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Round 1 of what figures to be a three-round Dallas- Philadelphia fight is over, with Dallas the winner on points, 17-14. There were no knockdowns in Philadelphia last Sunday, although both parties were staggered. They'll meet again for Round 2 on Dec. 13 in Dallas, on the next to last weekend of the season, and for that one everyone will probably be worrying about point differentials and other such trash stats. The NFC championship game ought to produce Round 3, unless San Francisco or some other team gets hot at the right time. But somehow you feel that these two teams are solid enough to go the route, that they'll be there at the end and that it will be a three-rounder—just like Houston- Pittsburgh used to be every year.
Sunday's game in Veterans Stadium followed a week of back-and-forth nasty quotes that created the impression that these teams didn't like each other very much. That's nothing new; nobody around the league likes Dallas. The battle stretched through three very strange quarters in which the Cowboys shoved the Eagles all over the place and had nothing to show for it but the short end of a 14-3 score. It ended in a wild rush, as so many of these low-scoring games do: Dallas got two TDs in the fourth quarter, and then a rough, burly backup quarterback called Paterson Plank Joe Pisarcik came in for the Eagles' injured Ron Jaworski and generated enough offense to march Philly down to the Dallas 16, at which point a dropped pass and a missed field goal turned out the lights.
Until then the Eagles' offense consisted of just one drive and one huge play, an 85-yard Jaworski-to-Harold Carmichael pass. The Cowboys had been smooth and consistent on offense, right until they got near the goal line. Then bad things happened. But when it was over, Danny White, their quarterback, stood by his locker and launched into a speech heard so often in Dallas locker rooms through the years. It's known as the Tom Landry Soliloquy.
"Today he was the best I've ever seen him," White said. "All year the Eagles had been built up as having such a great defense, but we were moving the ball against them at will. The fact that we missed out on three scores because we turned the ball over in close is frustrating. We could've scored 38 points today.
" Coach Landry's play-calling was brilliant; he was constantly one step ahead of them. They'd overload against Tony Hill [six catches, 121 yards], and he'd come back with the counter play. Then they'd just about defense that, and he'd go back to the way we started, play-action stuff and the passing game."
Now the houselights were dimming; there was soft organ music in the background. "He's the hub of the wheel behind everything here," White was saying. "It's just like he has his hand in your back, pushing you along."
Cut to a close-up of a hand. Then to a dripping sponge.
"If you just let yourself be a sponge, let yourself soak up and digest everything he says...once you've got 45 players believing everything he says, then you've got a great football team."
Segue to Landry, who's sitting on a chair in the coaching room, studying the Coke he's sipping; his bald head reflects the overhead light. A messenger has just relayed the news to him that White said he was one step ahead of the Eagles. The hub-of-the-wheel and the hand-in-the-back parts were not mentioned. "Well," Landry said, looking up. "We won."
Or, to put it more clearly, the Cowboys won the fourth quarter, because that was the only one in which they didn't turn the ball over. In the first quarter they drove to a first-and-goal on the Eagle 25, where White failed to read Free Safety Brenard Wilson playing a deep centerfield. Wilson's goal-line interception got the Eagles out of trouble. On Dallas' next possession it got a field goal only because Left Tackle Pat Donovan was a good crawler. The Cowboys were on the Eagles' 10, and White got sacked and fumbled. Donovan crawled after the bouncing ball and reached it before the Eagles' Claude Humphrey and Carl Hairston did. "That," said Dallas Safety Charlie Waters, "was the unsung play of the game."