Clint Longley, the Chevy salesman in Merkel, Tex., doesn't throw a football much anymore.

"Only at the West Texas Fair, where you win the teddy bear when you throw the football through a tire," he said. "Sometimes I do it in the first two tries, sometimes it takes me seven or eight to get it through.

"It's hard to get warm at a fair."

Ken Houston, the defensive backfield coach for the Houston Oilers, spends a lot of time teaching younger men to do what he once did to Walt Garrison. "They say to me, 'Hey, Coach Houston, we saw you on some old-time football film making this tackle . . . ' "

At this point in the National Football League season, with Dallas and Washington playing Sunday at 4 p.m. in Texas Stadium with everything on the line, it seems as if Clint Longley and Ken Houston should be frozen in time, symbols of a series dominated by the dramatic.

Place Longley, the Cowboys' rookie quarterback, back in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day 1974. Imagine Roger Staubach has just been hurt and give the 22-year-old kid nicknamed "The Mad Bomber" the ball with 35 seconds left. Then watch Longley throw 50 yards to Drew Pearson to beat the Redskins, 24-23.

Get Houston, in his first year as the Redskins' strong safety, and Garrison, the Dallas fullback, into RFK Stadium. Make it midnight, Monday, Oct. 8, 1973. Let Garrison catch Craig Morton's pass over the middle on fourth and goal at the four in a 14-7 game. Then, inside the one, put Garrison in Houston's grasp and mark the ball inches short of the goal line with 24 seconds remaining.

People often ask Longley, now 32 and just starting one of his many new jobs, about the only big play of an otherwise undistinguished three-year NFL career.

"They ask, 'Could you do that again, just like that?' I say, 'Probably not.' I had a little moment there. That's exactly what it was. To put it in perspective, it was an exciting moment in a career."

For Longley, it was a one-shot deal. Not so for Houston, now 40, who made the Pro Bowl 12 times in a 14-year career with the Oilers and Redskins.

"I'm sure the fans don't remember the best play I ever made," he said. "It was an interception in 1970 against Bob Griese when I was with the Oilers, which I ran back 60 yards for a touchdown."

Longley and Houston, sons of Texas who don't know each other, share few similarities. The plays they made, both on national TV, changed the course of games in one of the NFL's fiercest rivalries.

However, neither play -- nor game -- changed the direction of the season. The Redskins' victory in 1973 occurred in just the fourth game of a season in which both teams made the playoffs with 10-4 records. The Cowboys' victory in 1974 forced the Redskins to wait one more week before clinching a playoff appearance with another 10-4 record, while the Cowboys (8-6) did not make the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.

Houston and Garrison have not seen each other since their playing days. But they did talk about Houston's brickwall tackle once, in the second Redskins-Cowboys game that season, won by Dallas, 27-7.

"They ran the same play, but at the 40, not at the goal line," Houston remembered this week. "It was me against him for the yards he didn't get against me the last time. He got four yards that time, and I told him, 'If you got that in Washington, you would have won that game.' "

There was a reason he didn't get those yards in Washington. Houston was going for an interception. "That's why I was in the position to make the tackle."

The ball and Houston arrived at the same moment in the vicinity of Garrison's chest. "His feet were off the ground and I pulled him back down," Houston said.

Garrison was stopped just before he stepped into the end zone. "To me," Houston said, "it was just another play in a series of big plays between these teams. It always took a dramatic play to win this game."

Not always, just sometimes. And, perhaps the strangest one of all happened Nov. 28, 1974.

Longley, a rookie from Abilene Christian, decided early in the Cowboys' 1974 training camp that he would make himself known. He was sixth string and figured the only way to make the team was to show the coaches how far he could throw. Hence, the rookie receivers' cry: "Here comes the Mad Bomber."

The name gained new meaning when Staubach left the Redskins game after being hit on the head in the third quarter, with Dallas trailing, 16-3. Longley completed 11 of 20 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns the rest of the way. He also told Garrison to "shut up" once in the huddle (Garrison brought in a play and started explaining it, prompting Longley to say, "Shut up, I know the play.") and decided to change the play Tom Landry sent in on the pass that won the game.

Instead of running an "in" pattern 20 yards downfield, Longley wanted to try to split defenders Mike Bass and Ken Stone for all 50 yards. "With no timeouts left, if we completed it before the end zone, the game would have been over," he said.

So Longley hit Pearson at the three and Pearson went in to tie the score, 23-23, with 28 seconds remaining. Efren Herrera's extra point won it.

In the week's pregame hype, Washington's Diron Talbert had said, "If you knock (Staubach) out, you've got that rookie facing you. That's one of our goals. If we do that, it's great. It's all they have."

Longley remembers that as if it were said yesterday. "That was the drama of the whole thing," he said.

Drama hasn't given up on Longley in the last 10 years. In the summer of 1976, he punched Staubach in the locker room when Staubach was putting on his shoulder pads. Staubach went to the hospital for nine stitches over his left eye. Longley went to the San Diego Chargers for a couple draft choices.

"I became the malcontent," he said. "I became the free spirit. I got this rep and never got rid of it. And it was just something between men."

Longley was cut by the Chargers, tried the Canadian Football League, then came back to the NFL with St. Louis, and was cut again. He played for the Shreveport franchise of the American Football Association, then quit for good.

Of his failures, he says, "They were all business decisions."

Wednesday was his first day on the job at Max Murrell Chevrolet, 15 miles west of Abilene. "You don't need a Chevrolet, do you?" he asked.

The road to Murrell Chevrolet took many turns. Oil; real estate; sports writer for a tiny paper in Rockwell, Tex.; guitarist for a country band called "Shade Tree." He was asked if he would have been successful if he had not been the Cowboys quarterback who beat the Redskins.

"That's an interesting question," he said. "That presupposes I am successful now."

He says he is doing okay. "Around here, if you're a former Cowboy, people want to meet you to measure you. It helps in business, no question."

And life?

"As far as destiny, if I'm remembered for one game, I'm remembered for one game," he said. "I was never in this to be famous anyway."