Although living legends were supposed to scamper around Texas Stadium Monday afternoon—legends like Tony Dorsett and Walter Payton who could hand out 8 x 10 glossies of themselves as they skittered along the sidelines—the only thing the Dallas-Chicago NFC playoff game contributed to NFL lore was a legendary new passing combination: Bob Avellini to Charlie Waters. Say again?
Yes, there's something wrong with that. Avellini plays for the Chicago Bears and Waters plays for the Dallas Cowboys. But the fact that three of Avellini's passes went fairly directly into the hands of Waters, the Dallas safety, had a lot to do with the outcome of the game as the Cowboys romped 37-7.
Maybe Dallas would have waltzed into the NFC championship game anyway, because the Cowboys were clearly superior to the Bears, as most had thought they would be. Still, Waters' three interceptions made it much easier for the 62,920 in Dallas to sing along with the scoreboard when it flashed the lyrics to a parody entitled Jingle Spurs.
For record keepers, Waters' three grabs tied an NFL playoff" record and the victory was Dallas' 10th in a playoff game since the Great Merger—also a record. Although Waters' heroics led to only six points for the Cowboys—a couple of field goals—the Bears could go nowhere against a Dallas team intent on playing a good football game.
January 2, 1978
Waters was quizzed on whether the pregame preparations had loaded him up with all sorts of notions about where to be with his outfielder's glove when Avellini aimed the ball at the hole in the stadium roof. "We were inviting him to throw," Waters said. "We laid back and tried to make it look like he had men open. We were betting-on his inexperience. It worked."
The Cowboys so outclassed the Bears that Payton had trouble finding room to breathe, let alone to gain any yards. After two periods Payton had only 18 as he was hounded relentlessly by Cowboy Linebackers D. D. Lewis and Tom Henderson. After three quarters he had a mere 31 yards. He finished with 60. Meanwhile, those in the audience who fancied ballcarriers had to relish the steady 85 yards and 80 yards that Dorsett and Robert Newhouse were piling up.
In a sense, Dorsett and Newhouse did their best to make it a close game. The first time Dallas got the ball, Dorsett fumbled it away. And the second time Dallas got the ball, Newhouse fumbled it away. But this only delayed the devastation. Later in the first quarter Roger Staubach threw a 32-yard pass to Dorsett, and the Cowboys were off on a 79-yard march for a 7-0 lead. Early in the second quarter Roger threw a 31-yard pass to Drew Pearson, and they were gone again. On the next play Staubach sailed one to Billy Joe DuPree for the second touchdown. Efren Herrera followed with a 21-yard field goal for a 17-0 lead, and after that, it was all turnovers and cash-ins.
On the first play of the second half Avellini ignored Waters and threw the ball to D. D. Lewis, who ran 23 yards to Chicago's 19-yard line. Newhouse lost three on first down, so Staubach tried Dorsett. Tony did that thing he does best when he manages to slip through guard. He disappeared. A 22-yard touchdown run. And a 24-0 lead for the Cowboys.
Henderson set up the next affront. He hit Avellini and caused a fumble, which Bill Gregory recovered on the Chicago 11. This led to another Herrera field goal and a 27-0 lead. Later on it was Lewis again, scooping up a fumble by Greg Latta after one of the passes Avellini completed to a teammate. Lewis returned this one 15 yards to the Bears' seven-yard line, and it took all of one play for Dorsett to jam it over from there. 34-0.
Toward the end of the third quarter Waters intercepted his third pass and danced about with it for 14 yards to the Chicago 30. This set up Herrera's third and last field goal. Thus, the statistics for the first 16 minutes of the second half: Dallas, by getting the ball on Chicago's 19-, 11-, seven-and 30-yard lines, traveled a whopping total of 67 yards for 20 points. In the fourth quarter Chicago finally scored when Avellini hit Steve Schubert from 34 yards out.
For some reason, no Cowboy player bothered to pick up the game ball when the final gun sounded. It sat there on the carpet for four minutes as the players walked to their tunnels.
Finally, a Dallas equipment man walked out and picked it up. It was probably the only assignment Charlie Waters blew all day.