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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NFC Showdown: More Than a Game

LOS ANGELES -- The battle that will take place at muddy Candlestick Park in San Francisco on Sunday is much larger than merely a meeting of the NFL's two best football teams.

It is much more than great players slugging it out for three hours to determine who, in two weeks, will compete in and probably dominate the winner of the AFC Championship game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Diego Chargers in the Super Bowl.

This is not simply Star Wars.

This is Style Wars.

The clash involves not only people, but philosophies. The fight is not only to decide who is better, but who is right.

The 49ers, led by former corporate lawyer Carmen Policy, are "the Firm."

Quiet, secretive, overly generous to their employees, unafraid of slamming the door on everyone else. The 49ers believe money can buy happiness. They are hoping this season will prove it.

The Cowboys, led by oilman Jerry Jones, are "WKRP in Cincinnati."

Loud, fun, close-knit, that nutty family down the street. The Cowboys find happiness with players who have been with them since college, ones who believe that the only true star is the one on the side of their helmet.

One of the most celebrated 49ers is Deion Sanders, a player who has been there four months.

One of the most celebrated Cowboys is Bill Bates, mostly because he has been there 12 years.

Sanders, with his reputation as a mercenary wanderer, wouldn't have lasted four months with the Cowboys.

Bates, a lovable overachiever, wouldn't have lasted four minutes with the 49ers.

The only similarities between the organizations are their football smarts, their willingness to take chances, and, come Sunday, the sweat on the brow of their executives.

If the 49ers fail, then Policy fails.

He spent about $4 million last spring to buy a new defense and a new center. In doing so, he jeopardized the team's financial future under the salary cap.

"Anything short of going to the Super Bowl, this will not be a successful season," Policy said.

If the Cowboys fail, then Jones fails.

His dream of being considered a successful football man will be, for the moment, dashed.

It was Jones, of course, who this spring fired then-coach Jimmy Johnson, hired Barry Switzer and kept most of his team intact while refusing to be lured by the wonder of free agency.

In other words, the anti-49er.

"One of our local papers gave me an 'F' in free agency," Jones said. "I hope I get an 'F' in that every year."

The differences between the two men and their organizations become apparent when they discuss football.

Jones talks oil. Policy talks gold.

"I sit behind that desk every day and get excited about an oil deal that I may not see a penny on for four or five years," Jones says. "Because of everything involved, you've got to have patience."

This is the philosophy behind Jones' decision to stick with Jimmy Johnson after the team won one game in Johnson's first year -- and his decision to fire Johnson after consecutive Super Bowl wins.

This is also the reason that of the 22 starters on offense and defense Sunday, only four have played in a regular-season game for another team. And only one those four have been with the Cowboys less than three years.

That means they have only one new starter, guard Derek Kennard.

The 49er team portrait is a bit different. Of their 22 starters, seven have played with other teams. And six of those have been with the team less than two full seasons. Linebackers Rickey Jackson, Gary Plummer and Ken Norton Jr., defensive backs Deion Sanders and Tim McDonald and center Bart Oates are all recent transfers.

To Policy, acquiring those players was like striking it rich quick.

"We could have gone to the Super Bowl three of the last four years, but fell short every time," Policy said. "Then the whole NFL changed in front of us with free agency. We had a chance to get better faster. We had to take that chance."

Leigh Steinberg, a player agent who represents the highest-salaried Cowboy (Troy Aikman) and 49er (Steve Young), says this standard comes from longtime owner Edward DeBartolo Jr.

"The 49ers are an organization that genuinely likes football players," Steinberg said. They enjoy them as personalities, and they do their best to make sure their lives are good ones. Not every place is like that."