Now that the Los Angeles Rams have beaten the Cowboys, Pete Rozelle can take the next couple of weeks off. Just crate up the Super Bowl trophy and ship it to Three Rivers Stadium. The postman knows the way. Been to the Steelers' trophy room three times. A fourth trip is a cinch. We have expert testimony from the Cowboy who might have won today's game if he hadn't cut his fingernails so short.
Mike Hegman is the Cowboy linebacker who took over when Hollywood Henderson was stripped of his starry hat. Hergman tried to knock down the pass that won today's game with barely two mintues to go. Diving, leaping, stretching, Hegman tipped Vince Ferrangmo's pass. Touched it with is fingertips.
"I thought I hit hard enough to knock it down," Hegman said.
Ferragamo's spiral became a wobbler when Hegman touched it. But the ball didn't change its flight path. It flew straight to Billy Waddy, maybe 10 yards behind Hegman, and Waddy then ran past a startled Dallas defense the last 30 yards for the touchdown that won the game, 21-19.
"Sometimes a cat makes a play, like me tipping the ball, and everybody relaxes," said Hegman, trying to explain how Waddy was able to elude the six or seven Cowboys who should have been within lasso range. "Me, I relaxed. I thought I had made a good play. I thought I knocked it down. It was just a freaky thing."
This has been a feaky season in Dallas. Hollywood clowned on national television during an embarrassing loss in Washington. Bye-bye, Hollywood. For the first time since 1963, the Cowboys ranked a mediocre eight in the league on defense. Too Tall Jones thinks he's Ali. When indestructible Randy White was partly destructed (an ankle injury), the Cowboys gave up nearly 100 points in three weeks.
Only with a magic act beyond compare did the Cowboys come from 17 points behind to beat the Redskins in the regular-season finale, thereby earning a division championship that seemed lost for good two months ago. And romantics who believe Roger Staubach to be the best quarterback outside the Hall of Fame saw the Cowboys as the only human possibility to beat the wonderful Steelers.
Now we know better.
Now Mike Hegman knows better.
"You just know who's going to win the Super Bowl now," he said with a sigh "Tampa Bay?" some suggested.
"Can't stop Pittsburg," Hegman said. "Their hardest game is going to be Houston this week."
Maybe Dan Pastorini will play for the Oilers this week after sitting out Saturday's upset of San Diego with a groin injury. Maybe Earl Campbell will be back working for the Oilers, too, after a week off with a groin injury. Maybe Ken Burrough can play, too.
If all those fellows can play, then Houston is in wonderful shape to beat the Steelers, providing the Soviets send Bum Phillips the few tanks they haven't sent to Afghanistan. Failing that, the Oilers are in for it, because judging from Pittsburgh's 34-14 demolition of Miami today, the Steelers are back to inspiring awe as they did in an October stretch when they left slack-jawed Denver, Dallas and Washington.
The season-long disparity between the NFL's conferences is such that Stauback, a National Conference man who lost last year's Super Bowl to the AFC Steelers, felt constrained to qualify his priase of the Los Angeles defense today.
"It'll be a tough defensive game," Stauback said of next Sunday's NFC championship game matching the Rams and Tampa Bay. "Both play as good a defense as it played in the NFL -- the NFC side of it."
Today's game had comic moments. The Cowboys' Rafel Septein couldn't keep a kickoff inbounds at one point, twice mis-hitting the ball so badly it squirted sideways. On a Stauback-to-Tony Hill pass, one official signaled "touchdown" even as another official stood 15 feet away signalling "no catch." The officials talked it over, as they later held another conference to determine the propriety of a pass interference call. The NFL ought to give Kissinger a whistle if the officials are going to negotiate the calls.
"I thought the defensive man shoved him in the back," said back judge Ray Douglas. "But the play was coming at me and I didn't have a good look at it. And I'd like to have pulled my flag back as soon as I threw it."
And you thought officials were taught to call infractions only when they were sure of them.
The indecisive official's mistake, if mistake it was -- the Rams thought he was right -- was overruled, giving the Cowboys a big brak by ending an L.A. drive midway through the fourth quarter. Except for the pass that Mike Hegman would have knocked out of the sky had he been an inch taller, that indecisive officials might have won the game for the Cowboys.
The funniest, and saddest, moment came on the Cowboys' last series.
Roger Staubach would do a miracle. Dallas would win. He had 1 minute 57 seconds to do it. Fourteen times in his NFL career, Stauach has brought the Cowboys from behind in the last two minutes.
After missing on two passes from his 33-yard line, Staubach came to third and 10.
Under pressure from the defensive linemen, Staubach wanted to pass to running back Ron Springs on what the Cowboys call a "quick drag." Springs was covered. Staubach had a choice to make. Eat the ball for a big loss. Or throw it away.
He threw it away.
What he did was throw it directly into the stomach of his left guard, Herb Scott, an ineligible receiver who, surprised as anyone else, clamped his meathooks on the pigskin. The penalty for that foolish misdeed is 10 yards and loss of down.
So Staubach now had fourth and 20, and a desperate long pass fell off the reaching hand of Drew Pearson.
No miracle today.
"I had to get rid of the ball," Staubach said, explaining how the best quarterback alive comes to throw a pass to his left guard, "and I didn't want to be called for grounding it. So I threw it low and hard."
Staubach meant, of course, he intended for the ball to fly by Scott.
"Herb made a heck of a catch," Staubach said with a chuckle.