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Ron Reid
December 03, 1979
Once snubbed as losers by Texas' football sophisticates, the Houston Oilers stunned the stumbling Cowboys and won the state title
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December 03, 1979

Lonesome No Longer In The Lone Star State

Once snubbed as losers by Texas' football sophisticates, the Houston Oilers stunned the stumbling Cowboys and won the state title

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A zoologist who is pursuing his doctorate in the area of behavioral research on sharks, Stalls is one of the brightest Dallas players. His gaffe was equally the fault of Mike Ditka, the Dallas special teams coach; in his rage over the penalty, Ditka almost buried a clipboard in the Tartan Turf. Said Stalls, "I thought it was a field goal, that's all there is to it. I thought I saw Fritsch come out onto the field. When he went off, I don't know." In fact, Fritsch never came onto the field.

That kind of error used to be unthinkable in Dallas, where Landry and his staff" work like bar-exam tutors preparing the Cowboys for every conceivable field situation but a volcanic eruption. The previous arithmetical goof came just four days before the Houston game, when Dallas was beaten by Washington 34-20. Redskin Quarterback Joe Theismann tossed a four-yard pass to John McDaniel for the first touchdown of the game. The distance obviously was nothing much, but neither were the Cowboys as they defended with 10 men.

Nor has the correct number always worked for Dallas as it used to. In a Monday night game against Philadelphia, back-to-back Dallas penalties unworthy of Phi Betes—defensive holding on a punt, and offsides on a field goal—enabled the Eagles to 1) Save a drive on the verge of extinction and 2) Disdain a field-goal try and go for a touchdown pass. Philadelphia won the game 31-21.

And l'affaire Henderson has helped Dallas not at all. His varying degrees of intensity had made him at once one of the NFL's most unreliable and most exciting players, because he often backed up his brags with truly dazzling performances. Henderson was colorful, and that may have been enough to ensure a short career as a Cowboy. But the Mouth That Roared through Super Bowl week last January finally reached the breaking point with Landry, who fired him the day after the Washington loss.

During a season in which he had performed erratically and, by his own admission, had been warned about his poor play 10 times by Landry, Henderson was at his worst in the Redskin game. That's how Landry rated both his play on the field and his TV mugging on the sidelines, where Hollywood appeared to be happily hot-dogging while his team was going down to a costly defeat.

After that game Henderson was confronted by Assistant Coach Jerry Tubbs, who told him, " Henderson, that sideline stuff out there wasn't too smart." Henderson, it is understood, reacted with a string of curses, shouting, "Trade me, you [bleeps], trade me, trade me."

The next day Henderson was called into Landry's office and told, "Thomas, it's reached a point where I don't think you can start for me anymore, and if you can't start, I don't think you can play. I'm going to put you on waivers. Somebody will pick you up, either San Francisco [1-12] or Detroit [2-11]." Henderson told Landry he didn't want to leave Dallas for a "low-echelon" team and would sooner retire.

"Coach, I knew this was coming," he said, "but not so soon. I worked my butt off for you for five years and this is what I get for it. But a lot of pressure has been taken off me. I'm still the greatest linebacker, bar none."

Later, in reference to his dismissal, Henderson said, "I'm surprised there wasn't a boycott or a march on downtown Dallas to protest it."

In the days that followed, none of the Cowboys seemed terribly concerned about Henderson's sudden departure, and at Thursday's game not one of the banners or signs adorning Texas Stadium advocated his cause. The strongest personal reaction came from D. D. Lewis, the Cowboys' right linebacker. Lewis had never applauded Hollywood's act and was glad to see him go. On TV, Lewis said Henderson was a distraction and that he had fallen asleep in team meetings.

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