In the past few weeks there have been moments in the huddle of the Los Angeles Rams when the inexperienced quarterback, Vince Ferragamo, has mumbled something or other and Dennis Harrah, the veteran guard, has been compelled to say, "Vince, we don't even have a play like that." Ferragamo would apologize and speak in more familiar terms. Well, that was then. Last Sunday in cold, gray Dallas, all Ferragamo did was whip " America's team," the heavily favored Cowboys, by the score of 21-19 and take the often maligned, frequently defeated Rams into the championship game of the National Conference against Tampa Bay.
Until six games ago Ferragamo was an understudy to Pat Haden. Vince got his chance when Haden broke a thumb, and even after that he was benched a couple of times in favor of the more experienced Bob Lee. But nobody ever said Ferragamo didn't have an arm and plenty of ability. Coach Ray Malavasi kept saying it, after apologizing to Vince for taking him out of games. Ferragamo had been a widely sought college prospect, one who used to make John McKay wipe his chin at the thought of recruiting him for USC. But Vince went to Cal, and then left for Nebraska.
Now Ferragamo will also face the same coach, McKay, who once labeled him the best quarterback prospect in the solar system. It surely boggles many minds to consider that Los Angeles and Tampa Bay will be playing to see who goes to the Super Bowl, but no doubt the most stupefied people of all must be the Cowboys.
In essence, Ferragamo did to the Dallas boys what Dallas, and mainly Roger Staubach, has had a habit of doing to other teams. Ferragamo beat the Cowboys in the dying moments of a wild and weird game by throwing his third touchdown pass of the afternoon, a 50-yarder to Billy Waddy, with exactly 2:06 to play.
Maybe Ferragamo is developing a thing about clocks. With precisely three seconds left before the end of the first half, he threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Ron Smith. Actually, on that one more credit was due Smith than Ferragamo, because Smith, a second-year man from San Diego State, made a leaping, storybook catch in the Dallas end zone after a midair wrestling match with Safety Randy Hughes, the substitute for the long lost and sorely missed Charlie Waters. That Smith could have come down with the football was simply not to be believed. That play gave Los Angeles a 14-5 lead.
Ferragamo figured in almost everything that happened. In the first quarter he had retreated into his end zone and fallen down, giving up a safety to the Cowboys. For a while it looked as if two points might be all of the scoring for the day, because neither team could generate any kind of offense. One reason Dallas wasn't doing much was L.A.'s funny "nickel-7" defense, a thing concocted by Defensive Coordinator Bud Carson. Against Staubach and the shotgun formation the Rams sent in seven defensive backs, and they appeared to be everywhere at once.
With Staubach generating only a field goal in the first half, Ferragamo recovered from his safety and capped a 92-yard second-quarter drive with the first touchdown of the game. It came on a 32-yard pass to Wendell Tyler, who had gotten isolated on Linebacker D. D. Lewis. This was the same Tyler who launched the drive with a 35-yard jaunt around the left side of the Dallas defense, where Too Tall Jones, Charlie Waters and Hollywood Henderson used to roam.
Dallas got back in the game in the third quarter with a touchdown that resulted from two things: 1) Staubach looking a little more like himself, like the man who led the NFL in passing in 1979, and 2) a 14-yard pass interference penalty on the Rams' Jim Youngblood, who either did or did not interfere with Tony Dorsett. Youngblood's thoughts about the penalty were not kept to himself; he kicked things and hollered. Dorsett may have been play-acting, but it worked. Dallas had the ball at the Rams' one-yard line, and Ron Springs lunged over. Now it was 14-12 Rams, but that fickle fellow Momentum seemed to have switched sides.
Ferragamo throws the occasional bad ball. One of them found Cliff Harris' stomach late in the third quarter, and the interception got Dallas moving to the touchdown that put the Cowboys ahead 19-14. With a couple of passes and a good run by Dorsett, Dallas worked its way to a third-and-two near the Rams' goal. On that play, Dorsett went in motion and Roger dropped back, suddenly stopped and zipped a shot over the middle to Jay Saldi, who was so open he might have been humming.
Afterward, the Rams came back with a ground game featuring Tyler and Cullen Bryant, driving from their own 23 to the Dallas 32. But, on fourth down, after one official called interference on Cliff Harris and another overruled him, the game appeared to be over.