NFC East

September 06, 1981

In a small cubicle off the DALLAS Cowboys' training room there is a gentle gurgle as one of the troops lowers himself into the Sensory Deprivation Tank. He will lie in warm water and think cool thoughts. His brain waves will gradually drop to 12 cycles per second until an "alpha" state is reached. Outside, there's a clack-clack as two linemen bang sticks at one another, as they were taught by the Cowboys' martial-arts instructor. In the office the computer hums and spits out data: John Fitzgerald, center, 33 years old, replace with Bob Shaw, 24; Billy Joe Dupree, tight end, 31 years old, replace with Doug Cosbie, 25; Tom Rafferty, right guard, 27, psychological prodding needed, plant rumor of impending replacement by Kurt Petersen, 24; Howard Richards, offensive tackle. No. 1 draft, make symbolic gesture by awarding him Rayfield Wright's old No. 70.

The Cowboys really need Stanley Kubrick in the director's chair, but they've been doing all right the way they are—as the most coldly efficient team in the NFL. Plug one in, plug one out; if a guy shows signs of age, replace him. It's the antithesis of the Steelers' approach, and while it hasn't produced four Super Bowl victories, it has put Dallas in the playoffs 14 times in the last 15 years, a consistency unmatched in the NFL.

When the Cowboys get beaten, it's usually by some team more emotionally intense on that given day, but when they're really up for a game, look out. Right now they're up. They've dedicated the season to revenge against the Eagles, who have replaced the Redskins as the rival. Halfback Tony Dorsett, who has gained 1,000-plus yards in each of his four years, went heavily into off-season conditioning, and Coach Tom Landry can't stop raving about him. Aside from a few cosmetic changes, the Cowboys will line up the same people as last year (in a new shade of blue). Their strengths remain the same—solid offense, great personnel along the defensive line—and their weakness—a pass defense that was very susceptible to the bomb last year (15.45 yards per completion, highest in the NFL)—remains a weakness.

Let's give PHILADELPHIA Coach Dick Vermeil credit. His five-year plan got the Eagles into the playoffs three times and into the Super Bowl once. When he came to Philly in 1976 Vermeil didn't make wholesale slashes. He used what he had, and 11 of his Super Bowl players were on the team before he got there. But—and here's the snapper—his psychological tampering is getting people annoyed. Like his ploy before the Dallas playoff last year, telling everyone how great the Cowboys were, to set them up for the knock-off. "I don't like the little games they play, like a high school team," said Cowboy Defensive Tackle Randy White. And sometimes the criticism comes from within.

"Do you know who Dick had address our team the Friday before the Super Bowl?" one Eagle says. "Woody Hayes. I mean, here's a guy who couldn't win a postseason game to save himself, and on Friday we're sitting there listening to him tell us about the action in the North Atlantic in World War II. Hey, c'mon now."

The Eagles went into the draft hoping to find a quality runner to take some pressure off Wilbert Montgomery, whose 5'10", 195-pound body has a hard time bearing up under the weekly pounding. Instead, they got a blocking back on the 10th round, a 212-pounder out of Arizona named Hubie Oliver, nicknamed Rockman, who will take on added importance now that Leroy Harris is down for the year with a broken arm. No. 1 draft Leonard Mitchell, a defensive end from Houston, needed a foot operation before camp, but the defensive line is hardly a problem unit. The only new look on a defense that led the NFC last year is Al Chesley for Bill Bergey (knee) as an inside linebacker.

The good news is that Ron Jaworski, secure with a new five-year contract, keeps getting better as a quarterback. And Vermeil's psychological yo-yoing of Placekicker Tony Franklin seems to be working because he's booming them again, as he did as a rookie in 1979.

