The two plays that doomed Dallas came quickly yesterday. They occurred less than two minutes apart in the first quarter of the Redskins' 34-14 victory. Both were passes by Gary Hogeboom. One was completed to the wrong team; the other fell incomplete, beyond the reaching hands of an open receiver.
Cowboys Coach Tom Landry, his hat off, his bald head glistening, called them, simply, "the plays that killed us the most."
In a blowout, that's quite a distinction.
In four plays from scrimmage, Redskins linebacker Monte Coleman had a 49-yard interception return for a touchdown and Cowboys fullback Timmy Newsome had an armful of air as he was overthrown on a sure touchdown pass.
"We could have easily been ahead by 14 points," Landry said. Instead, they were tied.
"That's what we couldn't stand," he added. "We couldn't stand those two plays and beat them."
Play 1: The Cowboys had the lead, 7-0, and the ball, with 10 minutes gone in the game. On second and 15 from the Dallas 47, Hogeboom called a swing hook pass. He looked downfield and saw he had man-to-man coverage on fullback Ron Springs, who was standing still, in front of Coleman, at the Cowboys' 49.
This was Hogeboom's mental picture as he released the ball. Everything was in place, he thought. Then someone upset his chessboard.
Springs cut outside, figuring he had stayed in one place long enough. Coleman stood still and found a football. He ran 49 yards down the sideline for the touchdown that tied the game.
As Hogeboom walked over to the sideline, Danny White, his eventual replacement, waited for him.
"He (Springs) uncovered (went outside) on you, didn't he?" White said to Hogeboom. Hogeboom just nodded.
Later, White explained. "It's an embarrassing situation. Just when you're releasing the ball, the receiver moves. It makes you feel pretty silly."
Play 2: Dallas had the ball back after the kickoff. It was third and eight at the 22, and the Cowboys decided it was time to go long.
Newsome circled out of the backfield and started down the left sideline. Strangely, he found himself alone. Landry thought the Redskins, playing in a zone defense, had missed a switch off. Washington Coach Joe Gibbs called it busted coverage.
At any rate, Newsome was alone. "Sometimes a quarterback will just spot that at the last instant out of the corner of his eye," Gibbs said. "My heart was in my throat."
Hogeboom thought he had Newsome as he let go of the ball. Then he watched it sail beyond Newsome's reach and fall to the ground as 55,431 at RFK Stadium sighed in unison.
"I just put a little too much behind it," Hogeboom said.
Landry: "He was so wide open, you hate to see him miss him on a play like that. It was so obvious."
Hogeboom, quietly, assessed the damage of two of his 24 passes. "If those plays would have been different, it would have been a close game."
What the Cowboys couldn't do, the Redskins did. On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, quarterback Joe Theismann called a play he and receiver Calvin Muhammad had practiced for the last two weeks. "Dash right with the bomb added," was Gibbs' term for the play.
It went for 80 yards and a 24-7 lead. "That was the kicker," Landry said.
The play worked, according to Dallas cornerback Everson Walls, because the Cowboys had never seen it before.
"Theismann rolled to the strong side, my side, and every time he has done that, he has been throwing to my man on a comeback pattern or to Ron Fellows' man across the middle.
"This time, they used their speed and went deep," Walls said.
Later, with the score sitting at a fat 34-7, White came in for Hogeboom. It was "a mop-up job," White said, adding he is not pushing to regain his starting job. "Not publicly," he said, smiling.
Landry was mum on what, if anything, yesterday's game means in the White-Hogeboom battle. "Every quarterback has to go through this," he said of Hogeboom's 4-3 start with the Cowboys.
Hogeboom, who completed 13 of 24 passes for 169 yards, but was intercepted twice, was talking.
"I'm learning," he said, "but I just wish we were winning while I'm learning."