Tony Dorsett says he is a team man, that he will do whatever his coaches ask of him. But today, he admitted there are moments when it bothers him that he does not carry the football more often for the Dallas Cowboys.
"If I was the coach and I had the back with the capabilities of a Tony Dorsett, I'd give him the ball more than 13, 14, 15 times a game," Dorsett said today before a Cowboy workout.
"For a guy to be productive in the National Football League, you've got to average 20 to 25 carries a game. Look at our game Monday night against the Eagles. Wilbert Montgomery was held in check for a while, but they kept giving it to him and then he breaks a touchdown that kills us.
"Look at Earl Campbell, Ottis Anderson, Walter Payton; look how often they carry it. If I carried the ball as much as those guys, I'd already be over 1,000 yards.
"But in the Cowboys" philosophy, it's just not meant to be. My philosophy is a little different, I guess. I've always believed that if you've got something, you should use it.
"If I was somewhere else on another team, I'd be carrying quite a few more times. And my production would be a lot better. Sure it bothers me sometimes, and sometimes I just don't even think about it. What can I do? I work here. I'm here to help win football games, and the coaches make those decisions."
And the Cowboy coaches have decided they are willing to give the ball to Dorsett an average of 17 times a game this season. As a rookie, he averaged 15 carries a game, last year it was 18.
Dorsett currently is the NFL's fifth-leading rusher, with 866 yards on 186 carries. Walter Payton, who leads the league, has lugged the ball 251 times; Ottis Anderson 228; Wilbert Montgomery 235, and Earl Campbell 245.
Dorsett would like a similar piece of the action, but Tom Landry, who calls the plays, obviously has other ideas.
"Under Tom's system, we try to keep a balanced attack," said Dan Reeves, the offensive coordinator. "We just feel that over the length of a season, teams have to worry about defensing all our people -- Tony Dorsett, Tony Hill, Drew Pearson, Robert Newhouse. That makes it tougher for them to prepare for us and you can't stop the Cowboys by stopping one player."
Gil Brandt, the team's vice president for personnel, insisted that Dorsett eventually will thank Landry for using him sparingly, saving his body from all those wicked whacks that give the average NFL back a 3-year career. f
"One of the great disappointments to Mel Renfro when he came to the Cowboys was being moved from offense to defense," Brandt said today. "But he played 14 years, and he wouldn't have played 14 years as a running back.
"Sure, Tony would like to carry the ball 30 to 35 times a game. But under Tom Landry's way of doing it, Tony's going to have several more years of longevity. Sure, he'd love to get 150 yards a game and lead the league. But over the long haul, this will be to his benefit. That's been explained to him, and I hope he understands it."
But Dorsett does not completely accept that notion.
"I know about longevity," Dorsett said. "How many years did O. J. play and how many years was he effective? Quite a few, right? I guess it does have some logic. But my style isn't to run over people. I'm trying to avoid them. I don't take that many direct hits.
"Sure you could look at a Larry Brown and see what carrying the ball so much did to him. But Larry took a whole lot more punishment than I did on every play. I want to play for a long time, but let's think about now, not the future.
"I've never really changed my style of running. I don't take the extra hit unless it's absolutely necessary, like when we've got to have that first down -- that kind of situation.
"But if there's a situation where I don't have to put my body through the punishment, then I won't do it. I'm not a big person. I'm playing about 190, 193 this season. You get hurt fighting for extra yards because sometimes you're squirming and somebody you never even see comes up and hits you.
"But I know I could take it 20, 25 times a game. That wouldn't be a problem."
Other numbers also argue favorably for Dorsett. In the 14 games he has carried the ball 29 or more times over the last three years, the Cowboys are 13-1. They also have never lost a game when Dorsett has gained more than 100 yards.
In college, Dorsett also demonstrated his durability. Even though he never weighed more than 180 pounds, he averaged 24 carries per game in four seasons at Pittsburgh and missed only one contest, because of a sore ankle.
Dorsett also has an ally in Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach, who says he definitely would give Dorsett the ball at least 20 times a game. But Landry calls the plays, not Staubach.
"I think he should be used 20 to 25 times a game," Staubach said. "He may get stopped eight or nine times, but eventually he's going to break one. I just think Tony's a great running back, and we probably haven't been running him enough."
The Cowboy running game has been a concern all season, although Staubach says in recent weeks he has been forced to throw more often because the Cowboys have had to play catchup football.
That is one reason Dallas has not scored a touchdown on the ground in its last five games. For the year, the Cowboys have twice as many passing touchdowns -- 18 -- as rushing touchdowns.
Dorsett says he would like to change all that this week against the Redskins, a team that has had difficulty defensing the run against some of the league's better backs this season.
Still, the Redskins have had decent success containing Dorsett. In four games against Washington, he has averaged only 3.1 yards per carry, with only one touchdown and a long run of 11 yards.
Perhaps that is one reason the Redskins ranked Dorsett as the NFL's most overrated player in a Washington Post poll conducted at training camp in July.
A copy of that poll occupies a prominent position in the locker stall of Cowboy wide receiver Drew Pearson, who is also listed by the Redskins as one of the league's biggest hot dogs. Dorsett has seen Pearson's copy of the poll, and he says he finds it rather amusing.
"Actually, I think it's kind of funny," he said today. "But tell me something. Don't you think the Redskins would love to have somebody like me on their team? I bet a back like Tony Dorsett could carry the ball a few more times in Washington. Yeah, I think they'd probably be able to use me."