What the officials were saying is that Gray hung in the air long enough with the football so that it was a touchdown before Fischer got there to dislodge him from the ball.
With such luck, of course, the Cardiac Cards were destined to win the coin flip and get first possession of the ball in the sudden death. Washington never saw the ball again. Hart drove his team 55 yards, using Jim Otis on eight carries behind the blocking and biting of the werewolf guard, Conrad Dobler, until it was time for Bakken to kick the winning field goal, as he had done on the last play of the game to beat both Philadelphia and Atlanta.
Bakken, who has been kicking St. Louis field goals for 14 years now, got his 239th by just putting his toe into the ball. He said he never even saw the uprights. "I just knew I'd make it," he said. What he didn't know was that it would be so unpretty—a low flat line drive of a kick, but good.
These Cardinals are marvelous. They don't seem to have much going for them, except whatever electricity Metcalf can generate with his rushing or catching or kick returning or fumbling, or whatever can come from Hart sailing those bombs for Gray to chase down. They have a problem with turnovers because Metcalf isn't the only one who fumbles and because Hart is hurling more than his share of interceptions, but there they are, leading the National Conference East, one game ahead of both the Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys. Most people, who think Dallas or Washington always wins this division, forget that St. Louis won it last year.
This is the division that has had three overtime games so far this season, all among the top three teams—the one the Cards lost to Dallas, the one the Redskins won from Dallas and now the one the Cardinals have stolen from the Redskins. If there is anything that is going to keep people interested until the playoffs, what with teams like the Vikings and the Rams and the Raiders practically in them already and struggling to stay awake through their schedules, it is going to be the National East.
"I guess if there's a way to make a game closer, we'll think of it," said St. Louis Coach Don Coryell. "I don't like some of the decisions I make, but I have a lot of trust in Jim Bakken's foot. It's better than my judgment."
In seven of their nine games thus far, the Cardinals have fallen behind, sometimes so far that no one figured Hart could throw that long, or Metcalf or Gray could run the distance once they got ahold of the ball. In their last two games the Cards have come from 23-7 down to beat the Eagles and from 11 points behind to beat the Redskins, and both times they have done it as they dangled on the second hand of the clock.
Washington Coach George Allen felt that St. Louis had a little more help than they deserved last Sunday. "It's the first time I've ever seen the officials reverse a decision," he said.
That wasn't quite the way it happened, but Mel Gray will be in that holding pattern above the end zone—with or without the football—for quite a while. Possibly, all the way to the playoffs.