Warning to the Washington Redskins: Beware the wounded animal.
The Dallas Cowboys are down. Their ears are burning. The Skins squashed them 31-10 Sunday at Texas Stadium in a game one Dallas paper called Super Bowl XVII½, a game that drew scalper prices as high as $250 a seat. They were humiliated, and worst of all—you're not going to believe this—the Cowboys lost their poise. In the third quarter, the quarter in which Tom Landry always says you "take command," they came apart completely. They botched a fourth-and-inches play, snapping the ball when they shouldn't have, an error that had Landry screaming "No! No! No!" on the sidelines. Two Dallas defensive backs showed up in the middle of a Washington Fun Bunch celebration in the end zone and tried to start a rumble. They had 10 men on the field one time. The computer broke down and funny wires popped out. They supplied valuable footage for NFL Films' Football Follies series.
But before the Redskins do too much celebrating, they should note that this is exactly the time when Dallas is most dangerous: when it's wounded and cornered.
Just ask the L.A. Rams. In December 1980 the Rams beat the Cowboys 38-14 to drop Dallas to wild-card status in the playoffs. Two weeks later the Cowboys came back and crushed the Rams 35-13 in a postseason game. In 1978 the Rams handed Dallas a convincing 27-14 regular-season drubbing. The Cowboys waited their turn. It came in the NFC championship game. Final score: Dallas 28, L.A. 0.
And Sunday's game against the Redskins, as epic as it appeared going in, was only Round 2 of a three-round fight. The Cowboys won Round 1 back in September. Now the rounds are even. Barring some unforeseen disaster, such as an early playoff loss, Round 3 should occur in three weeks when the teams meet again for the NFC title. Washington will go in as the Eastern Division champion, unless it blows this week's game against the Giants and Dallas beats San Francisco. But if form prevails, the Cowboys will make it via the wild-card route, thanks to last Sunday's loss. The teams are destined to meet again, and Dallas will remember. Beware the wounded animal.
Before this game, both teams showed an almost psychopathic desire to avoid any statements that might be the least inflammatory, anything that could appear on the opponent's bulletin board. "I think the coaches' paranoia is beginning to rub off on the players," said Skins Free Safety Mark Murphy.
"Everyone is so quiet...it kind of scares me," said Cowboy Cornerback Everson Walls.
No more. There will be plenty of bulletin board stuff for the Dallas players to read. The newspapers will take care of that. The Cowboys will have a nice fat month to learn about how they got their noses shoved in it last Sunday. The third quarter is what they'll read about the most. They were on a high, going in. The Redskins had stunned Dallas with 14 quick points in the first quarter, but then the Cowboys stopped Washington on fourth-and-inches and scored on their last two possessions of the first half to cut the lead to 14-10 at the intermission. And the stands were buzzing because this was exactly the sort of thing Dallas had done in the September game—bounced back from a 23-3 deficit to win it 31-30. Clearly, momentum had shifted.
The Cowboys took the second-half kickoff, picked up a first down and moved out near midfield where they faced fourth and less than a yard. Washington was in trouble. The Skins' regular strong safety, Ken Coffey, had knocked himself out on third down making a heroic tackle, holding Ron Springs short of a first down. He was replaced by Curtis Jordan. Murphy had left the game with an aggravated hamstring pull in the second-quarter, and his place had been taken by a second-year free agent named Greg Williams, third string on the depth chart and No. 8 of the eight defensive backs on the roster. It was time for the Cowboys to take command.
Instead it was Football Follies play No. 1. The Cowboys weren't punting. They loaded up their left side, and Quarterback Danny White got behind the center and called his signals and waited...and waited...and waited.