In his office on the fourth floor of Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium, Eagles' Coach Dick Vermeil was aware that something not covered in his NFL handbook was happening. Here it was mid-October, football weather, a chill in the air, leaves falling, but early in the week a memo had come up from stadium security. Make sure your players get their cars out of the VIP spots before the World Series traffic starts arriving, it had read. World what? Oh, yeah, the Series, the Phillies—they're here this year.
"I just hope they don't tow our cars away," Vermeil told a press conference. "You go to work at the stadium, cripes sake, and they tow your cars away. That shouldn't happen."
On Sunday, with the Series having moved to Kansas City for a while, Dallas was coming to town—mighty Dallas, which had won the last five games against the Eagles at the Vet. You could argue that the whole season had been building toward this first confrontation between the NFC East's superpowers. Where else was the strength in the NFC? The Redskins' threat had evaporated. In the NFC Central, only Detroit had a winning mark. The NFC West? L.A. and the Three Stooges.
But Philly and Dallas each had a 5-1 record, winning by double-figure spreads. And each had faltered once to a team it should've beaten. Now they were finally getting their chance at each other. It should have been a public relations natural—except it happened right in the middle of a World Series in which the Phillies were, almost miraculously, participants.
On Tuesday night, before Game 1, Vermeil left his charts and playbook to go downstairs and visit Phillie Manager Dallas Green in the dugout and wish him luck. "It was during the dinner break," Vermeil explained almost apologetically. On Wednesday, he admitted, he had actually walked the 30 steps from his office to the press box to watch some of Game 2. "It was late," he said. "I needed a break. I watched one batter. No, I don't remember who it was I watched."
Then he went back to the books, charts, films, computer printouts, tendencies, variables. His workdays ended at midnight Monday, 3 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday. On a shelf in Vermeil's office is a Vince Lombardi autograph, torn from a notebook Vermeil kept at a coaching clinic 20 years ago. On his desk is an advertising flyer for the book Workaholics—"They love to work. They live to work. But can they ever leave their work?" The workaholic coach. "I'm a little sensitive about that," he says. Still, it's Dallas this week, boys. Dallas, for cripes sake.
Vermeil's week ended on Sunday with a fourth-down Cowboy pass in the end zone that fell incomplete and left Dallas Split End Tony Hill screaming to the official that he had been "restricted" on the play and a 22-year-old rookie cornerback named Roynell Young looking skyward in thanks, because he had just played in the biggest game of his life and the Cowboys had given him the full treatment and he had gotten out of it alive. Vermeil's Eagles had broken their five-year jinx against Dallas with a 17-10 victory. And for three hours or so, the Eagles owned Philadelphia. The Phillies' third Series victory, out in Kansas City, was still in the offing.
"Baseball, basketball, hockey—they all have something we don't have," Vermeil said. "They have seven games to prove who's best. We get the one shot and it's all over. A guy drops a pass, an official blows a call...you work and you work and it always seems to come down to the variables, doesn't it?"
It did this time. Oh, there was much more to it. There were nine turnovers in the game, five by the Cowboys, and there was vicious hitting, which in the first half removed the premier runners on each side, the Cowboys' Tony Dorsett and the Eagles' Wilbert Montgomery. Any attempt at a running game after that was a sham. And so it came down to 49 seconds left and Cowboy Quarterback Danny White reaching for some old Roger Staubach magic. Fourth and goal on the eight—White had taken the Cowboys from their own 40 in nine plays—and now it was time to go to work again on the rookie cornerback.
Young had been a target all afternoon. They had loaded up and run crisscrossing wide receivers at him. On the Cowboys' final fourth-quarter drive, they had run Hill on a reverse toward Young's side and sent Drew Pearson deep on him—an option pass off the reverse. Except that Young didn't buy the act and played Pearson tight, and Hill had to eat the ball. Three plays before the final one, they ran Pearson at him in the end zone, a timed two-step pattern with White lofting the ball and the receiver running under it, but Pearson slipped on the slick Astro Turf and fell.