They celebrated in the Philadelphia Eagle locker room tonight.
The celebration was not so much for the 26-20 win over the Houston Oilers as it was for the score flashed on the Astrodome scoreboard as the teams walked off the field: Dallas 35, Washington 34.
"You better believe I was watching the scoreboard," said Philadelphia quarterback Ron Jaworski. "We wanted to win this game and we're glad we did. But I sure am glad we're playing the Bears in the first round instead of the Cowboys."
Although many of the Eagles, notably Coach Dick Vermeil, tried to play down the significance of the Washington-Dallas outcome, it was easy to see why a cheer went up in the locker room when the final score was announced.
Now, instead of facing Dallas in the NFC wild-card game next Sunday, the Eagles (11-5) will play host to the Bears. If the Eagles win that game, they will play Tampa Bay for a shot at the NFC championship game.
"Sure, I'd rather play Chicago," Eagle linebacker Frank Lemaster said. "I don't think they're as good as Washington or Dallas. But we won't take them lightly. We'll be very ready to play."
With virtually nothing at stake except individual statistics, neither the Eagles nor the Oilers looked terribly ready to play today. Both coaches, Vermeil and O. A. (Bum) Phillips substituted liberally throughout the game and both called a second-teamers almost exclusively in the fourth quarter.
There were a number of individual achievements on both sides that kept the 49,407 in the stands interested. Most important to the Houston fans was Earl Campbell's quest for a second consecutive NFL rushing title.
Campbell ended the suspense in the first half, carrying 16 times for 134 yards during the first 30 minutes. Those numbers gave him 1,697 yards on the season, surpassing Walter Payton's 1,610 and O. J. Anderson's 1,605.
The game also marked the seventh straight time he gained more than 100 yards, tying an O. J. Simpson record, and his 11th 100-plus game for the season, tying another Simpson record set in a 14-game season.
Once Campbell had his records, Phillips yanked him, using Rob Carpenter at tailback the entire second half. He saved Campbell for next Sunday's AFC wild card game the Oilers will host against either San Diego or Denver.
"No sence taking a chance with a man like that," said Phillips, who appeared unperturbed by the loss. "We'd rather lose this one than lose next week." The Oilers also finished the regular season 11-5.
Vermeil's attitude was similar to Phillips. Once Pittsburgh had beaten Buffalo, the Oilers had nothing to play for. The Eagles could improve their position only if Washington and Dallas tied and could not worsen it.
So, Vermeil played his starters long enough to get a nine-point lead late in the third quarter and played his star runner, Wilbert Montgomery, long enough for him to get to 1,500 yards for the season. Montgomery got 69 yards for 1,521 total, an Eagle record.
"Sure, I want to play Chicago," Montgomery said. "I'm looking forward to being matched with Walter Payton. This week will be fun."
Today also was fun for the Eagles. They jumped in front, 9-0, in the first quarter on a four-yard bootleg by Jaworski (Tony Franklin missed the extra point) and a 22-yard Franklin field goal, set up by Bobby Howard's 37th career interception.
The Oilers cut it to 9-7 on a six-yard run by Campbell -- set up by Montgomery's fumble four plays earlier at the Eagle 22 -- but could never get even. The teams traded field goals just before halftime for a 12-10 Philadelphia lead at intermission.
"We wanted to win this game," Vermeil insisted. "I wasn't going to take any chances, but I'm proud of the way the guys came out and played hard. Look, we're 11-5. We're cochampions of the division no matter what the playoff situation is."
The Eagles' first team offense had its last hurrah in the third quarter. Jaworski, who finished the day completing 12 of 21 passes for 163 yards, drove them 76 yards in nine plays, capped by a one yard Leroy Harris dive with 5:10 left for a 19-10 lead.
Houston struck right back as Dan Pastorini -- in his last series -- finally got untracked after a two-interception first half and took his team 78 yards in nine plays. The touchdown came on a five-yard pass to Mike Renfro, who caught a 49-yard strike to set up the score, on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"That drive was important to me," Pastorini said. "I wouldn't want to go into the playoffs off my first half. Now, I think we all feel a little better even though we're disappointed we lost."
The Oilers lost because the Eagle second-team offense, quarterbacked by John Walton, drove 72 yards right after Renfro's score. Walton tossed five yards to Scott Fitzkee for a 26-17 lead with 11:46 left.
The best the Oiler second-teamers could do was another Tony Fritsch field goal to make it 26-20. Washington D.C. native Al Chesley, a backup rookie linebacker, sealed the Eagle victory by intercepting Gifford Neilson at midfield with 59 seconds left to play.
By that time, all eyes were on the scoreboard, not the field. "Yeah, I atched the scoreboard," Vermeil admitted, refusing to add that he was delighted with the Dallas win.
"Last year when we made the playoffs a lot of people said we were lucky because we stole a couple of games," Jaworski said. "I wondered about that myself. This year we won 11 games. And now, we've got a great chance to go to the Super Bowl. We really believe we can do it. Every guy in this room believes it. Today helped us a lot."
Just to prove that the Eagles are a legitmate playoff team it was left to kicker Franklin to sum up his team's situation.
"Right now," he said with a straight face, "we're just taking them one at a time."