Repeat after Tom Landry: the Dallas Cowboys have no quarterback controversy, the Dallas Cowboys have no quarterback controversy, the Dallas Cowboys have no quarterback controversy.
Except . . .
Landry, in a dandy display of verbal gymnastics, gives his support to Danny White, the Cowboy's No. 1 quarterback since 1980, while also maintaining that young Gary Hogeboom remains a serious challenger for White's job.
Confused? That's understandable. Landry, who has spent much of this training camp creating competition at almost all positions, apparently wants the guessing game to continue at quarterback.
After two preseason games, this much is clear about the great Dallas quarterback duel: Hogeboom is a bonafide NFL quarterback and White, aware of Hogeboom's excellent preseason, is feeling the pressure.
White, never fond in the past of media inquiries, has grown even more on edge with every Hogeboom completion. "Nothing I can say will help or hurt the situation," White says sharply. "I'm just playing my game. Coach Landry makes the decisions."
Longtime Landry watchers are convinced that White will be the starter when the Cowboys open the season against Washington Sept. 5. But that doesn't necessarily mean White will have played better than Hogeboom during Dallas' very serious training camp at Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Hogeboom, who will be 25 on Sunday, is a four-year veteran from Central Michigan. A fifth-round draft pick in 1980, he has played in only five regular-season games, throwing 11 passes. But it was his only playoff performance, against the Redskins in the NFC title game last January, that brought him out of the quarterback wilderness.
Replacing an injured White late in the first half, Hogeboom completed 14 of 29 passes for two touchdowns and 162 yards. He had the trailing Cowboys within striking range before the Redskins intercepted him twice in the fourth period. But he had shown poise and ability that belied his inexperience. And afterward, he was given a strikingly strong vote of confidence by many of his teammates.
That was surprising, considering that White, as a starter, had led the Cowboys to a 34-14 record and three straight NFC championship games. But Dallas had lost all three, which undermined his ability to fill a growing leadership void that has existed since Roger Staubach's retirement. His popularity also was hindered by his wavering opinions during the players' strike last fall.
Hogeboom, who is much more outgoing, is a natural leader with a stronger arm. He also is a natural talent who has forced this quarterback confrontation with a scintillating series of performances this summer, starting with a comeback victory over Miami. White, who admittedly was not sharp, was booed heavily by Dallas fans in the third quarter. Hogeboom was cheered loudly when he directed the Cowboys to two touchdowns, and a victory, in the last two minutes.
"I think I can play in the NFL and be a starting quarterback," he said last week after learning he would get his first NFL start against the Los Angeles Rams Monday night. "I've been here four years and I'm ready. I've placed myself in a position to battle for a starting spot . . . I have to make every play count against the Rams. I can't afford any incompletions."
Said Landry later: "I would say that was accurate, that he can't afford many incompletions. It will take an exceedingly excellent performance from Hogeboom to win the job. Danny White has earned his position, he has performed well. I have no problems with him as my quarterback."
Playing in this self-created pressure cooker, Hogeboom had a brilliant first quarter against the Rams. He completed his first five passes and finished the quarter eight of nine for 102 yards and one touchdown, a nifty 17-yarder that Doug Cosbie caught among three Rams defenders.
White was almost as good in the second quarter, but had problems just before halftime. He threw an interception that cornerback Leroy Irvin returned 80 yards for a touchdown. "Not his fault," Landry said. "The receiver ran the wrong route." On the next series, the Rams picked off another pass, only to have the officials rule incorrectly that the throw was intercepted out of bounds. White also fumbled a center snap and bounced a ball off his knee.
"Did Hogeboom move any closer (to White)? That's hard to say," Landry said after Dallas' 30-7 victory. "We wanted to see how Gary would respond to starting a game. He threw the ball extremely well . . . But I don't think (the quarterback situation) is sticky. You (the media) are making it sticky."
Yet, Landry has put himself on the spot. If, on one hand, he says positions will be determined by competition, how can he, on the other hand, deny Hogeboom if he outplays White?