Danny White, normally a down-to-earth kind of guy, had an out-of-the-body experience yesterday. Call it a mystical fake punt.
On fourth down, with the ball resting on Dallas' 21-yard line and the Redskins beginning to rally, White dropped back to punt. The crowd was grinding its collective gears for another Washington drive, and the noise was deafening.
So White shut the fans up. He took the snap, saw no one blocking his path, ran 20 yards and made a vital first down.
"My body just takes off," said White. "My mind is back there and my body is running downfield. My mind says, 'What are you doing, dummy?' When I get up, I almost pass out at what my body did.
"They had a return set up and the line left a little early. The natural reaction was to go. You react by instinct and only when it's over do you think of what you did."
Someone asked White whether Tom Landry had given him permission to fake the punt so deep in Cowboys territory.
"He's never told me not to do it," said White. "We're a strict organization, that's true. We usually play by the book, but every once in a while . . . "
What would Landry have done if the play had gone for a loss instead of a first down?
"I thought of it and I almost fainted," said White.
Landry, for his part, was circumspect, and relieved. "On White's run, I couldn't believe it," he said. "It's the chance you take, though."
Joe Theismann recalled that when he was running back punts for the Redskins in the early 1970s, White dropped back to punt and passed for the first down instead. When Theismann saw White running for the first down this time, he said he thought: "There he goes again."
The Cowboys gave the ball up on a punt four plays later, but the Redskins' rally turned desperate, and finally futile, after the trick play.
In the opening series, however, the Cowboys' offense looked far from dominant. In the first half, Tony Dorsett ran for only 17 yards on 10 carries. The blitzing Redskins defense was shutting down what is ordinarily a running team.
"They wouldn't let me get outside, especially in the first half," said Dorsett, who ended up with only 57 yards for the day.
"They were stacking the linebackers inside," said White. "But as a result of that, they had no outside pass coverage. As soon as we realized that, we started going to the sidelines, screens, and to the weak side of the defense. The play calling was excellent. Coach Landry did it again."
White did a bit, too. Besides his fake punt, he threw 21 completions in 29 attempts for 216 yards. In third-down situations, he consistently threw sideline passes to Drew Pearson, Tony Hill and Ron Springs, giving the Cowboys first downs just beyond the yard marker.
"We felt we could take advantage of their cornerbacks," said Tony Hill, who caught six passes for 77 yards. "They were playing us extremely loose, but if I were coaching them I'd play a guy like me loose, too."
Springs, who earlier scored on an eight-yard swing pass from White, put the game out of reach when he ran 46 yards off left tackle for the score with 1:52 left in the fourth quarter.
"That play is called a 37 Switch and it's supposed to go over the right tackle," said Springs. "They overpursued and we went back the other way." Like judo experts, the Cowboys used their opponents' aggressiveness to their advantage.
The Dallas offense had the sort of balance coaches love to talk about. And more often than not, it is the Dallas teams, first under Roger Staubach and now under Danny White, that fulfill those chalkboard fantasies.
"Coach Landry's entire philosophy showed tonight," said White. "The Redskins hurt us with some big plays, but we held steady."