Should the Redskins have had one more play?
In a perfect world, the Redskins would have had one more play because a perfect referee would have made the timeout signal the instant a whistle blew ending the Joe Theismann-to-Don Warren pass play.
As the television replays showed, Warren was down with two seconds left on the clock.
And Theismann, even as Warren was being tackled, was screaming at referee Bob Frederic for a timeout.
The referee ignored the quarterback.
We can't find out.
"We haven't had anyone talk to the referees all year, so I don't see why we should start now," said Jim Heffernan, the NFL's director of public relations. "There should have been a request at the game for a pool reporter to talk to the referee."
THERE WAS NO REQUEST. if the referee can't speak the day after a game, how about Art NcNally, the NFL's supervisor of officials? Maybe he can explain it.
"He's unavailable," Heffernan said.
We are left to speculate.
Most likely, the referee heard Theismann, was even listening for te quarterback's voice. NFL referees often work closely with quarterbacks in the fading minutes to get timeouts called, sometimes even going so far as to ask the quarterback if he wants a timeout after the next play.
"The referee will call it immediately when the play ends," Heffernan said.
So in those last precious seconds at Dallas on Sunday, the referee must have been late realizing the play was over. By the time the referee called timeout -- and by the time he signaled to the clock operator, an NFL employe who sits in the press box -- those last precious seconds had ticked away.
But, you ask, how could that happen? Warren, right there with the ball in front of an official, asked for timeout. Didn't Clarence Harmon, too, ask for timeout immediately?
Yes, they did.
Only problem is, the officials cannot call a timeout unless it is requested by one of the two designated field captains. In the Redskins' case Sunday, those captains were Theismann and offensive tackle George Starke.
The NFL man, Heffernan, volunteered an aside. "It's normal that in a situation like that you designate a downfield receiver," he said.That way, a, player near the ball can get an official's attention immediately.
In a perfect Redskin world, Don Warren would have been designated a field captain before he caught that pass. As he hit the ground, he would have called timeout. The nearest official would have signaled to the clock operator, and the Redskins would have had two seconds more of life.
And in a perfect Redskin world, Mark Moseley would have kicked a 59-yard field goal to win the NFC Eastern Division championship, 37-35.
"So, is the game really over?" a phone caller asked the sports department yesterday, 15 hours after the game.
Another caller wanted to know, "Are the Redskins going to protest the game? Al Edward Bennett Williams (the team president) has to do is call Pete Rozelle (the NFL commissioner), and they'll straighten it out."
Yes, it's over.
No, the Redskins will not file an official protest with the league.
"Of course, I'm upset by it," said Bobby Beathard, the Redskin general manager. "But I don't know what you do if there are two seconds left and the referee says there's none left. There's no kind of legal protest of a judgment call. I'm not saying anything. Rozelle might get mad at me."
Jack Pardee, the coach, wasn't as upset by the game's confusing end as he was by the Redskin performance that preceded it.
There's no reason in the world it should have gotten to that point," said the man whose team led the Cowboys by 13 points with less than four minutes to play. "You're cutting it too fine."
The Redskins did not lose because someone cheated them. The referees' delay was understandable under the chaotic conditions at the game's end. The Redskins did not lose because Mark Moseley didn't get a chance in those last two seconds. It was no sure thing that Moseley would kick a 59-yeard field goal when the longest of his long career is 54 yards.
The Redskins lost because the Cowboys have the best quarterback alive.
Maybe Dan Fourts' arm is more a gun than Staubach's. Terry Bradshaw is the only quarterback whose teams have won three Super Bowls. So you can have them. If I need a touchdown right now this very minute, give me Roger Staubach and a couple of receivers who can run.
The Redskins lost because Roger Staubach, the very best, played the best game of his life.
Of the Cowboys' five touchdowns, three came on miracle marches directed by Staubach.
At the end of the first half, he took Dallas 85 yards in 1 minute 48 seconds.
Trailing, 34-21, late in the game, Staubach took his team 59 yards in 1:29.
And on the last drive, Staubach covered 75 yards in 1:07.
Add it up. It is astonishing: 219 yards and three touchdowns in four minutes, 24 seconds.
One drive can be a fluke, maybe. Two, you begin to believe these guys know what they're doing. And when Staubach does it to you three times in the same game, you should know that you have done your very best to win -- you have been ahead by 17 points against a team that in its entire 20-year history of greatness had never come from 17 points down to win a game -- you have been a mighty and honorable opponent which was beaten only by the best work of the best man.