Tom Landry gave Staubach credit for calling the play. "I was just standing on the sideline feeling very disappointed that we had played so well and were going to lose," the coach said later. "I knew our only chance was to throw one long and hope for a miracle."
In the huddle Staubach said only a couple of words again: "Streak route." Which is what Drew Pearson wanted to hear.
Pearson began the streak down the sideline to his right as Staubach drifted back to set up from the shotgun formation. Nate Wright and Pearson were in a footrace now as the ball went into the air. Pearson looked to be winning the race for a second, but the ball was slightly underthrown and was going to reach its mooring somewhere around the Minnesota five-yard line. Pearson noticed this, but Wright did not. As Pearson pulled up, Wright went in front of him, and only Pearson and Wright will ever know whether there was any pushing off. Wright either slipped, tripped or was pushed to the grass just as Pearson turned and got his hands on the ball at his belt. Pearson felt the ball slip down, wedged it "between my elbow and my hip," and then stepped into the end zone to the accompaniment of the most enormous swell of silence in the history of gatherings of 46,425 wearers of the purple.
No one knew for a matter of seconds that it actually was a touchdown, not even the Cowboys. Everybody saw something orange or red flutter to the ground and thought it was an official's flag—obviously an interference call against either Pearson or Wright.
Even Pearson saw it. "When I looked again, it was a real orange," he said. And what it mostly was, of course, was a real touchdown.
(Could there ever be a bleaker day for Fran Tarkenton? To see victory become defeat so shockingly, and then to learn moments later that his father had suffered a fatal heart attack while watching the game on television at home in Georgia.)
The game's last seconds were as chaotic as the regular season had been so far as the officials were concerned. The Vikings had no possibility of doing much, having to set up from practically beneath their own goalpost. To their credit, what they mainly did was try to plead with their angry fans not to throw things down at the officials, things such as more oranges and a golf ball and whiskey bottles.
Just then a pint whiskey bottle struck the field judge, Armen Terzian, squarely in the forehead and decked him. After learning that his injury was not serious, a few press-box wits were tempted to cut through the drama with humor. Had the bottle been thrown by Carroll Rosen-bloom or Ralph Wilson, the two NFL club owners who were fined $5,000 last Wednesday by Commissioner Pete Rozelle for criticizing the men in the striped shirts?
A more apt question is what really happened on the second-quarter play, the punt that nearly won the game for Minnesota? Neil Clabo's kick was a beauty, and it appeared to be headed for the waiting arms of Dallas Safety Cliff Harris, who was standing on his own four-yard line. Harris decided not to catch the ball, but to let it bounce into the end zone for a touchback.
Instead, the ball bounded crazily to the right of Harris, and a whole pack of Vikings, led by Fred McNeill, were chasing after it for some strange reason—not to kill it but to recover it. And McNeill did. First down Vikings on the Dallas four. A minute later came the easy Minnesota touchdown, with Chuck Foreman leaping over from the one. A television replay seemed to indicate that the ball never touched Cliff Harris. Actually, it did touch another Cowboy, Pat Donovan. This might, however, have been a case of uncalled interference, for the Vikings' Autry Beamon was right in Harris' face mask when Harris was supposed to be allowed an opportunity to field the punt.