hrough 59 minutes and nine seconds today, Everson Walls seemed like Dallas' lone star. He had eight tackles and two interceptions and, as the Cowboys' left cornerback, he had fulfilled his job description: he had left the San Francisco 49ers backed into a corner.
"I could have been a hero," said Walls, a rookie. "Then, it all seemed like a waste."
San Francisco's Joe Montana rolled right on third and three from the Dallas six with 51 seconds left and passed to Dwight Clark for the winning touchdown in the 49ers' 28-27 victory in the NFC title game at Candlestick Park. The pass concluded a 13-play, 89-yard drive. It also concluded the Cowboys' season.
"Clark was my man," said Walls, whose NFL-leading 11 interceptions this season were as useful today as 27 Dallas points.
"I had Clark on the outside. He hooked in and Montana rolled out. That broke the coordination of our defense. We were supposed to move into a double coverage then with Michael Downs and I covering Clark. When Montana threw, I thought it was out of bounds."
The ball and Clark, who hooked back to the outside to receive the ball, were inbounds. And Dallas was out of the playoffs.
Tom Landry, the only coach in Dallas' 22 years, only would say, "The 49ers did a great job of driving downfield. They executed the play."
The members of the Dallas defense had different perspectives of the play that made them more doomed than doomsday.
Said defensive end Ed Jones, who was not "Too Tall" today, especially on the touchdown play when Montana waited for the leaping Jones to land before throwing, "I thought I had him. I had a good rush. I guess it was just a gutsy play by Montana."
Said strong safety Charlie Waters, a veteran of 11 years and 25 playoff games, "Clark jumped like he was on a trampoline. The throw was perfect. It couldn't have been intercepted. Either it would have been incomplete or a great catch. It was a great catch."
Waters sat in the end zone, glumly, moments after Clark's catch, staring at the spot of turf where the 49ers' wide receiver had landed and Dallas' hopes had crashed. It was one of the few pieces of the beaten Candlestick turf that remained in place during the game.
Waters realized it was the Cowboy secondary that was in the wrong place. He said, "I wanted to finish this year with a Super Bowl. I didn't think it was unreasonable."
There were other perspectives of lost chances and lost Dallas hopes. Tony Dorsett, who gained 91 yards on 22 carries, was kicked in the left eye on a first quarter tackle. He missed 17 minutes in the first half. "I was just trying to get my vision back," said Dorsett.
Said Tony Hill, who caught a 26-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, "I don't feel the 49ers are the caliber of the Cowboys--but they won. If we played them again tomorrow, I think we would beat them."
Billy Joe Dupree, the tight end, said of the tight finish, "This is worse than losing 45-14."
D.D. Lewis was not thinking back so much about Oct. 11, when the 49ers beat the Cowboys here, 45-14. Lewis, the 13th-year linebacker, was thinking more of his career, which ended today with his NFL record 27th playoff game.
"We were only one play short of the Super Bowl. And they made that play. Clark broke our coverage. That's all.
"I used to be able to say 'I'll get them next year.' But not this time."