With one minute to go in the game, at the time when he's usually making another improbable catch to pull out yet another miracle victory for Dallas, Drew Pearson was delivering a right cross to the side of Philadelphia Corner-back Roynell Young's head. That one punch of frustration said as much about the NFC championship game as did the roar of the 70,696 fans in Veterans Stadium when time finally ran out. The Eagles, whose last conference (and NFL) title came in 1960, beat the Cowboys, who were born that same year and soon thereafter were playing in title games almost every year, by a score of 20-7. And the score was much closer than the game.
"The mighty Cowboys just couldn't accept the fact that the Eagles were beating America's Team," said Young, the rookie from Alcorn State who was the Eagles' No. 1 draft choice last spring.
The Mid-Atlantic States' Team won not because it made the Cowboys wear blue shirts, or because Coach Dick Vermeil hasn't been to sleep in five months, or even because of barefoot passer Tony Franklin. The Eagles won because they reintroduced to football what nostalgia freaks may remember as "the ground game"—the same type of offense that the Oakland Raiders would use to down San Diego's Chargers later in the day—and then put a defense on the field that Dallas Quarterback Danny White called "a brick wall."
They won because Wilbert Montgomery, who was supposed to play this game in a wheelchair, ran for 194 yards, only two short of the NFL playoff record set in 1949 by the Eagles' own Steve Van Buren, who dropped by the locker room to congratulate Montgomery on his effort. On the Eagles' second play from scrimmage, Montgomery cut back off right tackle and went 42 yards untouched for a touchdown. He broke another one for 55 yards in the fourth quarter; he could have gone farther but had to pull up because he had a sore knee. All week long Montgomery was hardly able to work out with his teammates because of a bruised left leg, and without him the Eagles are, well, no yards and no cloud of dust. Without Montgomery, Philly would be on vacation right now, not packing for New Orleans.
January 19, 1981
Reports from the Eagles' warm-weather practice site in Tampa portrayed the players as nervous, uptight and wounded. On Wednesday, Quarterback Ron Jaworski supposedly got so frustrated working against the Dallas Flex defense that he completed a 40-yard pass to a blocking sled. As a further sign of desperation, Philadelphia chose to wear white jerseys at home so that Dallas would have to wear blue; the Cowboys had been only 10-10 in blue over the years, and three of their four losses this year had come in that color. Vermeil, who would be matching wits with the 12-years-older Tom Landry, even played the role of the star-struck coach, saying one day, "I remember when I was a high school coach in California and Dallas was playing Green Bay in the championship game." Also, the Eagles were down to two wide receivers.
Small wonder the headline in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer read: BATTERED, EDGY EAGLES FACE COWBOYS.
Well, it was all a joke. "We used you guys," Jaworski told assembled newsmen after the game. "The coach gave us instructions on how to deal with the press. It was a perfect setup. We wanted to inflate the Cowboys' egos. In the meetings we knew we were going to win, but we acted worried. You notice I threw that pass to the sled with a lot of you guys standing around?"
"The Cowboys shouldn't have read the newspapers," said Eagle Linebacker Jerry Robinson. "You could tell from the way they walked on the field, with their arms at their sides, that they had their bags already packed for New Orleans."
Drew Pearson said as much himself, "The blue jerseys didn't make a difference," he said. "The only color we were worried about was green—money green. We counted it too soon."
The Cowboys got Rude Awakening No. 1 on the first play from scrimmage when Tony Dorsett went wide right and gained zilch. The Eagle defense began celebrating right then. "I knew then this game would be different," said Dorsett. Only three weeks before, Dorsett had run for 74 yards as Dallas rolled to a 35-27 win over Philadelphia. But Dorsett was held to 41 yards Sunday, and the Cowboys had only 202 yards of total offense. Pearson was never much of a threat, catching just two balls for 15 yards, and White had only five more completions (12) than he had punts.
"We really didn't do anything different, just prepared more," said Eagle Defensive Coordinator Marion Campbell. "But I knew Wednesday after practice that we had 'em."
The Cowboys received Rude Awakening No. 2 on Montgomery's touchdown run. "I'm supposed to run to the left, behind Stan Walters," said Montgomery, "but I cut it back all the way to my right tackle." Montgomery's simple, last-second ad lib caught all the Cowboys pursuing to the left, and nobody was in the secondary to meet him. Just like that, 2:11 into the game, the Eagles were up 7-0, Tony Franklin having booted the conversion.
They could have made it 13-0 shortly thereafter had not two field-goal tries gone pffft. The first, a Franklin attempt from 41 yards, was blocked by Aaron Mitchell. The second, from 39 yards, invoked the spirit of Garo Yepremian in Super Bowl VII. The bad snap went right through the hands of Jaworski, the holder, and Franklin picked it up. Showing none of the moves of Montgomery, Franklin teetered to the right, and as the Dallas defense closed in on his unshod right foot, he let fly a perfect pass in the direction of several Cowboys. The throw was academic, though, because only Jaworski could have advanced the fumble, but it was funny academic.
