Round 1 of what figures to be a three-round Dallas-Philadelphia fight is over, with Dallas the winner on points, 17-14. There were no knockdowns in Philadelphia last Sunday, although both parties were staggered. They'll meet again for Round 2 on Dec. 13 in Dallas, on the next to last weekend of the season, and for that one everyone will probably be worrying about point differentials and other such trash stats. The NFC championship game ought to produce Round 3, unless San Francisco or some other team gets hot at the right time. But somehow you feel that these two teams are solid enough to go the route, that they'll be there at the end and that it will be a three-rounder—just like Houston-Pittsburgh used to be every year.
Sunday's game in Veterans Stadium followed a week of back-and-forth nasty quotes that created the impression that these teams didn't like each other very much. That's nothing new; nobody around the league likes Dallas. The battle stretched through three very strange quarters in which the Cowboys shoved the Eagles all over the place and had nothing to show for it but the short end of a 14-3 score. It ended in a wild rush, as so many of these low-scoring games do: Dallas got two TDs in the fourth quarter, and then a rough, burly backup quarterback called Paterson Plank Joe Pisarcik came in for the Eagles' injured Ron Jaworski and generated enough offense to march Philly down to the Dallas 16, at which point a dropped pass and a missed field goal turned out the lights.
Until then the Eagles' offense consisted of just one drive and one huge play, an 85-yard Jaworski-to-Harold Carmichael pass. The Cowboys had been smooth and consistent on offense, right until they got near the goal line. Then bad things happened. But when it was over, Danny White, their quarterback, stood by his locker and launched into a speech heard so often in Dallas locker rooms through the years. It's known as the Tom Landry Soliloquy.
"Today he was the best I've ever seen him," White said. "All year the Eagles had been built up as having such a great defense, but we were moving the ball against them at will. The fact that we missed out on three scores because we turned the ball over in close is frustrating. We could've scored 38 points today.
"Coach Landry's play-calling was brilliant; he was constantly one step ahead of them. They'd overload against Tony Hill [six catches, 121 yards], and he'd come back with the counter play. Then they'd just about defense that, and he'd go back to the way we started, play-action stuff and the passing game."
Now the houselights were dimming; there was soft organ music in the background. "He's the hub of the wheel behind everything here," White was saying. "It's just like he has his hand in your back, pushing you along."
Cut to a close-up of a hand. Then to a dripping sponge.
"If you just let yourself be a sponge, let yourself soak up and digest everything he says...once you've got 45 players believing everything he says, then you've got a great football team."
Segue to Landry, who's sitting on a chair in the coaching room, studying the Coke he's sipping; his bald head reflects the overhead light. A messenger has just relayed the news to him that White said he was one step ahead of the Eagles. The hub-of-the-wheel and the hand-in-the-back parts were not mentioned. "Well," Landry said, looking up. "We won."
Or, to put it more clearly, the Cowboys won the fourth quarter, because that was the only one in which they didn't turn the ball over. In the first quarter they drove to a first-and-goal on the Eagle 25, where White failed to read Free Safety Brenard Wilson playing a deep centerfield. Wilson's goal-line interception got the Eagles out of trouble. On Dallas' next possession it got a field goal only because Left Tackle Pat Donovan was a good crawler. The Cowboys were on the Eagles' 10, and White got sacked and fumbled. Donovan crawled after the bouncing ball and reached it before the Eagles' Claude Humphrey and Carl Hairston did. "That," said Dallas Safety Charlie Waters, "was the unsung play of the game."
Two series later, back came the Cowboys, this time to a first-and-goal at the Eagle four. Philadelphia Defensive Tackle Ken Clarke flicked the ball out of Tony Dorsett's hand, Linebacker Al Chesley recovered and Philly had dodged the bullet again.
Back came Dallas on their next possession, in the third quarter. They were trailing 7-3 at this point, but here they stood with a third-and-two on the Philly 15. White lobbed the ball to Dorsett on a little flare pass that looked like six points. Dorsett bobbled it, Linebacker Jerry Robinson dived to make the interception, and White, in frustration, smacked himself on the side of the helmet and wondered what under the darkening Philadelphia sky had to be done to get a score.
