All in splendid all, Roger Staubach brought the Dallas Cowboys from behind to win 23 games in the fourth quarter, 14 of them in the last two minutes. The best comeback ever, Staubach says without hesitation, was the knockout punch in Dallas' 35-34 victory over Washington last December, the game that put the Redskins out of the playoffs.
"That game had more emotion than any I ever played," says Staubach. "It was just the impossibility of it. The Redskins came into Texas Stadium as if they were going to wipe us out. They led 17-0 before we knew what hit us. Then we went up 21-17, and on the sidelines we thought the game was over, but they came back in the fourth quarter and went ahead 34-21. I mean, it was just crazy the way the momentum swung. Then...."
Let's take a closer look at that fourth quainter. A little more than four minutes remained when the Redskins, with that 34-21 lead, had a third-and-four on the Dallas 42. Some fans were leaving to beat the traffic. Then Clarence Harmon fumbled and Randy White recovered on the Cowboys' 41. The clock showed 3:49.
Tom Landry has said that Staubach was "perfect" on the last two Cowboy drives" which produced two touchdowns; the record shows that he completed seven of 10 passes for 134 yards in the two minutes and 36 seconds Dallas controlled the ball. Every play was a pass. The three times Dallas had the ball before those final two scoring drives, Staubach had been unable to produce a single first down.
His offense was undermanned. Ron Springs was playing for Tony Dorsett, who was out with a bruised shoulder; Butch Johnson had replaced a hobbling Drew Pearson, and the Redskins had nullified Tight End Billy Joe Dupree, who had had only one reception all day.
"When play resumed," says Staubach, "we were into our two-minute offense. There were more than two minutes left, nearly four, but we needed two touchdowns, so that made it a two-minute situation. That meant we took all our patterns five yards deeper, and were in the shotgun for almost every play."
On the first play, Staubach passed to Johnson, curling in from the left side, for a gain of 14 yards.
"I was thinking zone," says Roger, "with the cornerback [Joe Lavender] coming up and the strong safety [Tony Peters] going back to an area. Lavender really wasn't the problem on this play. I was just looking for the dead spot."
First-and-10 on the Washington 45, 3:12 left: Staubach hit Tony Hill on a slant-in on the left side, Lavender defending, for 19 Yards.
"The clock wasn't a major problem," says Staubach. "I could go over the middle without calling a time-out. I was thinking the Redskins would still play zone to protect that 13-point lead. But if they were in a zone, there would be a hole. If not, then Tony just had to beat Lavender man-to-man, which he did. Earlier Lavender had knocked down a pass on our 15. He'd almost intercepted it, but now he had to be more cautious. The huddle was very-quiet. No one was talking. I didn't let them. It's no good at a time like that. The excitement was there, but it wasn't like it was the last drive, where a score can win it."