The story hit the wires late Thursday that White was as good as out. In Denver, Bronco coach Dan Reeves, who had spent 15 years in the Cowboys' organization as a player and coach, was frankly skeptical. "If Danny can walk," he said, "he'll play." In the meantime Collier designed his game plan assuming the Broncos would face White, awarding additional attention to the rapid thrusts of Walker, who was taking over at tailback while Tony Dorsett rested a sprained left knee.
There were no doubts in the Cowboy camp about White's status. Maybe in a playoff situation they somehow could have patched him up, and Dorsett, too, but after the Bronco game they're scheduled to take on the whole NFC East, beginning with Washington, and the risk was prohibitive.
"We have a choice of doing three things," Hackett said the night before the game. "Changing the game plan to put more emphasis on Herschel's running, which might make some sense if Denver wasn't leading the NFL in rushing defense. No. 2 is leaving everything the same as if Danny were going to play; and No. 3 is keeping the same concept but cutting back on some of the stuff, reducing it. We've chosen No. 3."
Pelluer's entire NFL experience consisted of five completions in eight passes, all but two in one drive against the Giants last year in a game that determined the division champion. Both White and Gary Hogeboom had been knocked out of action, and Pelluer took the team down the field for a late touchdown that stretched a 7-point lead to 14.
"You've got to look at his record," Hackett said. "He was called on [against New York], and he was magnificent."
Pelluer is a tall, quietly serious young man with an understated sense of humor. On Friday, the writers searched him out after practice. He showed up late. "Where were you?" someone asked him.
"Inside," he said, "making out my will."
The next day Pelluer said, "I see this as a great opportunity. You always want to prove yourself against the best. The only thing that makes you nervous is their quickness. You have to get your reads in a big hurry."
By the end of the first quarter he could see there would be major problems. Collier, who has gone to a more aggressive, blitzing style this year than he ever has before, was sending one or two linebackers in on practically every play, run or pass, and the Cowboys' pickup scheme couldn't handle it. Pelluer took some major hits after two of his first three passes. Each of the first three Cowboy runs resulted in minus yardage. The only positive thing for them was that the Broncos weren't doing much of anything either.
Elway missed his first three passes, hit a couple of shorties, then missed another. Against New England the week before he had run into what he calls "the worst cold streak of my life. I couldn't complete a pass. First I'd overthrow everybody, then I'd choke my motion off and throw the ball in the dirt."