From the WASHINGTON Redskins' camp came an unfamiliar sound, the ring of boyish laughter. General Manager Bobby Beathard won his battle with Coach Jack Pardee, and now Jack's the defensive coordinator at San Diego. The Redskins' new coach is Joe Gibbs, an offensive whiz under the Chargers' Don Coryell, and Bobby has a free hand to bring in as many youngsters as he likes. They've crowded out all but one veteran on the offensive line; Right Tackle George Starke will find himself shepherding a kiddie Corps that lines up, left to right. Mark May, Russ Grimm, Jeff Bostic and Melvin Jones. May is the No. 1 draft, Grimm the No. 3, Jones and Bostic second-year men.

The Redskins will sink or swim with this group, and it's a good thing Quarterback Joe Theismann is adept at the scramble. But the running game should be pretty. The back-field has quality in all sizes—big (John Riggins, returning from his holdout), medium big (Wilbur Jackson) and little (Joe Washington from the Colts and Terry Metcalf from Canada). Metcalf is showing great stuff, and when he threw a halfback option pass to Art Monk (incomplete) in the first exhibition game, the fans in RFK Stadium stood up and cheered. They want more of this kind of action! More!

If there's a somber side to this new euphoria on the Potomac, it's the defense, particularly the line; only New Orleans was worse against the run last year.

When a weak team, such as NEW YORK, starts getting injuries, it turns into a snowball kind of thing. You're playing next to a new guy, so maybe you try to cover for him, and you find yourself in unfamiliar situations, so you get hurt, too. When the Giants had tallied up the casualty reports from 1980, they found they had to use the injured reserve list 35 times, that 10 players had knee operations, and that 19 of the original 45 who dressed for the opener were gone at the end of the season. Almost half the roster this year carries the notation, "Coming back from a——-injury."

On this team one unit must carry the load—the linebackers. A fine bunch. Best in the NFL. Brad Van Pelt, Harry Carson, either Brian Kelley or Frank Marion, and rookie Lawrence Taylor of North Carolina, the second player picked in the draft, a blitzing terror. Elsewhere, the Giants are loaded with question marks; with "pleasant surprises," such as rookie Nose Guard Bill Neill, a fifth-round pick from Pittsburgh, and castoff 49er Center Ernie Hughes; with disappointments and with wait-and-sees.

There's still a running psychodrama between Coach Ray Perkins and his quarterback, Phil Simms. Will he praise him today, folks, or rip him? Stay tuned. But, given the tools, these two can mastermind a dazzling aerial show, as Dallas found out last year.

There was this comment of Bear Bryant's that followed ST. LOUIS rookie Linebacker E.J. Junior into the draft—something to the effect that "We tried to get him to play inside at Alabama, but he couldn't." The Cards drafted E.J. on the first round anyway, and now he's playing inside linebacker for them, and everybody's happy with the way he has been going after people. And the Bear says he really meant "inside as a safetyman." Yeah, right. Or maybe inside a Frigidaire, or a Volkswagen.

The fact is, if you finish low enough in the standings every year, you get a crack at some pretty fair people in the draft—and St. Louis has now had three good drafts in a row. The top pick in 79, Running Back Ottis Anderson, has had two straight 1,000-yard seasons. The laws of infiltration say that enough of those good drafts eventually will boost the old won-lost. But when?

The fanciest-looking youngster in camp, next to Junior, was Quarterback Neil Lomax of Portland State. In one of those mysterious draft-day developments, his stock suddenly plummeted from high-first round to early-second round, and the Cards stole him. Lomax isn't ready to replace the venerable Jim Hart yet, but if things get off to a bad start, you could see a push to get him in there to juice up a pass offense that finished fourth from last in the NFL last year. A crippled offensive line was one reason. Now it's healthy, but Wide Receiver Mel Gray is down for at least a month with a separated shoulder.

PHOTODorsett will be true blue in Dallas' new blue. PHOTOAnderson is St. Louis' offensive trump card.

PREDICTED FINISH

DALLAS 12-4
PHILADELPHIA 11-5
WASHINGTON 8-8
NEW YORK GIANTS 6-10
ST. LOUIS 5-11

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)