Esoteric protein and nitrogen diets, a score of vitamin programs, weight training schedules for maximum pectoral growth and a score of other scientific plans, graphs and admonitions fill the bulletin boards of the Dallas Cowboys practice facility.

Read the board and it confirms your image of the team as a computerized football module.

Look at the team eat lunch, however, and the image loses its vertical hold.

There's John Dutton, with a wraparound blue bruise on his thigh, putting away a greasy double cheeseburger.

There's Tony Dorsett with some fried chicken and hot sauce.

And there's America's quarterback, Danny White, finishing off his interviews with a look that says "enough's enough." He sits down by his locker and starts into a large chocolate shake and a concoction from McDonald's.

Tacos. Chili. Burgers. French fries. Gooey stew. Gallons of Coke. The place looks like fast-food heaven, and there isn't a protein powder mix or a vitamin A, B, C, D or E pill in sight.

Outside, the practice field has the steely, professional look of mechanization.

But at the far end of the field there is a blue signboard, and on it is painted "GO WASHINGTON!"--the sort of psych ploy used by high schools all over the country.

The team is a collection of individuals, not gears or microchips. The food is junk and the sign jayvee, and the Dallas players, like any in the NFL, will take nourishment and motivation in their own individual ways.

Ever since the Cowboys began winning in the mid-'60s, people started noticing their phlegmatic coach, Tom Landry. In his hat and pastel suit, he looked like a traveling salesman for the second-best hardware company in Lincoln, Neb.

Eventually, reporters started to write about Landry's use of his computers, his methodical training and practice methods. They noted the way the Cowboys never seemed hurt by injuries or retirement. Exit Don Meredith, enter Roger Staubach. Exit Staubach, enter Danny White.

Perhaps it was the two-minute drill--those game-ending offensive flurries that require the precision and speed of a computer to succeed--that showed the team to be the remarkably efficient mechanism it is.

And surrounding that machine are the cheerleaders, the promotional products and Texas Stadium, with its carpeted field and carpeted lounges.

A meteorologist might say this: The Green Bay Packers were bitter winds and ice. The Dallas Cowboys are air conditioning.

Landry is not oblivious to the team's image, to the jokes. In his quiet, thoughtful way, he sees through it better than anyone.

"We don't do things a whole lot different from anybody else," he says in the doorway of his blue and white tiled meeting room. "Everybody uses computers, but if you win, it's you that gets written about. The players are the players. We win and lose games right here in this room."

The players are the players. Each week as they prepare for an opponent, as they have been preparing all week for Saturday's NFC championship game with the Washington Redskins, they meet in the mornings, reviewing films, discussing strategies, listening to the coaches.

Afterward, they have a 90-minute lunch break beginning at 11:30 a.m. It is one of the few chances the press has to meet the Cowboys with their helmets off and their mouthpieces out.

Even a superficial survey of the room is enough to tell you that if this team is a computer, it is made of flesh and bones and personality.

There is Robert Newhouse, an aging fullback who seems to have an ice pack forever taped to his calf and a frown affixed to his face.

There are the offensive linemen, Kurt Petersen and Danny Spradlin, lolling like exhausted walruses as they quiz each other on blocking assignments.

There is Rafael Septien apologizing for his comments on Mark Moseley's luck and explaining to an uninterested television announcer the importance of his religion.

There is Benny Barnes at the pay phones, playing receptionist:

"Hello? . . . No this isn't Tony Dorsett. He isn't here . . . No, this is Bill . . . Bye."

There is Ron Springs stretched out on the floor and, on command from a disc jockey who has asked him to "say something to rile the fans," shouting, "Fool them once. Fool them twice" of the rematch with Washington.

There is Harvey Martin, with a one-ounce gold piece around his neck cheerfully answering questions about everything but a recent allegation that he has used cocaine.

"I don't want to talk about that," he says as his eyes go dull.

Near his locker, Danny White is finishing lunch and a few last interviews before afternoon practice.

If anyone upholds the Cowboys image it must be White. Mormon, well-spoken, conservative, neat, obliging--he is seemingly as much the efficient, upstanding Cowboy off the field as on it.

He begins to dress for practice, taking off his shirt. As he starts for his belt buckle, the TV lights go on and someone with a microphone is saying, "One more interview please, Danny."

White glares.

"My God," he says angrily. "Let me get dressed."


Danny White is human, and so are his teammates.

A final injury report: Landry says he expects the two key players who missed last week's game against the Green Bay Packers, tackle John Dutton (bruised thigh) and running back Ron Springs (bruised knee), to start today. Safety Dextor Clinkscale, who strained a hamstring in practice Wednesday, is still questionable.