Three plays later Jaworski showed him. Jaws had failed to convert on all six of the Eagles' third-down plays to that point, but now he found Carmichael on a post pattern that wound up as the 85-yard TD, 41 pass, 44 run. Everson Walls, the rookie cornerback, had been left out to dry on the play, but let's not be too hard on this young man, because 1) he was supposed to have gotten some jamming help on the line from D.D. Lewis, the linebacker, except that Lewis missed the defensive audible, and 2) he actually got a hand on the ball and knocked it straight down, the 6'8", 225-pound Carmichael showing his amazing gripping strength by holding on to it.
"Just because he's skinny doesn't mean he's not strong," said Walls, who got an unmerciful going-over by the Eagles—17 passes thrown his way during the afternoon, seven completions, one interference penalty. "There's a lot of body there."
Dallas launched a drive at the end of the third quarter, the whistle blew, and the fans in the Vet breathed a sigh of relief, because Philly was ahead 14-3 and they all knew the fourth quarter belongs to the Eagles. In eight games this year they'd lost only one fourth quarter, and that was in a comfortable victory over New Orleans. In 19 regular-season and postseason games last year they'd lost only one, again in a relatively safe victory, over Washington. All of Coach Dick Vermeil's three-hour practice sessions, all the work in pads on Friday and those terrible afternoons in camp, all that was a tune-up for fourth-quarter football. This time Dallas won it. A desperate 17-yard pass to Doug Cosbie on a broken play gave the Cowboys the touchdown that brought them back to 14-10. "I think that play broke their concentration," said Landry.
The Eagles began making those silly hands-in-the-back penalties on their run-backs. Their pass blocking broke down, and now Jaworski was running for his life. The Cowboys got the ball on the Philly 39. Five running plays—three of them by Dorsett for 28 yards—and they were in, Dorsett going the last nine yards over the left side and surging across with two tacklers vainly hanging on. Dallas: 17-14.
"The Eagles just didn't seem to have the killer instinct," White said. "They weren't the same in the fourth quarter as they were in the first three."
The Eagles had one gasp left in them. With 4½ minutes to go, Jaworski was blitzed by Cornerback Dennis Thurman, a play that drew a spearing penalty—plus Pisarcik off the bench. Paterson Plank Joe, the former Giant, the guy who figured in that famous missed handoff with Larry Csonka that got the Eagles their wild-card playoff berth in 1978. "As soon as I saw the hit on Ronnie," Pisarcik said, "I reached for my helmet."
The Philly crowd had booed Jaworski; they'd booed the inexplicably herky-jerk Philly offense, but now they had a cause to rally around. How they love backup quarterbacks, how they cheered when Pisarcik hit Carmichael on a 24-yarder on his first play.
"The only other pass I threw this year was against Washington," he said, "also on my first play. No sense being bashful about it."
He scrambled 10 yards for a first down on the Cowboy 16. On third-and-10 Thurman blitzed again, and Pisarcik went to the automatic read, the slant-in pattern, and hit Rodney Parker on the numbers for the winning score. Except that Parker dropped the ball. Enter Tony Franklin, 14 out of 19 field goals on the year. Now it's 14 of 20, after his 34-yarder hooked left. "He won't miss a field goal like that in 100 tries," Landry said.
"The snap was good, the hold was good, I blew it," Franklin said. "But I'm not going to let it destroy me, like those misses did last year." In 1980 he was 16 for 31.
The Eagles' offense had been banged up. Their left guard and his backup were playing hurt; two fullbacks and a halfback are on injured reserve. On Sunday it showed. There was no consistency. Their defense was tough in spots, but as White said, the Cowboys had the knack of hitting Philly with exactly the right play at the right time. The big pregame controversy had involved respect and class. The Cowboys said the Eagles hadn't shown class last year before the NFC title match, with all that tee-heeing about how Vermeil's puff quotes had set Dallas up. A few Philly players said the Cowboys didn't respect them—and never would.
"Respect," snorted Humphrey, who has been around long enough to know where the truth lies, "is something a father expects from his kids. Football players don't worry about respect."
Which should end the discussion. Back to your corners, gentlemen, while we await Round 2.