It was a big play that required tall acting. Taking over at his 12-yard line, Quarterback Jim Hart sent Terry Metcalf into the line for one yard while off to the side the Cards' star sprinter, Wide Receiver Mel Gray, was bucking for an Oscar. Acting as though he had been seized by runaway arthritis, a pelvic fracture and hangnail on every toe, Gray limped off the field in apparent search of a bone-and-joint man. But it was merely a ruse to get former SMU Quarterback Gary Hammond into the game as a wide receiver. The substitution completed, Hart then threw a lateral pass to Hammond as the Dallas secondary came up aggressively to protect against the run. Hammond unloaded an 81-yard pass to Tight End Jackie Smith, who was caught at the Dallas six by Cliff Harris.
Gray later turned from low guile to high gear. Before the game he had lamented the fact that he had never scored a touchdown against Dallas. That situation was remedied midway through the second quarter when Gray simply outran Charlie Waters on an 80-yard scoring reception from Hart. "They were trying to play me one-on-one and that made me smile," said Gray. "I guess maybe people will start taking us seriously now."
Any residual opinion that St. Louis was not for real should have vanished just before the half ended when Smith scored a gutsy touchdown. Throwing under the zone coverage, Hart had moved the Cards 44 yards to the Dallas 19-yard line as time was running out. With seven seconds left, he threw over the middle to Smith, who broke four tackles before swan-diving into the end zone to give St. Louis a 21-14 lead.
"I remember catchin' the ball and divin' in," Smith said later in his corn pone Mississippi accent, "but nothin' in between 'cept some people hittin' on me. How many guys was it? Four. Well, that's a pretty good run then. I'm kinda proud of myself." In fact, Smith took a bone-crunching shot from each of the four—Lee Roy Jordan, Harris, D. D. Lewis and Jethro Pugh—before his scoring plunge. The entire St. Louis bench emptied to congratulate him in the end zone.
In the second half, Metcalf romped over from the eight to culminate a drive set up when Clarence Duren picked off Roger Staubach's 10th intercepted pass of the season. Other than that, Staubach was magnificent in this game, running for one touchdown, passing 24 yards to Tight End Jean Fugett for another and directing Dallas in a rally that tied the score at 28.
That deadlock provided the Cards with the opportunity to display their new stature. The Cowboys had used squib kicks to keep the ball away from Metcalf, but he finally got ahold of a kick and returned it 56 yards to the Dallas 34 with 3:39 to go. Six plays later Jim Bakken kicked a 31-yard field goal with 62 seconds left to play.
Even in victory, St. Louis' first over Dallas since 1970, few of the Cardinals were making positive predictions about their prospects. "The playoffs?" said Hart. "Sure, we'd make the playoffs if they were next week. They aren't. There's still a long way to go."
Maybe so, but the spirit and unity Coryell has infused into his team bodes well for continued success. "We take nothing for granted now," Smith said. "My first few years here, we'd look at a couple of games as easy, so that we would have a tendency to ease up and slack off. Now it's just impossible to approach a game that way. That's what gives me the best feeling about our potential. That complacent attitude will never be part of this team. Along with that, I feel we can get a lot more out of ourselves because we're getting pride and confidence."
And Smith, for one, has plenty of both. The wear and tear of the young season has already implanted a deep purple bruise the size of a $6 pizza on his left buttock. The week before he had winced through some backside-pounding congratulations from his teammates after his strong performance against the 49ers. How had he survived a similar round of applause following his touchdown against the Cowboys?
"I turned the other cheek," Smith said.