hard to say that Deion did anything specifically that put the Cowboys over the edge.
Of course, Dallas and the rest of the NFC would have had to deal with a 49ers team that had Deion, and that may be why history could have changed. With Sanders in 1994, the 49ers forced 10 turnovers in three playoff games. Without him in a loss to the Packers in 1995, San Francisco did not force a single turnover. Brett Favre had a passer rating of 132.9 in the 27-17 Packer win. One week later against Sanders and the Cowboys, Favre’s rating dropped to 84.0 thanks to two interceptions.
Thus, it is very possible that Sanders would have made enough of a difference to San Francisco that the 49ers might have would up with home-field advantage. There is also a good chance that the Cowboys would have had to beat San Francisco in the NFC title game.