After watching films of Dallas versus Washington, after rewinding the projector and reviewing plays, much of the game is still a blank. The morning and afternoon of Jan. 22, 1983, were purged from the memory of Cowboys quarterback Danny White.
When Redskins defensive end Dexter Manley broke through the line and swooped down on White, the lights went out. The game was over, a minute before halftime. "When I watch the film, a few things look familiar," White said. "There was a sideline pass that I threw to Tony Hill that I kind of remember. But the morning of the game and entire first half are lost. There are no details."
Not until Dallas had lost, 31-17, in the NFC title game did White begin to regain his senses. He remembers throwing a Washington fan to the ground, holding the man with his right hand and hitting him in the face with his left. Police broke up the fight and, White said, tried to convince him to press charges.
"The guy came up as I was walking off the field and put his arm around my shoulders," White said. "He'd been drinking and he reeked. He had long hair and I grabbed it and pulled him down. I might've gotten a little carried away. But I guess I could plead insanity."
He did not press charges. For six months, White has been gathering himself for a return to the scene of the Manley mugging. Spring and summer were a time for asking questions. How will he feel at 9 p.m. Monday when darkness settles over Washington and the thunder returns to RFK?
"It'll be like going to Alaska, where I took my summer vacation," he said. "I'd never been to Alaska, but I had seen a lot of pictures."
Manley's tackle that leveled White and left him briefly unconscious also led to other changes in White's life.
Until then, he was the Cowboys' undisputed No. 1 quarterback. When he was knocked unconscious the Cowboys trailed, 14-3, but were within field goal range. White had the offense moving.
Gary Hogeboom came on to throw two touchdown passes in the third quarter. Hogeboom might have assured himself a start in the Super Bowl if not for two interceptions. The second was returned by Darryl Grant for a touchdown that ensured Washington's victory.
Last spring, the Cowboy Quarterback Controversy began. Landry's decision to consider competition at all positions included quarterback. More significantly, Landry said this about White: "Last year he got caught in the 'he can't win the big championship game' thing and it really affected him, I thought, in the championship game, as much as he wanted to ignore it."
Although White played less than a half against Washington, he has been pegged as the big loser in big games. The record speaks for itself. Dallas is 0-3 in NFC title games since the retirement of Roger Staubach.
For six months, White went from one frustration to the next until Landry announced last week that he had retained the starting position. He had competed with Hogeboom, who is popular with both teammates and Dallas fans. He had listened to the cheers for Hogeboom, who won two exhibition games in the final two minutes. He heard the boos for himself after two interceptions against Miami.
Talk continues that White has neither the leadership nor the strength in his passing arm to lead Dallas to a Super Bowl. White knows, however, he can quiet that noise against Washington Monday night.
"Through it all, I had to guard my personal life and my private feelings," he said. "I just kept telling myself that all of these things are part of being the starting quarterback."
Although the transition from Staubach to White was smooth on the surface, the Cowboys have not been without conflict the last three seasons. During the 57-day strike, the team was split between White and player represenatitive Robert Newhouse.
White made no secret of his desire to end the strike and of his meetings with Cowboys President Tex Schramm. He tried to convince teammates that management's offers were acceptable if the wording was changed in a few places. When the Cowboys held a meeting to discuss management's proposals, the players voted not to discuss details with reporters. But White stayed after the meeting to talk.
Some teammates thought he was trying to usurp Newhouse's power by traveling to strike headquarters in New York a few days before the settlement. Did White's role in the strike diminish his leadership?
"Some people think that I betrayed the players, which is not true," he said. "It's hard to understand what I did and why I did it unless you were there, either up in New York or in Tex's office. Our strike was a total disaster, a mockery as far as our representation went. I wasn't pro management at all. I was pro settlement. I didn't pass any confidential information along to anybody at any time."
White's attitudes and morals can be more conservative and straight-laced than Staubach's. He neither drinks nor smokes and has condemned those who do. Hogeboom, who looks more like an Eagle Scout, may be more at home in the Cowboys' locker room with his good natured politics.
Players also regard him as a more assertive leader than White. With the Cowboys trying to catch the Redskins last January, team sources say, Hogeboom stepped into the huddle and pointed his finger at an offensive lineman. "If you can't block that guy," he reportedly said, "we'll get somebody in here who can."
So now, three years after trying to make them forget Staubach, White must try to make them forget Hogeboom. It begins Monday night in the stadium where Hogeboom first tasted fame. Laughing, White said, "I'm going to be looking for that guy I hit after the game. He's the only thing I can remember. If we win, I'm going to sprint off the field. He might want to go another round."