A pillow-sized pad and other wraps were around injuries that once would have been mended this late in the week. Eyes that are the reason he is called Hawk kept drifting toward the meeting room where his presence shortly would be demanded as Tony Dorsett talked about his immensely good football fortune.

"Always in the right place at the right time," he said. "Lucky. Who'd have thought something like that would have happened? I didn't. But I have no complaints about it."

He was referring to not having to pay the price of excellence in college: playing for a pro patsy. Unlike O.J. Simpson, Walter Payton and so many other rare runners, Dorsett five years ago was drafted by an excellent team, the Cowboys, instead of a dreadful one, the Seahawks. A fight helped make that possible.

"Clint Longley and Roger (Staubach) had it out in training camp (in '76)," said Gil Brandt, Cowboy vice president for personnel development, "and Tom (Landry) told me to get rid of Longley. The best trade we could get was from San Diego, its second and swap of first-round picks (in the '77 draft).

"So we were able later to trade that Charger pick and three seconds to Seattle for the rights to take Tony (as the second choice in the draft). Imagine. Winning the Heisman and playing on the national championship team one season and being on the Super Bowl champ the next."

Brandt knew the collegiate Dorsett, on the field and off, as well as anyone other than family. Both the runner and the scout agree Brandt was a major reason Dorsett did not skip his final season at Pitt for the Canadian Football League. Arguably the best of the freshman phenoms created by NCAA eligibility changes, the Herschel Walker of the '70s, Dorsett was sorely tempted by the CFL offer.

"Pretty substantial," he admitted.

"I went up and talked with him," Brandt said. "There was a lot of money involved, and I think Tony was worried about his (NFL) future. There were knocks on his being small."

Brandt assured Dorsett he would be special in the NFL, and that the long-term benefits of The Establishment League were far superior to easy early Canadian cash. Blessed as usual, Dorsett stayed healthy and had the senior season of his dreams.

If he is not in the all-time backfield of a discerning coach, Dorsett still set 15 NCAA records and tied three more. A taller, more powerful and possibly as swift a model, Walker, has taken four of them. And the NFL records Dorsett sets seem to be tied or broken by Earl Campbell.

Dorsett is the first player to rush for 1,000 yards or more in each of his first five NFL seasons. Simpson, whose Southern Cal offensive line was better than his early-Bill blockers, did not come close to 1,000 yards for three years. Payton had 679 yards his first season with the Bears and 1,610 his fifth.

The Dorsett progression has been steadier. Until this season, he had never gained fewer than 1,007 yards or more than 1,325. With five games left this year, including Sunday's here against the Redskins, Dorsett has a league-high 1,144.

For the first time, Dorsett has a chance to lead the NFL in rushing. The Cowboys are letting him be their dominant force, because he finally has earned it. He changed how he wanted his name pronounced between college and the pros, from DOR-sett to dor-SETT; he has changed his attitude in the last year, perhaps realizing that even the most gifted players can push their luck only so far.

"Sometimes in a game he seems almost alone, daydreaming, not motivated at all," the best runner in NFL history, Jim Brown, said of Dorsett before last season.

That has changed. He has been driven as never before this year, judged the Cowboys' most valuable player in five of their 11 games. No longer, teammates say, does he trot toward the sideline with a relatively minor injury. He has played in considerable pain this season, and provided the off-the-field leadership the team had been hoping for earlier.

Marriage is the prime reason for that change in attitude; Landry rewarded the change by naming Dorsett a Cowboy captain.

"(It) might have come as a surprise to some people," Landry said, "because in the past he hasn't distinguished himself in some of the areas a team captain is supposed to."

That included being in a bar fight, sleeping through a team meeting and working during the offseason only when that was mandatory.

"Now he's very deserving of being captain," Landry said.

The coach is giving Dorsett the season-long work he has craved. How can I gain as much ground as Payton, Campbell and the others, he asked, publicly at times, when I don't carry the ball nearly as often?

"Maybe I have been overcautious in the past," Landry admitted. "Last year we decided to give Tony the ball more. Still, I'm not sure he needs to carry it 25 or 30 times. I know he feels he does, but he lacks the real size it takes to carry that many times.

"One of the reasons, in fact, that he's been able to gain 1,000 yards that many straight years is that we haven't pushed him. If we had pushed him hard, let him carry as much as he can regardless of injuries, I doubt it he would have had the success he's had."

Dorsett is averaging 5.2 yards a carry this season; his average the previous four was 4.5.

"I see myself rounding into peak form" he said today, "unless I get zapped away by something tragic. Right now (at 27) I'm coming into my own. More knowledgable, more complete as a player . . ."

His voice trailed off, and suddenly Dorsett was giving chase. He jumped off his locker stool without so much as an excuse me, saying only: "There goes my meeting."