The Pittsburgh Steelers are a bunch of roughnecks with money in their pockets. The Dallas Cowboys figured that if you want to take it away from them, you don't use a blackjack. You use three shells and a pea. So, in the great computer room in Dallas, Tom Landry punched the button marked Steelers, the machines whirred and hummed, and the printout came out titled: Finesse. Subheading: Trickery.
Look at what the Cowboys were up against. The Steelers' defensive line has a tackle called Mean Joe and an end called Mad Dog. Their middle linebacker has almost no teeth. Their right linebacker is named Dirt. And their quarterback...man, if Terry Bradshaw ain't limping and bleeding, the argument hasn't even started.
The computer told the Cowboys what to do, but here's the funny thing about computers. They can't cut down a linebacker or move out a defensive tackle; they can't get down in a four-point stance and fight off a double-team. And when the verdict was in at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh last Sunday, when the Steelers had stopped every bit of flimflammery and gimmickry the Cowboys threw at them and had knocked Roger Staubach out of the box while winning by a 14-to-3 score, Mean Joe Greene, the elder statesman of the defensive line, drew a deep breath and pronounced in that deliberate way of his, " Dallas is a team that tries to fool you. They wait for you to make a mistake. Well, what happens when they don't fool you? Can they blow you out?" And he looked up and paused for a moment. "I think not."
This was nothing new in the recent history of the Dallas- Pittsburgh series. The computer has been feeding the Cowboys that same information since they played the Steelers in Super Bowl X in 1976, when Thomas Henderson almost broke the opening kickoff for a TD off a reverse, a gimmick play. Dallas has been trying to relive that magic moment ever since. Remember the flea flicker the Cowboys tried against the Steelers in Super Bowl XIII last January? That one cost them almost two freeway exits worth of yardage. But still the Cowboys try to bamboozle the Steelers, and Pittsburgh has now beaten them four straight, including Super Bowls X and XIII. Sooner or later the message will get through: Hey, Tom, the Steelers know which shell the pea is under.
On Sunday Dallas shot the works, or as Pittsburgh Defensive End John Banaszak said, "We got a look at the whole computer." The Cowboys tried Tony Dorsett on a halfback option pass in the second quarter, during Dallas' only genuine scoring drive of the first half. Cornerback Ron Johnson smelled out the play and tied up the receiver, Drew Pearson, so Dorsett had to eat the ball. "He kicked him and he held him," Dorsett said. "He latched on to him pretty good." The Cowboys settled for a 32-yard field goal, and that was their scoring.
They also tried Dorsett on a Statue of Liberty out of the shotgun; that play was whistled back for holding. Late in the second quarter, with Pittsburgh leading 7-3, the Cowboys tried their wildest gamble of all. On fourth-and-5 from the Dallas 31, Danny White rolled to his right out of punt formation and passed toward Jay Saldi 20 yards downfield. The ball was overthrown, but the Steelers had it covered anyway; no one was fooled by this rather exotic play that White had called on his own.
"We were playing for it every time they went into punt formation," Steeler Coach Chuck Noll said.
"A terrible play, just terrible," Greene said, shaking his head. "The odds were too long, the risk too great."
"It was a sign of frustration building up," said White, who wound up quarterbacking the Cowboys after L. C. Greenwood sent Staubach from the game with a concussion with 13:19 left. "Against a team like the Steelers, you have to make a big play, so I went ahead and called it. Coach Landry didn't say much to me on the sideline except, 'You can't do it down there.' He's not through with me yet. I'll be hearing more about it on Tuesday."
All game long the Cowboys ran their man-in-motion plays and their multiple sets. At one point the tight end bumped into one of the linemen, and another time the center snapped the ball before anyone was set. And at the end of the game, Dallas was whistled twice in a row for false starts—and the crowd was laughing at the Cowboys.