A few journalists scurried out of the noonday sun today here in Big D -- the retirement home of Roger Dodger -- to hear Tom Landry talk about a football team that worships field position, a team that lives by its doomsday defense, a team that confounds its enemies with a shifting multiple-formation offense, a team that depends on its heroic quarterback to win the big games.
Yes, Tom Landry likes the Washington Redskins.
So much so that he has made the Redskins the favorites in Monday night's dance at RFK.
And that's not all. Landry says that while Philadelphia is the class of the NFC's East Division, the Redskins are right there and the Cowboys are somewhere behind both.
What began this train of thought was an unusual question. Had we been in the Kremlin instead of a ballroom below the Cowboy offices, a foreigner from Washington might have thought the question was planted, so quickly did the Cowboy brain answer. "This being the first game of the season, does that give either team an advantage?" someone asked.
To which Landry said, without hesitation, "It would be an advantage for them to play us this early, because we're not ready yet. We're still building and adjusting."
Poor little Cowboys. Not ready yet. One almost weeps.
"We're very capable of playing very well," Landry said. "And we're very capable of playing very bad, as we did in the second half against the Steelers (a 31-10 defeat Saturday night)."
A tissue, please.
Had the Redskins a drop of the milk of human kindness in their veins, they would go easy on these poor Cowpokes, these creatures of inconsistency who just aren't ready after two months of training camp and four preseason games. The Redskins, if they were nice guys, would say, "Howdy, Too Tall, so sorry you're still building and adjusting. Here, please fall down on Mr. Theismann if it will make you feel better."
Poor Little 'pokes. It is true their defensive backfield is suspect. And the Steelers did everything to the new quarterback, Danny White, except take his boots. And the pass rush isn't there yet. All true.
But no team with Tony Dorsett and Tony Hill, with Harvey Martin and Randy White, with Drew Pearson and Ed (Too Tall) Jones, can get away with saying it just isn't ready for a Monday night opener is RFK Stadium. What have the Cowboys been doing in camp? Playing checkers?
No, they will be ready.
Landry's talk about "building and adjusting" is coaches' code designed to keep the hired hands at the grindstone. Cryptography should be applied, too, to Landry's praise of the Redskins. It is bad form indeed, for a coach to declare this week's opponents a bunch of stiffs, for even stiffs can read and get riled up.
Pass the sugar, Coach.
"Washington is a great defensive team," Landry said adding that the Cowboys' early schedule includes games against Washington, Denver and Tampa Bay, "Three of the best defenses in professional football...Against Washington, field position dictates everything. They are basically a field position team, a turnover team.
Another lump, please.
"Washington is a good offensive team that is probably more multiple than we are. They are a tough recognition team...They miss John Riggins, obviously, although Clarence Harmon is a fine receiver and running back."
What Landry means is that the Redskins run their offense from a dazzling variety of formations ("more multiple") that often leave defenses wondering what to do ("tough recognition").
Ermal Allen, Landry's right-hand man in charge of figuring out next week's opponent, said the Redskins are up to their old, fine tricks in all departments. With 26 interceptions and 21 fumble recoveries last year, the Redskins took the ball from the opponent 22 times more than they lost it, "a ratio which is absolutely outstanding," Allen said. He pointed out that in the four preseason games this year, the Redskins takeaway number is plus-eight, which comes to plus 32 for a full season.
The Redskin defense gave up only 34 points in the preseason, an average of 260 yards total offense and not a single touchdown pass. It allowed the enemy to convert only 30 percent of third down plays, "which is as good as you'll see anywhere." Allen said.
As good as the Washington defense is, Allen said Joe Theismann is the key Redskin. "He is the name of the game. If you don't control Theismann, forget it."
For an hour here, nary a discouraging word, was heard about the Redskins.
"If both teams play well," Landry said, "it will be a close, touch, defensive football game -- as long as something doesn't come unglued like it did against Pittsburgh."
Oh, yes. The coach of the poor little pokes said Charlie Waters' knee is good now. The veteran defensive back is ready to play full-time.
Oh, yes. Landry said second-year man Ron Springs will start a fullback Monday, having proved he is better than long-time starter Robert Newhouse.
Oh, yes. Tony Dorsett is ready to go full speed now after resting his sore thigh.
Better we save our tears for poor little ol' Exxon.