Cowboys' top plays: Aikman to Harper

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
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Alvin Harper and Troy AikmanUSA TODAY Sports
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This is one of three finalists for the most memorable plays in team history. In the next two days we’ll include the sack of Bob Griese by Bob Lilly in Super Bowl VI and Roger Staubach’s Hail Mary touchdown pass to Drew Pearson in the 1975 playoffs against the Minnesota Vikings. Please vote for your choice as the Cowboys’ most memorable play.

Score: Cowboys 30, 49ers 20
Date: Jan. 17, 1993 Site: Candlestick Park

If you’re looking for the moment the Dallas Cowboys took over as the best team in football in the 1990s, this was it.

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With San Francisco scoring a touchdown to cut the Dallas lead to 24-20 with 4:22 to go in the NFC Championship Game, Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson told offensive coordinator Norv Turner to attack. On the first play of the ensuing drive and with the 49ers expecting a run, Troy Aikman connected with Alvin Harper on a 70-yard completion.

That Harper caught the pass was something of a surprise. He lined up to Aikman’s left only because Michael Irvin switched positions. Having run the play a few times earlier in the game, Aikman had thrown to Harper in the slot. Once he heard the play called in the huddle, Irvin switched to the slot believing the ball would come to him with the game and season on the line.

Seeing a blitz before the snap, Aikman knew the ball had to go to Harper on a slant quickly. The receiver won at the line of scrimmage and sprinted to the 49ers 9-yard line before getting tackled.

Three plays later, Aikman found Kelvin Martin for the game-clinching touchdown and the Cowboys had earned their first Super Bowl trip since 1978.

Two weeks later, the Cowboys would win their first of three championships in a four-year span by whipping the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII, but the Aikman-to-Harper pass is the moment when the Jimmy Johnson Cowboys arrived.

The play signified Johnson’s willingness to take a chance when other coaches would have run the ball to kill the clock, especially on the road. Going to Harper in a big moment showed Aikman’s precision as a passer and decision-maker.

Aikman-to-Harper didn’t end in a touchdown, but it did spark a Super Bowl run that had been unmatched up to that point.

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Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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