There is something about the Dallas Cowboys that brings out the best in an opponent. Now, it is time for the Cowboys to show their best if they are to linger in the NFL playoffs.
Monday night, the Minnesota Vikings monopolized the intensity and their fans made the Metrodome a maelstrom of noise as the Cowboys lost their second straight, 31-27.
It was as exciting a contest as this strike-torn season has produced and the crowd of 60,007, largest ever to see the Vikings at home, silenced criticism of its loyalty and lung power.
"I told you it would take time for the fans to respond," said Minnesota Coach Bud Grant. "It's been up to us to create the excitement and this was a good example of what can happen.
"For a relatively meaningless game, this has to be one of the most exciting. We were already in the playoffs and all we were determining was whether we finished fourth or seventh and whether we opened the playoffs at home.
"But when you're as good as Dallas is and get the publicity they do, it brings about the best in everyone who plays them."
Had Dallas won, it would have meant a playoff rematch with the Vikings. Instead, the Cowboys will entertain Tampa Bay, while Minnesota is host to Atlanta. It's all the same to Dallas Coach Tom Landry, he said with the usual straight face.
"The loss doesn't bother me, because it doesn't change anything for us," Landry said. "I've said all along that all we had to do was play well and I thought at times we did play well. We had no incentive except for the prestige of winning."
Each team had an interception return for a touchdown, 60 yards by Dennis Thurman of Dallas and 33 yards by John Turner of Minnesota. Turner's score, on the first play of the fourth quarter, gave the Vikings a 24-13 lead.
When Timmy Newsome mishandled the ensuing kickoff and Dallas was forced to start at its one-yard line, the outcome seemed certain. But on the first play, Tony Dorsett ran 99 yards, longest run from scrimmage in NFL history.
In Dallas, the Cowboys said today they had only 10 men on the field for the record play, and that the bench had called for the ball to go to fullback Ron Springs.
"One player thought he heard 'Jayhawk' called, which means there is just one back in the backfield, so Springs came out just before the ball was snapped," said Al Laven, the backfield coach.
The Cowboys went ahead with 6:42 remaining on a two-yard run by Springs. It followed Doug Cosbie's catch of a desperation third-and-15 pass by Danny White, for a 42-yard gain to the Minnesota two, despite the close attention of four Viking defenders.
Tommy Kramer then drove the Vikings 80 yards in 10 plays to victory. A 23-yard pass to Terry LeCount overcame a third-and-18 situation, and a 29-yarder to Ted Brown erased a second-and-17 predicament. The winning 14-yard pass to Rickey Young saw the reserve running back so open that he was able to make a sliding catch at the eight, rise and cross the goal line.
Kramer completed 18 of 34 passes for 242 yards. White hit 14 of 32 for 191; he had six tipped, three by end Randy Holloway.
"They played like they were possessed," White said. "They were tipping passes nearly the whole night, and the noise caused problems, too. There were times we couldn't hear the signals out there."