Danny White did everything wrong except wear his shoes on his hands and here came a sportswriter asking if the quarterback thought his bad night would cause his Cowboy teammates to lose confidence in him.
Tough question. Hey, it's a jungle out here. When you're taking over for Roger Staubach you better convince the Dallas folks that if you don't have Roger's direct line to the Lord for last-minute miracles you're at least on a pen pal basis that could turninto something good someday. So you need to justify yourself a lot, particularly after losing to the Steelers, 31-10, the week beforeyou go to Washington to open the real season.
Look. A minute after White threw his first interception of the preseason here Saturday night, they threw a message up on the monster scoreboard in Texas Stadium: "Dallas Pays Tribute to Roger Staubach, with Bob Hope, Suzanne Somers, Sept. 7, Dallas Convention Center."
Coincidence, that twist of the knife.
Look again. White's second interception, on a pass he threw 10 yards past the nearest Cowboy, was followed by his fumble of a center snap for no good reason. Earlier he had failed to catch a snap in the shotgun formation, a simple failure of concentration.
And now, in the advanced stages of mind fade, White dropped a second center snap inside two minutes, at which point veteran fullback Robert Newhouse did an end-zone show of peevish anger at White's Inspector Clouseau quarterbacking.
Would Newhouse have been an itty-bitty baby about it if Roger Staubach had fumbled in front of him?
An hour after Saturday's game, trying to answer the will-it-hurt-the-team's-confidence-in-you question, White admitted, "I guess it could. But it's somethingI can afford to worry about."
White's big deer eyes, brown and wideset, had been on an anxious flight of escape.This was no fun, sitting in an interview roomfor an hour explaining why he had been so bad. Now his eyes found a focus.
"Players can gain confidence in you from the way you take a loss," White said, "and I'm not going to take it lightly. I am a good loser."
Staubach once provoked a near brawl in a noon hour pickup basketball game that wasn't going his way. The famous quarterback worth a million dollars couldn't stand to lose even a pickup basketball game. Did Danny White, poor loser, rip up his racket in defeat at tennis?
"No, I'm not a violent loser. I think you should keep your cool at all times. It's just that personally, within me, I'm very violent. My insides right now are turning over. I won't be able to sleep. I'll probably go some place and work out."
White said he would go to his business office where he does his stockbrokering and where there is a weight room and racqetball court. He would go there at 1 a.m. to lift weights.
"And I'll probably run around the block 80 times until I drop over dead," he said. "I won't be able to sleep, anyway, because I'll be running over plays in my mind."
The Dallas Cowboys are in trouble. That is relatively speaking, for the NFL is full of teams that would love to have the Cowboy troubles as long as those troubles come accompanied by TonyHill and Tony Dorsett, Drew Pearson and Randy White, Tom Landryand the cheerleaders.
But when you are America's Team andup to your Stetsons in Super Bowl cash and you won more games than anybodyelse in the 1970s, then you are in trouble when you quarterback not onlyplays poorly against the Steelers but looks a sad sight doing it.
"Danny obviously had an off night," Landry said. "But he was playing against one good defense in Pittsburgh."
"Believe me," said the Cowboy No. 2quarterback, Glenn Carano, who was cheered passionately by the 62,000 customers when he replaced White in the fourth quarter, "I still have complete confidence in Danny White. Roger Staubach had his tough nights, too."
"He sure drilled that one in there," said Mike Wagner, the Steeler safety man who chose to speak of one memorable White completion rather than the two White passes he intercepted. "Danny has great potential. Only right now he's playing in the shadow of Roger and the fans expect a lot right away. Danny has the tools. He is an amazing athlete."
The Cowboys have problems in their defensive backfield. Cliff Harris is retired. Randy Hughes is out for the year with a bad shoulder. Charlie Waters' knee could go at any minute. The youngsters get lost a lot.
As ominous as the defensive line sounds -- with Harvey Martin and Ed (Too Tall) Jones as bookends around Randy White and Larry Cole -- it is not good enough to cover for that backfield. There is a question, for instance, if Jones, after a year off tobox, has regained the football strength and bulk he needs.
The offensive line's right side is suspect, and the Cowboys are weak on place-kicking.
Still, it all comes back to Danny White, the man who handles the ball on every snap. This is his seventh seasonwith the Cowboys, but his first as a starter. He knows his problems.
"I like the shotgun," White said, "but probably my biggest problem so far is finding the pocket in it and avoidingthe rush." The Steelers, sometimes using an 11-man front, gave White no spare time to find his protecting block-spare time to find his protecting blockers.
"And we (read it 'I') have to concetrate on our blitz keys. Teams will see us on film and see what the blitz did to us and they'll all come after us. I don't blame them."
Under Pittsburgh's pressure, White completed only 10 of 29 passes -- just two of 10 in the second half. One Steeler blitz so panicked White that, leaning sideways while backpedaling, he threw away an ugly-bird wobbler that moved the Texas Stadium patrons to sniffling remembrances of the way things were.
"It's the big question mark with the team, whether I can replace Roger adequately," White said."I know a lot of people are apprehensive. Naturally, I'd like people to forget he was here. But they won't and they shouldn't.
"His ghost is out there running around with me all the time and I've got to contend with that. I will. I'm not one to run away from anything."