O.J. Simpson slowed to a walk with the San Francisco 49ers, and O.J. Anderson became an embarrassment with the New York Giants. "Did either of those O.J.'s ever run a 4.38 at age 34?" says Dorsett.
More whispers: Franco Harris, his moves gone, waiting for the ax from the Seattle Seahawks; Earl Campbell hauling freight for the New Orleans Saints. "Look, the situation was different with those guys," says Dorsett. "Franco was used to running quick traps in Pittsburgh. The Seattle system was different. That's not the case here. Reeves was my offensive coach my first four years in Dallas. At Denver he runs the Cowboys' whole offense—the draws, the traps, the screens, the misdirection, everything. The offense will be no problem for me.
" Earl Campbell? Well, he was one of the runners I've most admired. But his body simply took too many hits. It wore out. In college I didn't take that many abusive licks. Same way in Dallas. My game is negotiation. Do I look like I'm worn out?"
Well, no, not at all. From a distance Dorsett looks slight, but up close the compactness of his 5'10", 189-pound body—the deep chest, the size of the biceps and forearms—surprises you. He says 189 is the perfect weight for him.
Only his face betrays his age. It's a face that has known misfortune—the death of a fianc�e, the death of his father right before a game, a broken marriage, failed business ventures, trouble with the IRS, the scorn of the Dallas fans, perennial battles with the Cowboy organization. When Dorsett arrived in Dallas after winning the Heisman Trophy and the national championship at the University of Pittsburgh in 1976, he was feisty and indiscreet. He didn't fit the good ol' boy Cowboy image.
Dallas won the Super Bowl in his rookie season, and he immediately displayed the great cutback and escape moves that would move him to No. 1 on the Cowboys' alltime rushing list and to No. 4 on the NFL's career list, behind Walter Payton, Jim Brown and Harris. He was a wise guy, but he never dogged it on the field—not for a single play. The fans waited, and last year they let him hear all the boos they'd been saving for 10 years. Last year, for the first time in his career, Dorsett experienced embarrassment as a football player.
Captain Scab was what he called Randy White, the Cowboys' outstanding defensive tackle, when White crossed the picket line in the early days of the players' strike. Then Dorsett, his annuity having been threatened by team president Tex Schramm, broke ranks days later. After he ran for a 10-yard touchdown in a scab game against the Philadelphia Eagles, he was booed. It was probably the first time a Dallas touchdown had been booed in Texas Stadium. "That period was the weirdest in my life," says Dorsett. "I was one of the union spearheads, then I walked through the line—with egg on my face. I hated it. I hated being there, hated the games I had to dress for. The Redskins game? Physically I was on the field, but mentally I was a zillion miles away. Out of all the years I took pride in wearing the silver-and-blue, those were the times I hated being a Dallas Cowboy."
When the strike ended he started with Walker in the backfield. The coaches moved Walker around, from fullback to tailback to wideout. Just after midseason Dorsett had more carries than Walker in nonstrike games, and Walker complained to the coaches: If I'm your future, then give me the ball and stop fooling around. Dorsett agreed.
On Nov. 15, Walker carried 28 times for 173 yards against the New England Patriots, while Dorsett got in for six plays. Against the Miami Dolphins the next week, Dorsett was a DNP (Did Not Play). It was the ultimate embarrassment—the clean jersey. The veterans stared at the floor. If the Cowboys could do it to a guy like Dorsett, no one was safe.
Reeves, who selected Dorsett over former Redskins runner George Rogers, doesn't think lack of ability is the reason Dorsett was benched. "If you've got a line that doesn't create daylight," says Reeves, "then the guy who gets the ball should be the one who weighs 230." According to the Bronco staff, the Cowboys' concept of the running game became ill-suited to Dorsett's talents.