Tony Dorsett's track record suggests he is ready to put the other running backs in his shadow in the National Football League playoffs.
The Dallas Cowboys saw a direct coincidence after Dorsett rushed for more than 100 yards on Sunday, for the 20th time, as the Cowboys drubbed the Rams and advanced to an NFC playoff game against Atlanta Sunday. In 19 of those instances, the Cowboys won. Dallas was struggling in the first half of the season, when Dorsett was averaging 3.6 yards a carry; since then he has been averaging 4.3.
Roger Staubach spoke from the intimate experience of the huddle yesterday. "I always wanted to control things. I wanted to throw the ball. But after Tony came to us in 1977, I had the most effective years of my career. There had to be a relation. He took some pressure off me. I have noticed that he has been very consistent against Los Angeles in particular, one of the best teams against the rush.
"I have always been a fan of Tony's. He received some unjust criticism when he first came up because of fumbling on occasion. I remember some of the Redskins saying he was overrated. There were questions about his ability to catch passes."
There also were complaints that Dorsett would give up a play once it became apparent it had no chance of success, a rap against O.J. Simpson, too. Dorsett's total commitment was questioned when he overslept and missed practice.
"I don't think Tony realized at first how important receiving is to today's pass-oriented game," Staubach said. "I noticed that he had 45 receptions last year and had 34 during the regular season this year.
"I think he is a money player. There is some reason why he played better in the second half of the season. He is the heart of the attack now. Danny White was before that.
"In 1978 we appeared to be out of the race and there was another criticism -- that Tony was not running for 50 or 60 yards. Well, no back does that any more; the defenses are too good these days. But I noticed on Sunday that one or two Rams barely got him, or he would have been off on long runs.
"He has raw speed, he is the fastest of all the good ones. I'd put my money on him. He is in O.J. Simpson's class for raw speed. I remember he beat Walter Payton in the Superstars competition on television. Tony is a speed runner. He doesn't have the moves of Payton, but he hits a hole quicker than any other back."
Dorsett was knocked out of the game on Sunday, but returned quickly, because he didn't want to miss opportunities when the Dallas offensive line was having such a good day, opening holes that resulted in a club-record 338 yards rushing.
Coach Tom Landry was moved by that gesture to acknowledge he had been previously protective of the 195-pounder, permitting him to make the 1,000-yard club, then resting him so he would not get hurt. But Dorsett had promised he would be more effective with more carries, which he demonstrated with 22 attempts against the Rams.
"He is a tough little nut," Staubach said, "and anyone who thinks he is not is wrong. Oh, maybe if we were winning, say 20-7, he might run out of bounds a bit early. But I remember in the Super Bowl game against Denver that he ran right over two guys for a touchdown. He is a threat as an inside runner to go all the way. He gets stronger as the game goes on. That means his relative speed becomes greater when his opponents tire."
Dorsett spots other running backs from 10 to 35 pounds, but there is a compensating advantage playing with all the offensive talent on the Cowboys: the opposition cannot concentrate on stopping him, as the other Dallas running backs showed the Rams.