In his office on the fourth floor of Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium, Eagles' Coach Dick Vermeil was aware that something not covered in his NFL handbook was happening. Here it was mid-October, football weather, a chill in the air, leaves falling, but early in the week a memo had come up from stadium security. Make sure your players get their cars out of the VIP spots before the World Series traffic starts arriving, it had read. World what? Oh, yeah, the Series, the Phillies—they're here this year.
"I just hope they don't tow our cars away," Vermeil told a press conference. "You go to work at the stadium, cripes sake, and they tow your cars away. That shouldn't happen."
On Sunday, with the Series having moved to Kansas City for a while, Dallas was coming to town—mighty Dallas, which had won the last five games against the Eagles at the Vet. You could argue that the whole season had been building toward this first confrontation between the NFC East's superpowers. Where else was the strength in the NFC? The Redskins' threat had evaporated. In the NFC Central, only Detroit had a winning mark. The NFC West? L.A. and the Three Stooges.
But Philly and Dallas each had a 5-1 record, winning by double-figure spreads. And each had faltered once to a team it should've beaten. Now they were finally getting their chance at each other. It should have been a public relations natural—except it happened right in the middle of a World Series in which the Phillies were, almost miraculously, participants.
On Tuesday night, before Game 1, Vermeil left his charts and playbook to go downstairs and visit Phillie Manager Dallas Green in the dugout and wish him luck. "It was during the dinner break," Vermeil explained almost apologetically. On Wednesday, he admitted, he had actually walked the 30 steps from his office to the press box to watch some of Game 2. "It was late," he said. "I needed a break. I watched one batter. No, I don't remember who it was I watched."
Then he went back to the books, charts, films, computer printouts, tendencies, variables. His workdays ended at midnight Monday, 3 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday. On a shelf in Vermeil's office is a Vince Lombardi autograph, torn from a notebook Vermeil kept at a coaching clinic 20 years ago. On his desk is an advertising flyer for the book Workaholics—"They love to work. They live to work. But can they ever leave their work?" The workaholic coach. "I'm a little sensitive about that," he says. Still, it's Dallas this week, boys. Dallas, for cripes sake.
Vermeil's week ended on Sunday with a fourth-down Cowboy pass in the end zone that fell incomplete and left Dallas Split End Tony Hill screaming to the official that he had been "restricted" on the play and a 22-year-old rookie cornerback named Roynell Young looking skyward in thanks, because he had just played in the biggest game of his life and the Cowboys had given him the full treatment and he had gotten out of it alive. Vermeil's Eagles had broken their five-year jinx against Dallas with a 17-10 victory. And for three hours or so, the Eagles owned Philadelphia. The Phillies' third Series victory, out in Kansas City, was still in the offing.
"Baseball, basketball, hockey—they all have something we don't have," Vermeil said. "They have seven games to prove who's best. We get the one shot and it's all over. A guy drops a pass, an official blows a call...you work and you work and it always seems to come down to the variables, doesn't it?"
It did this time. Oh, there was much more to it. There were nine turnovers in the game, five by the Cowboys, and there was vicious hitting, which in the first half removed the premier runners on each side, the Cowboys' Tony Dorsett and the Eagles' Wilbert Montgomery. Any attempt at a running game after that was a sham. And so it came down to 49 seconds left and Cowboy Quarterback Danny White reaching for some old Roger Staubach magic. Fourth and goal on the eight—White had taken the Cowboys from their own 40 in nine plays—and now it was time to go to work again on the rookie cornerback.
Young had been a target all afternoon. They had loaded up and run crisscrossing wide receivers at him. On the Cowboys' final fourth-quarter drive, they had run Hill on a reverse toward Young's side and sent Drew Pearson deep on him—an option pass off the reverse. Except that Young didn't buy the act and played Pearson tight, and Hill had to eat the ball. Three plays before the final one, they ran Pearson at him in the end zone, a timed two-step pattern with White lofting the ball and the receiver running under it, but Pearson slipped on the slick Astro Turf and fell.
Now it was fourth down, and they called the play that had beaten the Redskins last year in one of Staubach's most famous finishes—Hill on another timed pattern down the left side. "Red right flip," said Hill, "wing motion, five-26, Y-nine, or something like that."
Hill lined up wide, Pearson slotted inside him, and Pearson went in motion to ensure single coverage. "Stay!" Young screamed to the right cornerback, Herman Edwards, fighting to be heard over the crowd. "Stay!" Which meant that he was staying and Edwards should drift with the motion man. Now White had what he wanted—a rookie covering Hill all alone—and he took his two steps back and lofted a mortar shot into the far left corner of the end zone.
"It's what you want," White said. "You want to give Tony a chance to outjump somebody. He'll outjump any defensive back in the league."
The wind was holding the ball up, Hill was looking into the sun, and then Young was coming over his back, battling for the ball, and the pass fell incomplete. Hill looked at the line judge, Gene Carrabine, for the interference call. Sorry, not this time, friend. Eagles' ball.
"I was pretty hot," Hill said. "I yelled at the official, 'The guy restricted me. How could I catch the ball?' He quieted me down real quick. He told me if I didn't shut up I was out of the game."
"In Dallas would they have thrown the flag?" someone asked him.
"Yeah, I certainly hope so," he said.
In the press box, the president and general manager of the Cowboys, Tex Schramm, let out a roar and raced over to where NFL Supervisor of Officials Art McNally was sitting. The only difference between the two confrontations was that McNally didn't threaten Schramm with ejection.
