Historical Note: In October 1974 the Dallas Cowboys traded quarterback Craig Morton to the New York Giants for the right to pick second in the '75 NFL draft. Atlanta, which chose first in that draft, selected Cal quarterback Steve Bartkowski. The Cowboys then drafted Randy White, a defensive lineman from Maryland. This sequence is recorded in the two pages devoted to RANDY WHITE in the 1984 Dallas media guide. However, the bio omits mention of what happened next. Picking third, the Baltimore Colts selected Ken Huff, a guard from North Carolina. Next, the Chicago Bears selected a running back from Jackson State named Walter Payton.
Question: We all know what the Colts would have done if that draft were done over, but what about the Cowboys? Would they still pick White over Payton?
Answer: You betcha.
To all those who labor in the shadows that others might shine, let it be known that the folks in Dallas—knowledgeable fans and Cowboy management alike—have come to this conclusion: The best player on their team is a lineman. Not a quarterback, running back, pass receiver or defensive back—none of those so-called skill-position players in whose hands the ball, and most of the money, is usually found, but a grub among the butterflies, a defensive tackle. And White has the paycheck to prove it. He gets more money than any other Cowboy ever has, an estimated $800,000 annually for five years. That will take him to his 36th birthday and retirement. There's some property involved in the package, with guaranteed appreciation, which is, of course, the way they do things in Big Deal ( Roger Staubach, for instance, owns the field the Cowboys practice on). If we are to believe the figures made available for public contemplation, White earns $300,000 more per year than Dallas quarterback Danny White and $400,000 more than running back Tony Dorsett, the other principal capitalists among the Cowboys.
But here's the tip-off: Nobody minds. On the contrary. When White held out for 39 days this preseason—and for a while it looked as if he might not come back at all—fellow Cowboys wore armbands of mourning (actually the colored bands cut from the tops of sweat socks) with White's number, 54, on them. At practice they taped messages to the Dallas management across the backs of their helmets: WHERE'S RANDY? Some also taped the frequently correct answer: FISHING. "Give him the moon," one Dallas player advised management. "He deserves it."
Part of this feeling could be traced to the current state of the Cowboy offense, coach Tom Landry's show of shifts, feints, bluffs and coveys of men in motion that befuddles a few rookie TV cameramen but almost no one else anymore, certainly not Washington, which held the Cowboys to two touchdowns in a 34-14 rout on Sunday. Despite that score, it was interceptions and offensive misplays that opened the door for the Redskins. At least the Dallas defense has retained some semblance of its former stature. White is its physical catalyst and spiritual leader.
That's in part because White is such an enormously appealing fellow. Make that enormous and appealing. He's 6'4" and 265 pounds, with a neck that looks like a section of the Alaska pipeline. And White is the strong, silent modest type a Texan would naturally want to wrap his heart around. "If John Wayne were alive, he'd want to be Randy White," says one Dallas newspaperman. "Not play Randy White, be Randy White. I guaran-damn-tee you."
Some of those who think White is the best lineman in the game today consider him a throwback, a player who loves the game so much for its own bone-bending sake that he'd play it for nothing if the Cowboys didn't have so much dough to throw at him.
He wouldn't. He's dedicated, but he's not dumb.
What he is—and this, we shall see, is the core of his success—is the quintessential modern player, stronger and faster and smarter than a defensive tackle could have dreamed of being in the past. That's why Dallas's vice-president of personnel development, Gil Brandt, says he would, indeed, pick White again over Payton ("But wouldn't it be great to have them both?") and why former Cowboy Charlie Waters, a teammate of White's for six seasons, might be right on the mark when he says White isn't just the best lineman in the game today, but also the best player, period.