What we forget, when we look at pro football as a choreographed war, is that these men win with their minds as much as their bodies. It never has been true that the Dallas Cowboys are robots. These Cowboys have fire in their guts. These Cowboys have an old man, Preston Pearson, who thinks Preston Pearson is very good at catching passes. And they have Roger Staubach, who won this one with hismemory. His arm was incidental.
Remember last month? The Redskins beat Dallas, 34-20, at RFK. Remember the late moments of the first half? The Cowboys were near a touchdown. Staubach thought to pass, but before he could throw the ball, here came Ken Houston on a blitz. He leveled Staubach. Staubach fumbled.It was a telling play that day.
And when the Cowboys came to the Redskins' eight-yard line today, Staubach remembered what Ken Houston had done last month. There were only 42 seconds to play. The Redskins led, 34-28. It had been a classic game, one to treasure, a game twice won by the Redskins, a game that now, with 42 seconds to play, the cursed Cowboys could win for themselves.
And Staubach remembered Ken Houston. Houston wasn't here because he has a broken arm.But when Staubach took his Cowboys into the huddle before that first-and-goal play at the eight, he remembered being leveled last month in practically the same situation.
No robot, Staubach, He felt it. He felt the memory. "I felt a maxiblitz coming," he said, "just like Houston's."
So in the huddle he spoke to his elegant wide receiver, Tony Hill. "Run a quick 9," the quarterback said. A quick 9 is a step to the inside, then run like hell past anybody in front of you. Straight ahead speed.
The play sent in from the Dallas bench was to have been a pass to Billy Joe DuPreee. A robot with a steel gut would have thrown the pass to Billy Joe DuPree. Orders. A choreographed war. But Staubach felt a maxiblitz coming. And he altered Tony Hill.
It was beautifully done. Staubach took one step away from the center.He had seen two men edging to DuPreehs side of the field. He knew Hill had one man to beat, that man Lamar Parrish, only the best cornerback alive. Parrish was in Hill's face, and that, Staubach knew, was good for the Cowboys, for soon enough Hill would be flying past Parrish.
One step away from the right corner of the lofted the ball toward the right corner of the end zone. Hill, on his quick 9, took the ball to his chest. He did it, somehow, tenderly, as if catching a baby dropped from the sky.
Who knows how many times Roger Staubach has won a football game in the fading minutes?The Cowboys must have the number in their computer somewhere. The quarterback said the Cowboys think it is good to score, either a touchdown or a field goal, 44 percent of the time. Last year the number was 18 percent. This year, Staubach said it's not that bad, but it's not 44, either.
Who knows how many times he has done this magic? He did it three times today, first at the end of the first half, twice in the last four minutes of the game when the Cowboys took what the Redskins thought was theirs: a championship. How it must have hurt the Redskins, to be so close to such an improbable reward in a season that figured to be meaningless, and how it moved Roger Staubach, the perceived stoic.
We don't know how many times he has won games with these two-minute-drill miracles, but we do know how many thimes he has thrown game-winning passes this season and then ran to jump into the receiver's arms in celebration.
"We were out of it twice today, and then, all of a sudden, we were back in it," Staubach said. "It was an emotional thing.That's why I ran over to Tony afterward. It was a good emotional high. I just grabbed him. It was a great catch."
It isn't fun to work in the last two minutes, Staubach said. It is work to have fun. "I'm not thinking of each play, each situation, what we want to do against what they're going to do. It's not a matter of liking pressure, either. You'd rather not be in it. But I'm conditioned to it.
"I react positively. It's part of an athlete's life to be in those situations. I think I react pretty well."
Now, that is Roger Staubach, stoic. To say he reacts "pretty well" is to say the Grand Canyon is a nice ditch; true; but inadequate. Only with Roger Staubach would the Cowboys have won today -- Kenny Stabler, maybe -- and only an old man's belief in himself made it possible for even Staubach to win.
Preston Pearson is 34 years old. This is his 14th year as a pro. The Cowboys are phasing him out of the offense. Time and the computer wait for no man. But when it mattered the most today, Staubach threw it to Preston Pearson. He caught a 26-yard touchdown pass, diving flat out, at the end of the first half. He hurt a rib doing it. "I'd trade a broken rib for six points," he said.
And on the last drive, the miracle that robbed the Redskins of joy, Staubach twice threw to Pearson, once for 22 yards, next for 25 yards to the eight-yard line.
"I'd been begging all day for them to call my number," Pearson said. "But Roger has been reluctant all year to put the ball in the air to me when a defender is even with me. I still believe that with my athletic ability, if he puts it up in the air, I can catch it. He did, and I did."
That was on the scoring play. On the game-winning drive, Pearson said he simply ran past the Redskin rookie linebacker, Monte Coleman.
I was talking on the sidelines all day, telling Roger the Redskins couldn't beat me," Pearson said. "They had that fast kid (Coleman) on me, but he can't handle me. Anyway, they got lucky on John Riggins' run (a long one that put the Redskins ahead, 34-21). They thought it was sewed up. There were still five or six minutes to play, and for us that's plenty of time to score three or four touchdowns."
The old man said the Cowboys remembered the Redskins' late field goal that, to some, seemed to be a rub-it-in three points, unnecessary and unsporting.
"That's fired us up this week," Pearson said. "And now us beating them hurt them worse than they hurt us, because they'll be home watching us on television now."
He smiled smugly, not at all robotlike.