Was it interference? Well, maybe. But retribution was at work. Last year when the Cowboys beat the Eagles 24-17 in the Vet, Dallas Defensive End Harvey Martin committed a flagrant foul by clotheslining Montgomery, the intended receiver on a screen pass that could have tied the game, and there was no call. And if Schramm wanted to complain this time—cripes, that's tough.
In the Philly locker room, Young described the fourth-down play as "a contact play, but the contact came when his hand touched the ball," and when that description was relayed to Eagle Quarterback Ron Jaworski, he smiled and said, "Maybe it gets us even for that Harvey Martin play. Actually that one didn't surprise me that much. Their defensive ends are always clotheslining backs going out as receivers. I think they're taught to do it."
Jaworski, who is having his finest season as a pro, had a weird sort of day. He hit Charlie Smith for the game's final touchdown, a 15-yard pass that he smoked through a crowd in the end zone, and he passed five yards to Harold Carmichael for the Eagles' first TD. But if the Eagles had lost he could have worn a pair of goat horns, because he fumbled twice after he was sacked. The first time the ball rolled into the end zone, where Cowboy strongside Linebacker Mike Hegman fell on it for the only Dallas touchdown of the afternoon.
Jaworski was getting pressure all day, though, and he took some ferocious hits. "We hit him so much," Defensive Tackle John Dutton said, "I don't know how he could take it."
At various times, Jaworski has played with a broken thumb, index finger and middle finger, all on his throwing hand. He played four games last year on a sprained ankle. "I remember when I first came up with the Rams," Jaworski said, "I heard one of the assistants say, 'I don't know how long Jaworski can play in this league with that concave chest of his.' Well, maybe you don't have to be built like Terry Bradshaw to play in the NFL. This is my fourth year with the Eagles, and I've started every game."
On Sunday he went through some nightmarish moments. In the fourth quarter he fumbled after Defensive Tackle Randy White and Dutton sandwiched him. The ball rolled off his fingers, and he and Dutton both crawled after it, except that Dutton was crawling free and Jaworski had White holding him back.
"It was like one of those terrible dreams," Jaworski said, "when you try to move and something won't let you."
His three biggest completions were either on checkoffs or broken patterns. A 50-yarder to reserve Fullback Billy Campfield burned Hegman, who got pulled in by a play-action fake. But afterward Jaworski explained that the play should have gone the other way, over a blitzing D.D. Lewis, and that the touchdown to Carmichael was originally intended for the second tight end, John Spagnola, except that "everything sort of got fouled up and I wound up scrambling and just looking for the big guy, Carmichael." And the final TD, to Smith, was originally intended for Carmichael, except that he was double-covered. "We've run that play in practice," Smith said, "and I never caught one ball off it."
Operating without the luxury of a running game—the Cowboys gained a total of 46 yards on the ground—and still trying to prove himself to Dallas fans used to miracles, White looked very smooth when he had time to pass, which he did for much of the game. When the Eagles tried to firm up their rush with blitzes, he got them out of it with dump-off passes. When the rush finally got to him at the end, he was pressured into some misfires, but most of the time he stayed in and took his shots and got his completions. And had the game been in Dallas, he probably would've got his club into the end zone at the end.
"No, that call in the last seconds didn't bother me as much as other things did," Dallas Coach Tom Landry said, "even though I'd still like to know how Tony can catch the ball with a man hanging on him. What bothered me was that it shouldn't have come down to that. We turned the ball over enough times to get beat by twice what we did."
Before the showdown in Philly and after their 59-14 victory over the 49ers the previous week, the Cowboys had wondered where they really stood in the hierarchy of the NFL. "We haven't played a team with a winning record," White said. "And we haven't faced a really good defense. It'll be interesting to see what happens when we do."
The Eagles also had questions. They hadn't played anyone with a winning record, either. They hadn't faced the kind of pass rush Dallas would turn loose.
"They're a better team than they were last year," Offensive Tackle Stan Walters said. "They don't have Roger. But they have Charlie Waters back and Too Tall Jones, and their great rush is working again.
"We got over a big hurdle last year when we beat them down there. Until then we didn't really know if we could. I remember Coach Vermeil said exactly the right thing to get us up for it. The day before the game, he said, 'You know how far you are from beating Dallas? Just 24 hours.' And then, in the locker room, before he sent us out, he said, 'Now you're just 60 minutes away.' He handled it just right.
"This time it was a little different. Everybody in the city was talking about the World Series. The game didn't really generate that much excitement—except with us, of course."
In the end, the Eagles proved themselves sound, even if a little thin. The loss of Montgomery took away their running—they gained but 68 yards on the ground—and there were times when White, who was overwhelming second-year Guard Petey Perot, looked like a one-man wrecking crew in the Philadelphia backfield. But the Eagles have a very solid defense, and they held the Cowboys' offense, fourth-ranked in the NFL, to 125 yards below their season's average. And as the game wore on, the defense picked up intensity. In Carl Hairston, Charlie Johnson and 6'8" Dennis Harrison, they probably have the finest front three in pro football.
"As silly as this may sound," Linebacker Frank LeMaster said, "I think the World Series took some of the pressure off us. Usually everyone's so hyped up around here during Dallas week that they can't see straight. Then you go out and you make mistakes, and before you know it, you're down by a touchdown or two."
Well, the Series was winding down, and for the next nine games the Eagles would be on their own. At least no one would be towing their cars away.