The St. Louis Cardinals lost a one-point football game to Dallas today largely because free safety Ken Stone did not know that Cowboy running back Ron Springs is left-handed.
There was some solace for Cardinal fans in the 22-21 season-opening setback. Ottis (pronounced "Otis") Anderson came within two yards of breaking the National Football League rushing record for a rookie's debut on a day when Rafael Septien's 27-yard field goal with 76 seconds left provided the winning points.
Anderson, No. 1 Card draft pick from the University of Miami (Fla.), rolled up 193 yards in 21 carries, ran 76 in the third quarter for a touchdown and 33 yards on a play in the second on which he thought he should have gone all the way.
Alan Ameche set the rushing record for a rookie in his first game for the Baltimore Colts, aggregating 194 yards against the Chicago Bears in 1955.
Anderson's touchdown sprint put the Cardinals ahead, 21-19, but Septien's field goal pulled out victory for the reigning National Conference rulers. At that, the contest was not settled until Cardinal kicker Mike Wood fell less than 10 feet short of making good on a 60-yard field goal with four seconds left.
And Springs' halfback option pass to wide receiver Tony Hill for a 30-yard touchdown early in the final quarter was a key turning point.
Stone of the Cardinals, a former Redskin, said, "I didn't know Springs was left-handed. I had the back half responsibility in a double zone, but I came up because I thought it was going to be a run. But that's no excuse; it was my responsibility."
Stone was referring to his presumption that Springs, a rookie from Ohio State, was not likely to roll to his left as a right-hander, even if he were going to pass.
Dan Reeves, Cowboy offensive coordinator who as a player threw a halfback option pass for a Dallas touchdown against the Green Bay Packers in the 1967 NFL championship game in 13-below-zero temperature, suggested the play by Springs today to Coach Tom Landry after the third quarter.
Reeves said Springs had practiced the pass play in training camp, but had not tried it in any of the four exhibitions. The Cowboys were counting on the Cardinals not realizing that Springs, playing in place of injured Tony Dorsett, was left-handed. Springs lofted the ball ideally, once he saw Stone was fooled, rather than hurry it as halfbacks frequently do out of anxiety.
Anderson, the new star of the Gateway to the West, broke his touchdown run from Coach Bud Wilkinson's version of the wishbone-T formation.
Tight end Al Chandler shifts out of the wishbone to become a wing blocker and the fullback becomes the "up" man. Anderson was the deep back in the resulting I formation when he took off.
He pulled out of the grasp of linebacker Bob Breunig and then simply outran free safety Cliff Harris and speedy outside linebacker Thomas Henderson.
Anderson said, "Some people had been saying I am not as fast as I look. But I run 40 yards in 4.6 seconds. It is easy to run behind this offensive line, and if I get past the line of scrimmage I'm hard to catch. A good running back doesn't get hit much if he's going to be a good one."
"I had heard about Tony Dorsett, O. J. Simpson, Earl Campbell, Walter Payton . . . guys like that. Maybe I'll get to be like that."
He said teammate Mel Gray calls him "Scooter," and some of the media have been referring to him as "O. J." "My middle name is Jerome," he said, "but you can call me Otis or O.J. or whatever you want."
On his 33-yard run in the second quarter, he showed superb body control, cornering ability and changes of speed.