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This, of course, is the true value of exhibitions to the clubs. The money should be a secondary consideration. The games should be used as they once were, to winnow the wheat from the chaff and to prepare for the serious business ahead. In this context the games are well worth watching, and equally well worth the ticket prices charged for them. When you add to this the fact that many of them are played for worthwhile charities, it becomes obvious that no other rationale is needed.
The problem with two teams like the Packers and the Cowboys is almost the precise opposite of the one confronting the have-nots. This is especially true of a veteran team such as Green Bay, a team which has in the last three years achieved every glory available in pro football and in the process earned an extra $60,000 or $70,000 per player. Successful pro clubs are, for the most part, veteran pro clubs. Many of the players have advanced to the middle age of their careers and if they want to be strong on those days when they get the highest profit per play—the regular season—they must husband their energies now.
Green Bay, coming into this game, had lost two games in a row, to the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears. The Packers had borne only a rather remote resemblance to the club that had demolished Los Angeles in the conference playoff, squeezed by Dallas in the NFL championship game and humiliated Oakland in the Super Bowl. The personnel was the same, but the motivation was much less. For a team that has played a game for $15,000 per player, an exhibition game in which the individual reward is paid out in dimes and quarters is hard to get up for.
Before this game in Dallas the Packers sat in the welcome cool of the air-conditioned lobby of the Executive Inn and studied the pleasing contours of Dallas girls while they contemplated the chore of playing the Cowboys in the 90� heat of the Cotton Bowl. They approached the game with something less than total enthusiasm.
"We got to win this one and we'll give it all we can," one veteran said. "We don't want to get in the habit of losing. But I've been around a long time and I'm over 30 and I know how long the season is. I'll be trying tonight, but I know I've got to save something for the season. This game doesn't move me a step closer to that $25,000 you get for winning the championship and the Super Bowl. It just makes sense to make sure you're ready for the games that count."
Henry Jordan, the All-Pro defensive tackle who had missed two games with a bad back suffered in the All-Star Game, sprawled on a couch. "The only way it doesn't hurt is when I lie flat on my back with my legs up in the air," he said. "And you can't play much tackle in this league in that position. But I got to test it tonight. I got to play to find out if I can."
He played, and played very well, sore back and all. He played probably more minutes than most of the Green Bay veterans because he needed the work after missing two games and because he had to give the back a thorough test.
He passed the test and so did the Packers as a whole. They used the game to rediscover their mastery of Dallas, then to season the younger players and determine how much value their rookies might be to them later. Not many of the rookies will be on the roster when the season starts, nor will many of the Dallas rookies be around when the Cowboys start playing for real.
Meanwhile, it was fun watching them. With clubs plentifully sprinkled with youngsters, the Packers and Cowboys played with considerable abandon, made mistakes and came up with wild plays. All of these factors helped Dallas make a game of it in the closing minutes with two long touchdowns.
It was entertaining—but it was not the equivalent of a league game. It was only an exhibition, no matter what the commissioner cares to call it.