The wake-up calls come at 8:00 a.m. The players straggle into a ballroom for breakfast, and when they are finished eating—cereal, omelets, steak, pasta, just about whatever they want—they disperse to separate meetings of the offense and the defense. They watch a little more film to increase their familiarity with the Eagles and to sharpen their focus a touch.
At 9:30 a service is conducted by team chaplain John Webber, and about 35 coaches, front-office people and players attend, including Jason Garrett, Rodney Peete, Emmitt Smith and Jerry Jones.
At 9:45 two buses, one for members of the offense and the other for members of the defense, leave for Veterans Stadium. After dropping off their passengers at the Vet, the buses return to the hotel. At 10:45 they leave again with the remaining members of the team and the coaching staff, all traveling in groups defined by their primary function on the field. The quarterbacks always take the early bus, and Jones goes along with them. Switzer always goes on one of the late buses. Irvin, as usual, is the last man on the last bus.
At the stadium the players get taped and dressed, and most of them then read the game-day program, a copy of which has been distributed to each of their lockers. Many of the players listen to music on their omnipresent headphones. Some appear to be sleeping. When the pregame drills begin shortly before noon, everything becomes a routine once more. Blocking, running, catching, kicking, snapping.
Switzer, so new to this world of high-stakes professional football, is unfazed that he is leading the world champions into a game in which they could clinch the NFC East Division title in their 13th game. He jogs onto the artificial turf and spots Lew Carpenter, a Philadelphia assistant coach who is a friend, and greets him with a hearty, "Hey, you old fart, how ya doin'?" No pretense here.
When the game begins, it is clear that the Cowboys simply have more weapons and more desire than the 7-5 and slumping Eagles. Peete is steady if not spectacular, and he will make only one significant mistake—a second-quarter interception that Philly converts into a field goal. He will complete 10 of 17 passes for 172 yards and one touchdown, and he will be saved from mediocrity by the spectacular leaping grabs of Irvin. The excitable wideout will finish the game with four catches for 117 yards and a score. His block on one of Emmitt Smith's two touchdown runs, so flawless and so selfless, merely proves again how dedicated and team-minded even the most skilled Cowboy players are.
Dallas holds off a late Philadelphia rally and wins 31-19, boosting its record to 11-2. In the locker room there are some satisfied, if not ecstatic, players. One of them is Blair Thomas, a member of the Cowboys for just five days. He didn't set foot on the field during the game but says brightly, "Obviously, I stepped into a real good situation."
One relieved defensive player is the neatly shorn Robert Jones. His seven tackles and four assists earn him honors as the leading tackier in the game. "I thought, Whew, the hair didn't have an effect, so just keep playing," he says, still wet from his shower. "But by the playoffs—let me put it this way—you'll see me with a bush and a full beard. No more cuts. I'll be a rough-looking wild man by the Super Bowl."
The fortunes of several other players turn on the game, as well. Bill Bates fractures his right thumb and will most likely be out of the lineup when Dallas meets the Cleveland Browns on Saturday. Five days after being told to clean out his locker, Joe Fishback will be recalled to take Bates's place. The Cowboys will place Derrick Lassie on injured reserve, and Russell Maryland is left hobbling with a sprain of his right knee.
The Cowboys are a rare team, bound by impulses and a camaraderie that even they might not fully comprehend. No team has won three Super Bowls in a row, but you wouldn't want to bet against these fellows doing it. They have a way of coming together at just the right moment, when the stakes are high and everyone is watching, so the whole that is created is even greater than the sum of its talented parts. It is akin to mountain streams converging into raging rapids.