This has been Tony Dorsett's best season in his five-year National Football League career.
Dorsett broke the Dallas Cowboy rushing record by accumulating 1,646 yards, averaging 4.8 yards a carry. But when the Cowboys face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC playoffs Saturday at Texas Stadium (WDVM-TV-9 at 1 p.m.), Dorsett will be coming off a dreadful performance in his last game, a 13-10 overtime loss to the New York Giants two weeks ago.
Even a mediocre game would have given Dorsett the NFL rushing title, but the Giants held him to 39 yards and forced him to fumble twice. New Orleans rookie George Rogers overtook him for the title in the last game.
The fact that Dorsett lost the rushing title and that he fumbled doesn't bother him. Talk that he was intimidated by the Giants does.
"Some people can be intimidated," he said, "but not me."
The Bucs (9-7) also are considered a physical, hard-hitting team, the same type that has repeatedly given the Cowboys trouble. Nevertheless, Dallas is a 7 1/2-point favorite to beat Tampa Bay and advance to the NFC championship game next week.
The teams have played each other only twice before, with Dallas winning both times, including a 28-17 game in 1980.
The Cowboys breezed along this season, tying a team record with 12 regular-season victories, and are now in excellent physical condition. Quarterback Danny White's ribs have healed and he has recovered from flu, which caused him to miss practice Wednesday.
Tampa Bay struggled early, but won four of its last five games and clinched the NFC Central Division title on the last day of the season, beating Detroit, 20-17, at the Silverdome.
Tampa Bay's strength is Doug Williams, a big-play quarterback. The Bucs depend on their defense to keep them close until Williams strikes.
This has been the former Grambling star's most effective season. He completed more than 50 percent of his passes for the first time in his career and he passed for 3,563 yards and 19 touchdowns, with 15 interceptions. He has exceeded the 10,000-yard passing mark quicker than any other active quarterback except Seattle's Jim Zorn.
Williams' primary receiver is second-year pro Kevin House from Southern Illinois. House, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound speed man, set three Tampa Bay receiving records this season, catching 56 passes for 1,176 yards and nine touchdowns. He has 4.4 speed in the 40 yard dash.
Because the Cowboys play more man-to-man defense in the secondary than most teams, House will be matched against Dallas rookie cornerback Everson Walls much of the day. The only other time House faced primarily man-to-man coverage was against Oakland and he beat the Raiders' Lester Hayes for four catches for 178 yards.
Saturday's winner will face the winner of Sunday's San Francisco 49ers-New York Giants game, which is being played in San Francisco. If the 49ers win, the NFC championship game will be at Candlestick Park because the 49ers had the best record in the conference (13-3).