This was the season the Dallas Cowboys were supposed to be undefeated, untied, unscored upon and under orders from NFL headquarters to hold the score down. And when the defending Super Bowl champions opened the season on Monday night TV by rolling up 583 yards of total offense and routing Baltimore 38-0, white flags were waving all over the league. In fact, it seemed that first week in September that the Cowboys' biggest problem would be to find a way to cram more diamonds on the 1979 Super Bowl ring than the 28 they have on the 1978 model.
Or so everyone thought. Instead, Tony Dorsett, Roger Staubach, Harvey Martin, Ed Jones, Randy White, Drew Pearson and all those other All-Planet Cowboys began to go bump in the day as well as in the night. Last Sunday in the Orange Bowl, the Miami Dolphins handed supposedly invincible Dallas its second straight defeat, 23-16.
This left the Cowboys with a 6-4 record, and if the season had ended Sunday, they would not have qualified for the playoffs. With the expanded format this season, which gives each conference an extra wild-card spot, a team needs little more than two box tops and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to get into the playoffs. The Cowboys have yet to beat a legitimate contender, having lost to the Rams, Redskins and Vikings before the Dolphins. They barely scraped past Philadelphia and needed an overtime to beat downtrodden St. Louis. And with the Patriots, the Packers and a rematch with the Redskins ahead on the schedule, the forecast for Dallas may well be Doomsday.
The Cowboys never gave themselves a chance against the Dolphins, who extended their record to 7-3 while remaining within a game of first-place New England in the AFC East. Two weeks ago Dallas was losing to Minnesota 14-0 before it had run off its fifth play from scrimmage. On Sunday Dallas was losing to the Dolphins 14-0 before it had run off its third play. And in each game it was a Dorsett fumble on Dallas' first series that set up the opposition's second touchdown and put the Cowboys in a nearly hopeless situation.
Down 20-3 to Miami at the half, the Cowboys clawed and scratched the rest of the game, just as they will have to do for the last six games of the season. Rafael Septien matched Garo Yepremian's three field goals, and when Staubach passed to Billy Joe DuPree for Dallas' first—and only—touchdown with 4:44 left in the game, Dallas suddenly was dreaming about overtime.
Forget it. On the Cowboys' next possession DuPree fumbled a pass reception at the Miami 31, and Norris Thomas recovered for Miami. On the sideline Dallas Coach Tom Landry turned and threw up his arms in disgust. Dallas got the ball once more, but on its last play Staubach's desperation pass from the Miami 39 was intercepted by Charlie Babb near the Dolphin goal line.
As they left the Orange Bowl, the bedraggled Cowboys were a long shot to be back in Miami for Super Bowl XIII on January 21.
The Cowboys' problems this dreadful season have led to a lot of theorizing and alibiing in Dallas, with only the Cowboy cheerleaders escaping blame for the team's sorry record. Here are some of the most popular theories:
?"WE DON'T CARE WHO YOU ARE, JUST KEEP SAYING ALL THOSE WONDERFUL THINGS ABOUT us." This is the favorite of the Cowboy players, who admit that they have been overconfident. How can you blame them? They were lopsided winners over Denver in Super Bowl XII after ranking first in the NFL both offensively and defensively. In the off-season their two top NFC East rivals, Washington and St. Louis, appeared to self-destruct. The Redskins fired Coach George Allen, and the Cardinals went one better, firing Coach Don Coryell and also ridding themselves of such top players as Terry Metcalf and Conrad Dobler.
"We haven't played with enough intensity," says Dallas General Manager Tex Schramm, "and I think it's because we haven't had enough concern for our opponents."