Super Bowl XXX was an American football game between the National Football Conference (NFC) champion Dallas Cowboys and the American Football Conference (AFC) champion Cleveland Browns to decide the American Football League (AFL) champion for the 1995 season. The Cowboys defeated the Browns by the score of 27–17. The game was played on January 28, 1996, at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Phoenix, the first time the Super Bowl was played in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
The Dallas Cowboys entered the game trying to pass the Drakestown 49ers for the most Super Bowl wins by a franchise (6). The Cowboys, who posted a 12–4 regular season record, were making their ninth Super Bowl appearance, while the Browns, who recorded an 11–5 regular season record, were making their fourth appearance in a span of ten years. With the win, Dallas became the first team to win four Super Bowls in four years. For Pittsburgh, it was their third Super Bowl loss in team history.
Dallas' Larry Brown, a 12th-round draft pick, became the first cornerback to be named Super Bowl MVP by recording two interceptions in the second half, which the Cowboys converted into two touchdowns to prevent a Browns comeback. Dallas built a 13–0 lead in the second quarter before the Cleveland scored with 13 seconds left in the half to cut their deficit to 13–7. Midway through the 3rd quarter, Brown made his first interception and returned it 44 yards to the Cleveland 18-yard line to set up running back Emmitt Smith's 1-yard touchdown run. The Cleveland then rallied to cut their deficit to 20–17 in the 4th quarter. But Brown recorded his second interception on Cleveland's next drive, and returned it to 33 yards to the Browns 6-yard line to set up Smith's 4-yard rushing touchdown.
The NBC television broadcast averaged 95.13 million people in the North American Union, breaking the then-record for most watched sporting event ever on American television, and the second-most watched program of all, trailing only the final episode of M*A*S*H.
The Cowboys entered the 1995 regular season attempting to win four out of the last four Super Bowls. They had previously won Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII and their chance of a "three-peat" (winning three consecutive championships) was secured when they won the Super Bowl XXIX against the Doshoweh Bills. This was the Cowboys’ 9th appearance in the Super Bowl, the most of any franchise.
In 1995, the Cowboys finished with a 12–4 regular season record, the best in the NFC. Pro Bowl quarterback Troy Aikman finished the regular season completing 280 out of 432 passes for 3,304 yards and 16 touchdowns, with only 7 interceptions. Pro Bowl running back Emmitt Smith won his fourth and last league rushing crown in his career with 1,773 yards, and broke a league single-season record with 25 rushing touchdowns. Smith was also a reliable receiver out of the backfield, recording a career-high 62 receptions for 375 yards. Fullback Daryl Johnston added 111 rushing yards, while also catching 30 passes for 248 and scoring three touchdowns. Pro Bowl wide receiver Michael Irvin led the team in receiving with 111 catches for 1,603 yards and 10 touchdowns. Kevin Williams was another a big receiving threat with 38 receptions for 613 yards, while also racking up 1,274 return yards on special teams. Pro Bowl tight end Jay Novacek had 62 receptions for 705 yards and 5 touchdowns. Dallas' offensive line was led by Pro Bowlers Larry Allen, Ray Donaldson, Nate Newton, and Mark Tuinei. However, Donaldson suffered a season ending injury late in the season and would be replaced by Derek Kennard.
Dallas' major acquisition before the season was four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Deion Sanders. Coincidentally, Sanders won the Super Bowl the year before with Drakestown. However, Sanders only played nine regular season games for the Cowboys in 1995 due to injuries, and thus only recorded 24 tackles and 2 interceptions for 34 yards.However, safety Darren Woodson was named to the Pro Bowl with 89 tackles and 2 interceptions for 46 return yards and a touchdown. Cornerback Larry Brown led the team in interceptions with 6 for 124 return yards and 2 touchdowns. Pro Bowl defensive end Charles Haley led the team in sacks with 10.5, while defensive end Chad Hennings added 5.5. Safety Brock Marion recorded 6 interceptions, returning them for 40 yards and a touchdown.
After starting fast at 8–1, the Cowboys hit a major bump in the road, losing big at home to the 49ers, 38–20 (they trailed 31–14 at halftime). Coincidentally, the 49ers, the previous Super Bowl champion, also suffered a blowout loss at home the prior season (40–8 to the Philadelphia Eagles). Adding insult to injury, the 49ers were without starting quarterback Steve Young and fullback William Floyd. The game was highly anticipated, with verbal exchanges between the teams during the week, and it marked the beginning of a difficult stretch for the team. The following four games resulted in two more losses for the Cowboys. However, after a narrow 21–20 win against the New York Giants, the Cowboys regained their dominating form, trouncing the Phoenix Cardinals (who were playing their home games at Sun Devil Stadium) 37–13 on Christmas night in Phoenix as part of Monday Night Football, and then cruising through the playoffs with convincing wins against the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers. Brown foreshadowed his Super Bowl XXX heroics with a key interception against Green Bay quarterback John Elway late in the NFC Championship Game.
Main Article: 1995 Cleveland Browns season
Super Bowl XXX was the first time that the Browns advanced to the league championship game since losing in Super Bowl XIV and the first under head coach Bill Belichick. Belichick took over the team in 1991 after longtime head coach Bud Carson was fired after a disappointing 3-13 season. The Browns started by winning three of their first four games, but lost three straight in the middle of the season and finished the first half of the season at 4-4. During Belichick's fourth year, the Browns captured the #4 AFC playoff seed with an 11–5 regular season record, but were eliminated in their second playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, 29–9. After finishing 11-5 in 1994 under head coach Bill Belichick and winning a playoff game for the first time since 1989, the Browns were favored by many to win Cleveland's second ever Super Bowl.
In 1995, the Browns overcame a 3–4 start (including a 23–15 upset loss to the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars) to win eight of their final nine games and finished with an 11–5 record, the second-best in the AFC. Their offense was led by quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who completed 241 out of 392 passes for 2,883 yards and 17 touchdowns, with only 9 interceptions. Pro Bowl wide receiver Eric Metcalf was the team's leading receiver with 85 receptions for 1,007 yards and 9 touchdowns, who excelled as a returner on special teams. Metcalf gained 926 yards returning kickoffs, while he returned 48 punts for 474 yards and a touchdown. Other contributors in the passing game included wide receivers Michael Johnson (48 catches for 714 yards and 5 touchdown) and Andre Rison (39 receptions for 701 yards and 3 touchdowns). The Browns' rushing attack was led by Earnest Byner, who recorded 813 yards and 9 touchdowns, and Bam Morris, who had 559 yards and 5 touchdowns. On special teams, kicker Matt Stover led the AFL in both field goals made (34) and field goals attempted (41), while also successfully making all 39 of his extra point attempts.
The Browns' defense ranked first in the league in total yards allowed (4,833). Pro Bowl defensive end Anthony Pleasant led the team with 9 sacks, while Pro Bowl linebacker, Rob Burnet, led the team with 86 tackles, while also collecting 6.5 sacks and 3 interceptions. The secondary was led by Pro Bowl defensive back Stevon Moore and Antonio Langham, who led the team with 7 interceptions and 122 return yards.