The San Francisco 49ers became the first team in the NFL to win five Super Bowls, but that wouldn’t last for long. Both contending teams in Super Bowl XXX — the Steelers and Cowboys — were also looking to add their fifth Lombardi Trophy to their trophy cases. On top of being the 30th anniversary of the Super Bowl, the two teams historically were Super Bowl rivals, going head-to-head during Super Bowls X and XIII (the Steelers won both match-ups).
January 28, 1996, marked the first time the NFL brought the biggest game of the year to the Phoenix area while also becoming the most-watched American sporting event at the time. By the time you're done reading this article, you'll know how much ticket prices spiked for Super Bowl XXX, which dynasty brought home their fifth championship, and how many countries globally watched the game live.
The Steelers waltzed into the 1995-96 NFL season, hoping to return to the Super Bowl stage for the first time since winning in 1980. However, the season didn't go as intended — the Steelers struggled with a 3-4 record early on, somehow managing to recover eight of the remaining nine games to clinch an 11-5 record. Calling Pittsburgh's plays on the field was quarterback Neil O'Donnell, who concluded his final Steelers' season with 17 touchdowns and 2,970 yards.
Other notable standouts on Pittsburgh's roster were wide receiver Yancey Thigpen (1,307 receiving yards), Ernie Mills (1,306 kickoff return yards), and kicker Norm Johnson (34 field goals and 39 extra point conversions). The Steelers also boasted something the Cowboys couldn't: A rock-solid defense. Not only did the D-line hold opponents to a second-best 4,833 yards, but standouts like linebacker Kevin Greene also nabbed an impressive nine sacks.
The 1994-95 Dallas Cowboys experienced a significant boost from previous years, now with the winningest college coach Barry Switzer (.837) leading the pack, a stellar 12-4 regular-season record, and quarterback Troy Aikman returning yet again for his third-ever Super Bowl with Dallas. The duo of Aikman (16 touchdowns and 3,304 yards) and running back Emmitt Smith (1,773 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns) handily guided the Cowboys to an early 8-1 record.
However, the star-studded Dallas roster didn't end with them. Wide receiver Michael Irvin (1,603 yards over 111 receptions), safety Darren Woodson (89 tackles), cornerback Larry Brown (six interceptions), and defensive end Charles Haley (10.5 sacks) joined forces to make the Cowboys a force to be reckoned with on the field.
Super Bowl XXX marked the end of a few eras: The last time a college campus hosted the big match-up (Arizona State University) and the final time fans settled for bleacher seats at the game. If the Steelers won, it would also make them three-for-three against the Cowboys on the Super Bowl stage.
On January 28, 1996, around 76,347 football fanatics poured into Sun Devil Stadium down in steamy Tempe, Arizona for Super Bowl XXX — the first time the Super Bowl found its way to Arizona while also marking a significant milestone for the NFL. The 30th anniversary of the Super Bowl also came with substantially higher ticket prices, with prices soaring up to $350 for a single seat to the game (valued at $580.85 in today's money).
The pre-game festivities brought attention to the local Native American tribes in Arizona while also highlighting the spirit of the Old West. Then, “Save the Best for Last" singer Vanessa Williams took her place to perform the National Anthem immediately before past Super Bowl MVPs — like Joe Montana — joined on the field for the coveted coin toss ceremony. After a coin flip landing on tails, Super Bowl XXX began with a Steelers kickoff into Dallas territory.
Above, you’ll find the Arizona-themed ticket created specifically for Super Bowl XXX.
Aikman and the Cowboys began Super Bowl XXX with a "full steam ahead" mindset, marching 43 yards down the field before settling for a successful 42-yard field goal by Chris Boniol. Dallas's defense triggered Pittsburgh's first three-and-out of the game. The Cowboys continued with a series of running and throwing plays to Deion Sanders, Smith, and Irvin before tight end Jay Novacek crossed into the end zone on a 3-yard pass.
Now up 10-0, the Cowboys didn't show signs of letting up any time soon as Aikman connected on a pass to Irvin in the end zone. However, a penalty on the play overturned the touchdown and gave Boniol another field goal opportunity — this time, a 45-yarder through the uprights.
