In the Dallas-Los Angeles game seven weeks ago, Tony Dorsett, weakened by an upset stomach, broke away for a long touchdown run. Normally, he is the essence of nonchalance in the end zone, dropping the ball as soon as it's no longer needed. In his weakened condition that day Dorsett could have been expected to lie down after scoring. But instead he joyfully heaved the football into the stands, earning an automatic $100 league fine. He did it, he says, to buy some emotion for the Cowboys. As a team captain, Dorsett says he'd like to see more enthusiasm from the players. "Sometimes when we play, we're almost mechanical," he says.
Ironically, that's a rap that was previously laid on Dorsett himself, that just the way he picks himself off the ground—more slowly even than the legendarily weary Jim Brown—indicates how emotionlessly he plays. "Well, some things I can't change," he says. I've always done everything slowly. You can ask my mom." (Myrtle Dorsett, who is visiting her son, agrees that Tony was about as slow a child as ever took out the garbage. He never fell off anything, either, she adds.) And in truth, Dorsett is one of the most impassioned, aware competitors around.
He has always gone all out in practice, running the ball 20 or 30 yards upfield after each play. And no opponent has ever questioned his intensity during games. His eyes, which can give him a sleepy, Flip Wilson look in civilian life, enlarge afield and, like radar, miss nothing. Johnny Majors' father, the late Shirley Majors, a football coach at the University of the South for 21 years, saw Dorsett in person in just one college game. "Johnny," he told his son later, "I watched that little rascal with those great big eyes and, I'll tell you, I've never seen a man look around so much."
The real problem with emotion in the Dallas setup is that, like Dorsett's resilience, it doesn't compute. "America's Team" has been skillfully manufactured to dispatch opponents with methodical precision. Any new device which may enhance the juggernaut is tested—the latest being a Sensory Deprivation Tank, a silent, water-filled coffin, in which, according to Dorsett, Kicker Rafael Septien lives—and anything that can be computerized, is. The motifs are conservatism (players are encouraged to marry, buy homes and settle in the community) and stability (the ruling quartet—owner Clint Murchison, Schramm, Brandt and Landry—has been with the club since its inception 21 years ago). The result is The System, and a team that is remarkably consistent—could any other club lose a quarterback like Staubach and not miss a beat?—but which seems to lack soul.
But in truth, Dorsett is nearly as fortunate to be with the Cowboys as they are to have him. With his eagerness to carry the ball more, Dorsett could have been used up in a hurry by a hungry coach. Landry wants him running toss plays for 16 games a season for a long time.
"We have a multiple offense with a lot of skilled people, and Tony is part of the overall plan," says Landry. "But when a player comes back in the condition Tony was in and performs like he has this year, then he takes more of a major part. I'm sure when teams play us now, the first thing they want to do is stop Dorsett, and I don't think that was the case in the past. But I'd never use him like Earl Campbell's used. He can't carry the ball 30 or 40 times a game, even in great shape; he's still small."
Tampa Bay took Ricky Bell first in the 1977 draft. Seattle was set to pick Dorsett second, but Dorsett told the Seahawks he'd go to Canada if they did. The bluff worked, and for its first and three second-round picks Dallas got the Seahawks' choice. Brandt wanted Dorsett so badly he might have been willing to offer half of Murchison's oil holdings for him. "We just realized we were never going to win the big games without a great tailback," says Brandt.
Now the elements—organization and runner—are very closely meshed. Of the 28 games in which Dorsett has gained over 100 yards, Dallas has won 26. It is even said that the Great Wall himself, Tom Landry, has a weak spot for Dorsett. "I get along with him fine," is about all the coach says. But a few years ago when Dorsett missed that practice, the only one he's missed, and then apologized to teammates, Landry actually began a sentence to newsmen that went, "Probably it was my fault...."
Of course, the bottom line for any corporation is productivity. Good labor, good management. And Tony Dorsett is that good.
When Dorsett was 14, Melvin Dorsett, the oldest of the five Dorsett brothers, died of a heart attack in the family home. For a while Tony couldn't sleep in the house and moved in with his older sister. After that, he spent a lot of time swinging on a particular swing at a nearby playground. Dorsett doesn't like to reveal any of these things about his past; in fact, he'd be happy now if reporters sort of left him alone. But there it is: A beloved older brother with a drinking problem died in sight of his kid brother.