After that bit of comic relief, the Cowboy offense made what turned out to be its only appearance of the afternoon. With Dorsett and Robert Newhouse sharing the work, Dallas drove 68 yards in 10 plays, Dorsett scoring from three yards out to even the game at 7-7. The Eagles came right back and went 46 yards to the Dallas 25 where, on first and 10, Jaworski found Harold Carmichael, who's not hard to find, along the right side with an apparent touchdown pass. But there was a flag on the field because Right Guard Woody Peoples was caught putting his hands in Larry Cole's face. The 15-yard penalty cost the Eagles 40 yards and a 14-7 lead at the half.
That was one of the few mistakes Philadelphia's offensive line made all day. For the record, it was Walters on Harvey Martin, Petey Perot on Randy White (they didn't get along very well), Jerry Sisemore on Too Tall Jones and Peoples on Cole or John Dutton. The trip to New Orleans will be especially satisfying to Peoples, a 12-year veteran whom Vermeil told not to bother to come to training camp last summer. Too old, you know. The 37-year-old Peoples bothered anyway, and now he's going to the Super Bowl.
"Those guys really did the job up front," Jaworski said. "They were the key. They blocked like hell. I really believe that's what won it."
The second half promised to be interesting because both Dallas and Philadelphia are second-half teams: the Eagles had come from behind in eight of their 13 victories this season, the Cowboys in seven of 14. The big question during the half-time came not from Vermeil ("Tony, who were you passing to?") or Landry ("Tony, why aren't you running?"), but from CBS' Phyllis George Brown, who asked Alicia Landry, Tom's wife, if the Cowboys had ever played in a game as cold as this. It was cold, 17° with a wind-chill factor of—17°, but, Phyllis, that was tropical compared to the Green Bay-Dallas championship game in 1967.
The week before, against the Vikings, the Eagles had broken the game open in the third quarter when Minnesota's Eddie Payton fumbled a punt deep in his own end of the field. The same thing happened Sunday when Dallas' James Jones mishandled Max Runager's punt on the Cowboy 27, and Billy Campfield recovered for Philadelphia. This time the Eagles blew their chance when Jaworski threw an interception to Cowboy Linebacker Anthony Dickerson on the 19. But then the Cowboys gave the ball right back: White was sacked by End Carl Hairston and fumbled, Dennis Harrison recovering on the Dallas 11. Still, the Eagles got only a 26-yard field goal and a 10-7 lead out of that opportunity.
Nothing was working for the Cowboys; at one point they even pulled some footnote out of their playbook and had Drew Pearson throw an option pass off a reverse, but it was incomplete. There was a glimmer of hope when White hit Tight End Jay Saldi for 28 yards and a first down at the Eagle 40, but on the next play Young stripped the ball from Dorsett, and Robinson picked up the fumble and returned it 22 yards to the Dallas 38. "That was the turning point of the game," said Dorsett, "and I hold myself responsible."
The Eagles took it right up the Cowboys' gut from there, and six plays later Fullback Leroy Harris scored from the nine, giving them a 17-7 lead. Harris was almost as unexpectedly brilliant against Dallas as Montgomery was, rushing for 60 yards on 10 carries. Harris had been acquired from Miami last season, but his penchant for donuts—he ate them by the dozens, before, during and after workouts—plain frosted Vermeil and kept the custard-filled Harris in the coach's doghouse. Now donuts are out, and Harris is out, too.
After Harris' touchdown, the Cowboys never got closer than the Eagles' 39, and as time wound down, Franklin kicked a 20-yard field goal for the 20-7 final score. The only suspense left in the game after that was whether Montgomery—the first runner to exceed 100 yards against Dallas in the Cowboys' 26 playoff games—would break Van Buren's record, but he never got the ball again.
And so, for the second time in less than three months the Philadelphia police broke out their horses and dogs to protect the field, but the nags were less successful in controlling the animals than they were for the World Series. This time thousands of fans ran wild on the Vet's AstroTurf. Now the big question is: How will the horses work indoors if the Flyers and the 76ers continue this championship kick Philadelphia teams are on?
"We're not America's team, we're the Pope's team," said Jaworski, who carries a special papal medal with him. The Eagles are also Vermeil's team, and when an assistant coach told Jaworski, "Practice tomorrow, full pads," Jaworski didn't know if the coach was kidding or not.
"We should have beaten them worse than we did," Vermeil said. "We felt they didn't have a lot of respect for us in this kind of a game. They felt maybe they were going to whip us because we're the Eagles and they're the Cowboys."
"The Cowboys like to think they are superhuman," said Eagle Linebacker John Bunting. "They mouthed off all year. Well, take a look at the stats today. Take a look at the scoreboard. Case closed."