In Denve, Dallas is a three-point favorite to beat the beloved Broncos in Super Bowl 12 Sunday in New Orleans.
In Dallas, where Texas oil money flows freely, the Cowboys are favored by six points.
Here in Las Vegas, the spread is five, edging out toward 5 1/2. Bob Martin, the Head Linesman for the nation, calls this particular matchup a two- or three-point game, with Dallas the slightly stronger team. Martin correctly anticipated the betting public's preference, however, he opened the game at 4. The fans took it from there. The Cowboys are a very popular team.
Super Bowls traditionally have been a happy hunting ground for the smart money. I am 10 for 11 against the spread, the last six picks being a matter of public record. The only time I was wrong was Game 5 when Baltimore stumbled past Dallas, 16-13, in a contest best remembered for errors, fumbles, interceptions, the controversies, deflection to tight end John [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and Jim O'Brien's winning 32-yard field goal with five seconds remaining.
That's what most people remember. What I have never been able to forget is Craig Morton repeatedly sucking his finger during most of the first half that Jan. 17, 1971, afternoon in Miami.
The Cowboys had several opportunities to break open the games early. They enjoyed excellent field position. Yet Morton seemed more concerned with his wounded pinkie, or a hangnail, or whatever. He did not get the job done, and that was a pretty accurate description of Morton as a quarterback - until this year.
This season, Morton has not made many costly mistakes. He has learned what not to do in dangerous situations. Denver's superb defense, accordingly, has been able to overcome the most difficult schedule in the NFL. Dallas, forced to play the same opponents. Denver did, would have been lucky to do better than 10-4. Denver was 12-2.
There can be no comparison between the quality of competition that Denver and Dallas faced in the playoffs. Pittsburgh and Oakland were extremely talented and extremely physical. Chicago and Minnesota were pieces of cake.
Everyone who believes Dallas is going to grip past Denver Sunday is dreaming. This is a tough game to bet. There were perhaps 100 better spots on which to speculate during this season. The gambler who plunges into Super Bowl 12 is foolish. I will go with Dallas giving the five points, but only for a mythical $300 in an attempt to wind up the year a mythical $5,000 ahead.
The critical consideration Sunday concerns Dallas' pass rush against Morton. Denver will not be able to run against the Cowboys, leaving the Dallas relatively free to concentrate on the passer. I look for the Dallas linebackers to be extremely active. Coach Tom Landry will take some risks in attempting to have his troops get to Morton, to punish the Denver quarterback if possible.
If the Dallas defense can do this - and I believe Harvey Martin and friends can repeat their 14-6 performance of Dec. 18 - then Denver is in trouble.
My main worry is the Denver offensive line, and Rile Odoms. The Denver line is better than generally rated. Against Houston, late in the season, and against Pittsburgh and Oakland in the playoffs, this unit protected Morton well and on occasion, provided the Broncos with a solid running game. If Morton receives better protection that I think he will, he might be able to throw effectively to Odoms, who is one of the three finest tight ends in professional ball.
So much is written about Tony Dorsett. The rookie running back enjoyed an excellent season for Dallas. But against Denver, Dorsett is just as likely to commit a costly fumble as he is to break away for a long gain. No one gets outside on the Denver defense. Why Oakland tried, I'll never know.
Roger Staubach's mobility is going to be badly needed against the Broncos. Dallas' offensive line is nothing spectacular. Dorsett and Robert Newhouse do not figure to run against the Broncos. But Staubach scrambles intelligently, Drew Pearson is an excellent wide receiver, and Preston Pearson could give Denver a severe headache as a receiver coming out of the backfield.
The Dallas defense has been the key to the success of playing football this season. It should be able to deliver the goods one more time, by forcing a critical turnover or two from Morton that enables the Cowboys to cover the five-point spread. Taking under the 35-point total score also appears to be an excellent idea.
Keep in mind that Morton has surprised me several times this season. I will not be shocked if he and the Bronco defense win Super Bowl 12. This could be the time for Morton to give me the finger again. He's already done it to me once in a Super Bowl.
Maybe that is my problem. I don't forget.
An old prejudice never dies. You just bet that way.