The deluge of hate mail that overflowed in Tony Dorsett's mailbox two months ago has mostly ended and again the eyes of Texas gaze upon the quicksilver tailback and his potent Dallas Cowboy teammates.
"Everything's back to normal," Dorsett said over the telephone earlier this week. "People down here are gettig all excited about us because it's the play for a championship. The team's kind of relaxed. But I know on Saturday we'll be supercharged."
Today, the Cowboys take on the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC playoff game, the winner advancing to the NFC championship game next week against either Los Angeles or Minnesota.
Seven weeks ago, after the defending Super Bowl champion Cowboys had lost their fourth game in 10 starts, "it seemed like a lot of people gave up on us," Dorsett said. "That's what's made this season so enjoyable.
"We were getting bad-mouthed all over the place. Certain individuals were being harassed in the press. Yeah, I was one of them. People thrive on that stuff, especially when things are going bad.
"Everybody was counting us out. It was a lot like what happened to the Yankees. There they were, 13, 14 games behind and all they did was set the stage and win the World Series. It's great when everything is going against you and you turn it around and make something positive happen. That's what's happened to us."
The accent was on the negative after the Cowboys dropped successive games to the Vikings and Dolphins, and most Texans were pointing accusing fingers at Dorsett.
There was a widely publicized oversleeping incident; Dorsett snoozed past practice the day before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 22. Dallas Coach Tom Landry fined and benched him. Dorsett said publicly he had been humiliated. Two days later he issued an emotional apology during a team meeting.
"It was so emotional I damn near cried," Cowboy linebacker D. D. Lewis said.
Dorsett had a brutal night three days later in a 21-10 loss to the Vikings, gaining only 38 yards in 11 carries and fumbling once to set up a Minnesota touchdown. He was booed loud and long on the field, and his mail was full of venom.
"They call you bad names, that kind of stuff, but I didn't even read it," Dorsett said. "I got it all the time in college, I get it here, so it doesn't bother me. People can get very nasty. But you live with it."
The following week, the Cowboys were trailing, 17-0, after the first quarter at Miami. "We got into the locker room at halftime and a lot of people started realizing that if we didn't do something then and there, times would be tough on us," Dorsett said.
The Cowboys rallied smartly in the second half, although they lost the game. "But we started playing like we were supposed to be playing," Dorsett said. "And it's been like that every week now."
The Cowboys have won their last six games, given up no more than two touchdowns in any game and finished as the NFC's top-rated offensive team.
"What turned it around? It's simple," Dorsett said. "Early in the year, we were waiting for big plays and big turnovers. Now, we make things happen. We're playing with tremendous intensity, every guy on the team.
"That's why we're in the playoffs. There's no question about the personnel on this team. But if you don't play up to your potential, I don't care who you are, you are not going to make it in this league."
Dorsett made it nicely this season. He had six 100-yard games, rushed for a Cowboy record 1,325 yards (with a 4.6-yard per carry average), caught 37 passes and scored nine touchdowns.
"He is the greatest as far as I'm concerned," said loquacious linebacker Thomas Henderson, quickly adding, "On offense that is. I'm the greatest on defense."
Dorsett says he and his teammates are properly primed to handle a Falcon defense that blitzes more than any team the Cowboys have faced all year.
Dorsett has complained several times this season about being victimized by late hits and dirty play from opposing defenses. "The longer the season has gone, the more I've felt like they were going after me," he said recently.
"From the film I've seen on Atlanta, I really haven't seen anything cheap or dirty," he said. "They come after you, but it looks like they play good, hard, tough football. They'll knock your socks off.
"I'm sure they'll keep blitzing, that's what they've done all year. And I'm sure I'll have to stay back and help block some of it. But we're prepared for what they do. I don't think my productivity is going to suffer."