The Cowboys got some measure of revenge on the Steelers in the off-season, when they traveled to Pittsburgh for a benefit basketball game. "This time," says Howard, "they were on my court." Howard says he scored more than 60 points to lead the Cowboys' rout.
The fates seemed to play a different sort of game with Percy, though. One month after the Super Bowl, the Howards' house in suburban Garland burned to the ground in a fire that started in the utility room. Howard was the only one home at the time. "All I could think about saving was this big TV we had just bought," he says. "Afterward, I would have gladly traded it for some clothes."
Thanks to a call from a prominent Cowboy booster, the insurance company settled the claim quickly and the Howards, with their two-year-old daughter, built another house on the same site in Garland. Percy was a budding star, Pat was writing some free-lance articles on the Cowboys, and they seemingly had the whole field in front of them. But in a 1976 preseason game against the Denver Broncos, Percy severely injured his right knee while running a reverse. He spent the rest of the season rehabilitating the knee, only to have it give way again during a practice in the 77 training camp.
"I remember lying there on the ground, and looking down at me, like he was a figment of my imagination, was Coach Landry," says Howard. "A few minutes later, when I was being looked at in the trainer's room, the coach came over and said, 'You looked scared out there. Don't worry. You've got a long road ahead of you, but we're right there with you.' "
He also missed the entire '77 season, but he accompanied the Cowboys to New Orleans for Super Bowl XII. One night during Super Bowl week, he and some other players were caught breaking curfew. "In the meeting the next day, they said I was fined $250," Howard says. "Heck, I was so thrilled they still considered me part of the team that I would have gladly paid them $500."
However, the knee never did come back, and in 1978, Dallas released Howard. "I truly believe that if Percy hadn't gotten injured," says Brandt, "he would have become All-Pro."
After his football career, Howard, who had a background in the martial arts, trained to become a heavyweight boxer. That didn't work out because of his injured knee, and Howard went through a series of jobs, including one as a cutlery salesman, before he became an investigator for a security company. Eventually, Howard became a private detective.
"I've been shot at, run off the road, and I've had my share of fights," he says. "My football background came in handy one time. I had to follow this guy in my car, and when he went into this bar, I went in, too. I guess I had gotten a little careless, because while I'm playing this video game, he comes up and says, 'You've been following me.' He had his buddies with him, and they were all pretty big. I said, 'Why would I be following you? I just came in for a drink. See this ring? It's a Super Bowl ring. My name is Percy Howard, and I used to play for the Cowboys.' Well, they recognized the name, and pretty soon, we're shooting the breeze about football and my Super Bowl catch."
Ah, the catch. Most people would consider it a great blessing. Percy certainly does. Pat, on the other hand, considers it a curse. "In a way, it was the worst thing that could have happened," she says. "Percy got the big head after that, and he could never come to grips with reality. Believe me, he was a different person before the catch. It reminds me of Santiago's catch in The Old Man and the Sea. It was a great feat, but by the time he has brought the catch to shore, it has been eaten by other fish, and all he has left are bones."
Pat resents the fact that Percy's jobs after football took him further and further away from her and their three children: Pamela, now 17; Philip, 14; and Petey, 9. And she is disappointed that she wasn't able to complete her work toward a master's degree that she started in '78. She is constantly reminded in her classrooms—she teaches 11th-grade English—that she is the wife of Percy Howard. Says Pat, "I'll be talking to the kids about The Scarlet Letter or Huck Finn or nouns and verbs, when some student will suddenly pipe up, 'What's your husband's number?' "