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"All that stuff, hey, that was just us having fun," said Walls. "We kid each other most of the time. Like Dennis, he's even slower than me. We always say, 'How's that grand piano on your back, old man?' " The Thieves were ready this time with deeds rather than words; the eight Dallas defensive backs accounted for 38 tackles, five assists, six passes broken up, two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
In the locker room a jubilant Thurman confronted Landry, asking him to put his right hand up. "Higher," said Thurman. He then slapped palms with the man who makes the faces on Mount Rushmore look animated. It was believed to be Landry's first high five ever.
Why did this win mean so much to Dallas? There were the obvious reasons. It gave the Cowboys a 10-5 record and their first NFC East Championship since 1981; though the Giants could still wind up with the same record as the Cowboys at season's end, tiebreakers would give the title to Dallas. Sunday's victory also proved wrong all the experts who picked the Cowboys to finish fourth in the division this year.
More than that, the Cowboys got to find out which one of their two selves would show up. Would it be the team that gave up 94 points in losses to the Bears and Bengals in games 11 and 14? Or would it be the team that beat the Eagles and Cardinals in games 12 and 13, playing its "best ball of the year," according to Schramm? Well, the good Cowboys showed up, showing plenty backbone along the way.
For the 9-6 Giants, who could meet the Cowboys again as a wild-card team, the loss was hard to take. Gone was the chance to win the team's first division title in 22 years. Back was the stress and unfulfilled promise of being a "rising" team. "I'm upset most that I missed a shot at history," said defensive end Leonard Marshall.
It was fitting, perhaps, that such a weighty game should come down to a basic gut-check for somebody like Pelluer. Untested and uncertain, he had to look his profession in the eye and become a hero.
"Steve knew every key, every formation," marveled White, who stayed on the sideline to wave in plays. "On that big pass to Karl Powe on the final drive he not only read blitz correctly, he read max blitz, which made the difference."
After the game Pelluer gazed about the crowded interview room, with its newspaper blowups of past Cowboy glories lining the walls. "I've never even been in this room," he said.
Get used to it, kid.