The National Football League's officially imposed point spread of 25 points against Dallas Cowboys on Sunday posed future questions about safeguarding the integrity of the sport.
Drew Pearson of the Cowboys summed up the irony of developments in the victory over the Philadelphia Eagles that resulted in the Eagles backing into the East Division title in the National Football Conference, although both teams finished with 12-4 records.
"This points system is strange," he said after the game. "It is mystifying to me that we have put 35 points on the board against a team and we look over at them at the finish, and they are celebrating."
The Eagles were celebrating because they had cut the Cowboy margin to eight points -- with the final score of 35-27 -- and thus the Cowboys had failed to maintain the 25-point difference necessary to win the title themselves.
The disconsolate Cowboys fans among a crowd of 62,548 in Texas Stadium were exposed to the unusual sight of Coach Tom Landry, who calls the plays, signaling for running plays by Robert Newhouse and Tony Dorsett in the last minute 56 seconds. The Cowboys were penalized for delaying the game with 24 seconds to go and on the final play of the game quarterback Danny White fell on the ball for a loss of two yards.
Suppose the professional gamblers had made the Cowboys nine-point favorites. Here they were letting the clock run out with an eight-point lead. f
Suppose there was legalized gambling. The fans presumably would have been rooting primarily for the Cowboys to win, then to beat the nine-point spread. Where would the fans' priorities -- and rooting -- be if the tie-breaking procedures imposed a similar 25-point handicap that worked at cross purposes with a gambler's point spread?
As it was, the Cowboys "covered" the professional gamblers' four-point favoritism with the eight-point victory, but there must have been some anxious moments near the finish, with the Eagles having all the momentum and the Cowboys having finally despaired of winning by 25.
A week earlier, the Cowboys would have been trying for points up to the final second under the qualifying system for the playoffs. Both teams would have been using their timeouts with the greatest of care. The Cowboys almost certainly would have been throwing the ball in that last series.
The Eagles had not only brought champagne for their celebration; they even had the glasses already etched with the notation that they were East Division champions.
The Cowboys won the game but were in a temporary state of gloom until safety Charlie Waters, with an observant sense of history, remarked that the Dallas fans for the first time in memory let themselves go on an emotional binge in the excitement over the Cowboys' rebound from a Monday night disgrace in Los Angeles, 38-14.
Regular visitors from out of town called it the noisiest crowd in at least a year, going back to the 35-34 victory over the Redskins.
"Playing at home is definitely an advantage, where it hasn't been in the past," Waters said of the upcoming rematch with the Rams on Sunday in Texas Stadium in the NFC's wildcard game. "Our crowd has been cold and semidistant, but now they are very verbal and they add a plus to us. They gave us an advantage."
For the first season since the expansion franchise was established in 1960, the Cowboys have not lost a game at home this season.