Minnesota had struck first, moving 81 yards the first time it had the football and scoring on an 18-yard pass play from Tarkenton to Foreman. The Viking drive was more or less spotlighted by Dallas defensive mistakes because the Cowboys had a brand-new look at several positions. Randy White, the Cowboys' No. 1 draft pick in 1975 who had flunked two years of trials at various linebacker positions, now was among the front four, quick, huge and talented but ready to be trapped by a crafty veteran—someone like Ron Yary, for instance. Bob Breunig was at middle linebacker for the retired Lee Roy Jordan, and Thomas Henderson was now a regular at one of the outside linebacker spots, and they had to worry about all those things Landry gives them to think about. Limbo, Sarah, Skeezix and that sort of stuff. The same went for Aaron Kyle, who is phasing out Mel Renfro at cornerback.
Before the game, Dallas Safety Cliff Harris said of his young teammates, "They're all great football players if you tell 'em, 'Go hit that guy.' But learning to 'think' for Landry is the hardest part of our defense. We don't know what to expect from them."
Tarkenton knew. When he capped the opening drive by dumping the ball off to Foreman for the touchdown, Foreman was so open he could have gone out to Hazeltine and played 18 holes before Breunig or Henderson or Kyle found him. Slowly, the Cowboy defense adjusted, however; the rush grew more fierce and Tarkenton never really mounted another menacing drive. He was hardly helped in this regard by the five fumbles made by the Vikings.
Not that Dallas was any ball of fire. The Cowboys fumbled three times themselves, and it was not until the fourth quarter, when they were trailing 7-3—Herrera having kicked a 40-yard field goal in the second quarter—that the Cowboys looked as if they had even brought an offense to Minnesota. And that was when Preston Pearson made it clear that Dorsett is not going to put him on the unemployment line. On a third and six at the Minnesota 29, Pearson made a fine catch of a 14-yard sideline pass from Staubach to keep the drive going. And then Pearson made his biggest play of the day. On third down at the Vikings' seven, he dashed across the middle, made a racing dive, ignored Linebacker Jeff Siemon who was hanging onto his legs, stretched out his hands and caught a Staubach bullet in the end zone for the touchdown.
Could Dorsett have made such a catch?
"He's got a lot of pressure on him," Pearson said. "When he settles down and stops trying to make 10 yards every carry he's going to be a super back."
Actually, it would have been impossible for Dorsett, Pearson or anyone else to have gained a bundle of yardage behind the offensive line that Dallas used at Minnesota. The ever-optimistic Landry says it will improve, that Pat Donovan, for example, has the tools to keep anyone from weeping very long over Rayfield Wright's knee surgery that will sideline him for the next several weeks. Nye retired to his doctoral studies at Stanford because Dallas wouldn't renegotiate his contract, and as the offense sputtered Sunday there were more than a few remarks in the press box that what the Cowboys need most is to take someone who has the ability to whimper and write a blank check, and put him on a plane to Nye's hometown.
By all that was right and proper, Dallas should have won the game without an overtime. But one of those indescribable scrambles by Tarkenton, culminating in a desperate pass completion, enabled Minnesota to get close enough for Fred Cox to kick the 35-yard field goal that tied it 10-10 with 1:35 to play. Even so, Dallas came back and did everything but put it away.
After Butch Johnson's 48-yard kickoff return, Staubach completed three passes, one of them to Preston Pearson, naturally, and wheeled the Cowboys down to the Minnesota 15. Pearson struck for five more yards, and with just six seconds on the clock Herrera set up for a dinky field goal that looked so automatic that Viking fans were begining to move toward the tunnels. But Herrera missed wide to the left—a high hook, as it were—forcing the overtime.
All in all, Minnesota clearly looked weary in the fourth quarter, and the Cowboys looked explosively erratic. And in the end that may well characterize both teams this season.