The sign near the Redskin entrance to Texas Stadium said: "Doomsday is Here." It was frighteningly prophetic. On this day the major question was not who would win but whether the Redskins would survive.
It was typically Washington vs. Dallas in many ways. Nobody was taking prisoners; Billy Kilmer was injured and Joe Theismann proved an unacceptable relief pitcher; the Redskins were wonderfully spirited, but the Cowboys were more powerful and swift at the most important moments.
"After St. Louis, it was real hard getting up," Dallas coach Tom Landry said, "but the second half we started to play well. And that final drive was tremendous. Our ability all year has been to stay tough, keep hitting. And today was tough."
It was more than tough for the Redskins, who lost by 18 points on the scoreboard and even worse on the field. Without three starters before the battle even began, they watched John Riggins go down, Kilmer go down, Ron Saul go down, Eddie Brown go down.
And for perhaps a third of the game the team was scared that Bob Brunet might not get up. Apparently hit head-on by Randy White's knee, Brunet lay motionless for ever so long, and concern was so deep thathe eventually was wheeled off the field and into an ambulance without his helmet being removed.
Midway through the third quarter, though, the Redskins said X rays showed no broken bones, that Brunet has full movement throughout his body and will be kept at a hospital in Dallas overnight "as precaution."
So everyone could return to the merely depressing matter of the whys of the 34-16 whipping.
First, the Cowboys are the superior football team, although they seemed fully capable of allowing Washington to escape with victory early. That the Redskins were able to get just two field goals instead of two touchdowns in the first quarter was significant.
That Theisman was unable to muster any offense, that in fact he had to yield once again to a 38-year-old man who returned to duty with an injury that would sideline younger throwers, hardly bodes will for the immediate as well as long-range Redskin future.
Here was Theisman's chance once again. And again nothing went right. While Kilmer was icing his left shoulder, Theismann was throwing two excusable imcompletions his first series. His first fast ball the next series was picked off by Charles Waters, and the Cowboys suddenly produced a 50-yard touchdown pass that gave them the lead, 7-6.
And Kilmer was back at quarterback the second half, even though Theisman did throw a touchdown pass - from less than a foot - after Mark Murphy blocked a Cowboy punt and the Redskins recovered inside the one.
Later, when they still had a chance for victory, the Redskins were dealt a serious injustice when Kilmer was called for intentionally grounding a desperate, off-balance, almost underhanded wobbler on first down at the Redskin 43.
But the ball did almost hit a most eligible receiver, Clarence Harmon, who ran well in place of the injured Riggins. That the ball was not catchable was irrelevant. After the penalty, the Redskins were forced to punt - and Dallas ran out nearly all the remaining minutes.
"The ball hit at his feet," Kilmer said later. "It was not thrown away. It was supposed to be low, and I told him (Harmon) to look low for the ball. Picture will verify it."
Also, pictures will verify that not long before that play Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach threw an under-pressure pass that landed in an area populated by no one but Cowboy blockers and Redskins. There were no Cowboy receivers within 15 yards - but no flag was thrown.
On the next play, Efren Herrera kicked a 52-yard field goal that lifted Dallas to a 20-16 lead.
Of his injury, Kilmer said: "I really believe it's just a bruise. It happened when I got kicked. I got a shot at halftime, and it kinda deadened it. It's gonna be sore tommorrow, though.
"This is the best Dallas team I've ever seen."
Indeed, the Cowboys are strong and deep - and the fact that Tony Dorsett is just beginning to feel comfortable with the offense makes them even more interesting. At the moment, they seem to be the only NFC team with a ghost of a chance against any of the three AFC powers - Oakland, Baltimore and Denver - in the Super Bowl.
When Dallas needed some zest early in the fourth quarter, Drew Pearson beat Gerald Williams long and Staubach led him perfectly on the 59-yard touchdown pass that increased a four-point lead to 11.
And when the Cowboys needed time near the end, they gave the ball to Dorsett - and wasted nearly nine minutes driving 83 yards for the final points. "Let Tony do it" will become an increasingly familiar call here in weeks to come.
For the Redskins, the call is "Help!"