SI Vault
 
Seizing His Moment
Rick Telander
February 07, 1994
It wasn't as if Cowboy safety James Washington had played a bad first half—he had had six solo tackles and had forced a fumble by the lime the Judds' country lovefest began—it was just that in the second half he played like a hard man who'd been cheated on one time too many.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
February 07, 1994

Seizing His Moment

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

It wasn't as if Cowboy safety James Washington had played a bad first half—he had had six solo tackles and had forced a fumble by the lime the Judds' country lovefest began—it was just that in the second half he played like a hard man who'd been cheated on one time too many.

On the first play of the third quarter the stoked-up Washington made a solo tackle on Bill running back Thurman Thomas at the Buffalo 34-yard line. On the next play Washington tackled receiver Billy Brooks at the Bills' 43. On the third play he snatched Thomas's fumble, which had been forced by Leon Lett, and zigzagged his way to a 46-yard touchdown. The return tied the score at 13 and put a bullet in Buffalo's upset-minded heart. "That was the play of the game," said Cowboy nickelback Bill Bates afterward.

But Washington, a 6'1", 203-pound fifth-year man from UCLA, wasn't finished. "1 kind of felt like Michael Jordan for a minute," he said. "I just got in a zone."

That zone included Washington's stunning interception of a Jim Kelly pass intended for wideout Don Beebe on the opening play of the fourth quarter. Beebe ran a crossing route, and Washington came up from his outside position like a mad hornet. "1 was going for the knockout, for the vertebrae," he explained with a touch of regret in the locker room afterward. "But I got there before the ball did." Washington had to settle for the interception instead of the explosion. Nine plays later Emmitt Smith scored his second touchdown of the day, and Dallas had the game in hand.

What had so inspired Washington? Mostly the chance to play. A nickelback whose starting job at strong safety had been lost to injury and then to young Darren Woodson early in the season, Washington lucked out when the Bills made it to the Super Bowl again. Buffalo's triple-wideout sets and five-receiver patterns forced Dallas to counter with alignments of five and sometimes six defensive backs. "I had the opportunity to showcase my talents," said Washington, whose 11 solo tackles led all players. He also felt the urge to exploit the historic media moment. "I like crowds," he said. "When I'm 40 or 50, I'm going to tell my son, 'Look at Daddy showing off in the Super Bowl!' "

Washington, who grew up poor in south central Los Angeles, never knew his father, and his mother gave him to his grandparents to raise when he was four. But he has transcended his rough early days and earned a degree in history from UCLA. In the spring, construction began on a shelter for the homeless in L.A., sponsored by Washington, and when his playing days are done, he plans to enter politics. "To give back," he says. But also because, he adds unnecessarily, "I do love the spotlight."

1