The Steelers refused to end the first half without getting on the board at least once. Following a sack and an incomplete pass, O'Donnell managed an impressive 19-yard pass to Hastings, which allowed Kordell Stewart to secure a Steelers first down. O'Donnell found Thigpen down the field to nab a 6-yard touchdown pass as the clock ran out. The Cowboys led 13-7 going into halftime.
In true NFL style, the milestone 30th SuperBowl brought a massive halftime celebration featuring "I'm Coming Out" singer Diana Ross. In the slightly longer halftime performance (Ross convinced NBC to accept a 13.5-minute show), the Motown sensation performed a collection of hit 80s songs in front of the backdrop of pyrotechnics, sparklers, and an audience card stunt.
The fans in Sun Devil Stadium sang along to tunes like "Stop In The Name of Love," "I Will Survive," and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" as Ross wowed the audience with two eye-catching dresses: A short red dress, and then a purple/orange dress. After belting out her latest hit — "Take Me Higher" — Ross shouted, "Oh my, here comes my ride," before embarking on a helicopter and exiting the field.
This Super Bowl XXX halftime show performance marked Diana Ross's first return to the Super Bowl spotlight since performing the Star-Spangled Banner in 1983 (Super Bowl XVI).
The third quarter of Super Bowl XXX was less than eventful. Both teams offered their fair share of punts before Dallas's Larry Brown snagged an interception, guiding the Cowboys toward scoring territory. Following a 17-yard toss to Irvin, Smith crossed just one yard into the end zone to hand Dallas a loftier 20-7 lead.
The Steelers quickly regained possession and momentum early in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh settled for a 46-yard field goal by Norm Johnson after O'Donnell was sacked, leaving few other options for the Steelers. But the Steelers refused to concede — a strategic onside kick allowed Deon Figures to recover possession, a drive ending on Morris's 1-yard dash for a touchdown.
The Cowboys took their 20-17 lead and widened it with fewer than four minutes remaining. Emmitt Smith achieved his second touchdown of the night to advance the Cowboys to an unreachable 27-17 lead. The Cowboys drained the clock with quarterback kneels and a punt before hailing victorious. With that, Dallas players pocketed a $42,000 bonus, while Pittsburgh players walked away with $27,000.
For the first time in Super Bowl history, the MVP award winner was a cornerback — Dallas Cowboys' Larry Brown.
This cornerback's impressive Super Bowl XXX performance racked up two interceptions during the second half, both of which guided Dallas to touchdowns. In doing so, Brown also set the record for the most interception yards in a Super Bowl with 77 yards.
Super Bowl XXX marked a significant milestone for the NFL: The 30th anniversary of the first-ever Super Bowl that pitted the Packers and Chiefs against one another. A then-record 138.48 million viewers watched both the Steelers and the Cowboys attempt to make history — both vying for a fifth Super Bowl title to tie the San Francisco 49ers.
The NBC broadcast of the 30th Super Bowl also proved a bounceback in NFL viewership with a 46.0 Nielsen rating, a 4.7-point boost from Super Bowl XXIX. This Super Bowl also marked the return of a network choosing a famous television show to trail the broadcast — Friends, starring Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry, aired after the Vince Lombardi Trophy presentation.
Dallas approached Super Bowl XXX on a high note after winning two of the last three Super Bowls. Quarterback Troy Aikman (3,304 yards) and Emmitt Smith (25 rushing touchdowns) were at the heights of their careers, guiding the Cowboys to an NFC-best 12-4 record. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh was finally competing for their first Super Bowl in 16 seasons with a dull 11-5 record.
This Super Bowl XIII rematch leaned heavily in Dallas's favor with an excessively high 13.5-point spread. Despite winning Super Bowl XXX by ten points, the Cowboys didn't win by enough — the Steelers wound up covering the spread.
Additionally, the 51-point over/under was off by about a touchdown. With the Cowboys' 27-17 victory and 44 points scored, "under" betters cashed in.
Super Bowl XXX wasn't just monumental because it was the 30th installment or another team won their fifth title. It also yielded the first five-time champion — Charles Haley — and the first time the winning team accepted the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the field (not in the locker room). However, neither the Cowboys nor the Steelers would make it through the playoffs during the following season.