Gary Hogeboom and Danny White, principals in this ever-unfolding ego-drama called The Great Quarterback Controversy, have lockers next to each other in the little tin building where the Dallas Cowboys keep their gear.
For an outfit as corpulently American as this 25-year-old franchise, you would expect more breathing room for the leaders of football's elite, possibly two private dressing closets in a fern spa type of setting, with shag carpet and brass spittoons in each, a pair of leather-necked Dobermans keeping watch.
But what you have is a gross simplification of essentials. There is nothing fancy here except the ideals of those gifted enough to wear the Cowboys' uniform. The coach, without his fine snap-brim duff, could pass for the maitre d' at Jo Jo's. And the players, lounging around on battered vinyl couches before practice, talk baseball and picture shows, not TV deals and tax shelters.
The other day, Hogeboom, dressed like a man prepared to rake leaves, entered this world with a mouthful of Sixlets, those candy-coated chocolate beads he likes so much, and immediately started answering questions about his fate and future as the Cowboys' quarterback. "What's right now is right now," he said in a moment of revelation.
But down, 31-13, against St. Louis Sunday, Landry benched Hogeboom with just over a minute left in the third quarter and replaced him with White, the ex-starter demoted to second string at the beginning of the season. White, once reviled by the crowds at Texas Stadium, found himself smothered by a chorus of cheers, a sound so unfamiliar but so welcome that some say it inspired his brilliant performance. Tight end Doug Cosbie said, "You couldn't help but feel happy for the man."
White moved the team 98 yards in nine plays for the Cowboys' last touchdown. And although Dallas (4-2) lost, 31-20, folks wondered: Who is and will be the Cowboys' quarterback? Or has Tom Landry settled on the two-quarterback system he employed in the old days with Don Meredith and Eddie LeBaron, Roger Staubach and Craig Morton?
"I'm sure Gary will start," Landry said once and for all again today, then added, "But we have two starting quarterbacks here. There's always the possibility Danny'll start later in the season."
White, in his role as a relief pitcher, was more than a little exasperated when he said, "I wish I had a crystal ball and could look into Coach Landry's head, but I don't. I try not to even guess one way or the other about what he'll do. That leads only to expectations.
"I don't expect a change. I don't think Gary has played poorly enough to demand one. But on the other hand, I don't feel that I had played poorly enough to demand the change in the first place."
Hogeboom leads an offensive unit that has undergone much change and averages only 18.8 points a game. Landry said, "We haven't had a team like this in 20 years." He did not need to explain why.
Only three of the 11 starters who opened the season against the Los Angeles Rams played the entire game against St. Louis: center Tom Rafferty, tackle Jim Cooper and tailback Tony Dorsett. Timmy Newsome shared the fullback spot once held exclusively by Ron Springs, who shrugged when asked about his team's problems and said, "Things just don't come as easily for the Cowboys as they used to." And Cosbie left the game Sunday with a hurt right knee.
Gone with the glory years are tight end Billy Joe DuPree and wide receiver Drew Pearson, both retired. Guard Kurt Petersen (thigh) will not play against the Redskins, and wide receiver Doug Donley (hamstring and shoulder) and guard Herb Scott (knee) are questionable. Landry traded Butch Johnson, a gifted wide receiver, in the offseason.
Tony Hill, sidelined for six weeks, probably will see spot duty in Washington. Last year against the Redskins at RFK Stadium, Hill caught two long touchdown passes, and Landry said activating him "will give us a whole new dimension. Once Tony steps on the field, people will have to respect him. His reputation's such that he demands attention."
Hogeboom exudes a boyish, if not naive, optimism, and appears undaunted in the face of these changing times. Preparing to play the Redskins, his team's greatest rival, he has said nothing to add more fire to the debate over who should quarterback the Cowboys.
The Great Quarterback Controversy, he seems to have forgotten, has its roots in the 1982 NFC title game with the Redskins. It was then, at RFK Stadium, that White was knocked unconscious by Dexter Manley and replaced with a raw-boned kid who threw two touchdown passes and showed enough promise to kick off a campaign among fans and players alike to see Hogeboom given the start.
"I look at Washington as a game you approach like any other," Hogeboom said. "You go by their personnel and what they do and just try to beat them. You shouldn't let outside factors affect you . . . If I'm going to play in the NFL, I should be able to handle all this. There will always be setbacks. When Landry first gave me the job, he said if things weren't going well he would make a change. And that's just what he did."
Hogeboom talked down the crowd's reaction to the appearance of White against St. Louis. "Last year," he said, "they were booing him and cheering me. I said then, 'Hey, it could change in a snap of your fingers.'
"The way I see it, the fans paid to come and express whatever they want to express -- good, bad or indifferent. It doesn't matter. Hopefully, it's not something personal with me but what happened on the field. I mean to say, I just hope nobody slashes my tires or something like that."