It's tough when they introduce the man you're supposed to be before the game at midfield.

It's rough when they make him an honorary cocaptain and have him go out for the coin flip before the kickoff.

If you're Danny White, you always know you're not Roger Staubach.

But you never know it as viscerally, as painfully, as undeniably as today.

Danny White, the good man who can never do enough, passed for 327 yards this evening and threw four touchdown passes. He punted superbly, too.

"Danny was phenomenal," said end Tony Hill.

"That's as good as I've ever seen him," said Washington's Mel Kaufman.

"I'd rate myself 98 percent," White said. "But the other 2 percent beat us."

No one in Texas Stadium today cared that, in the first quarter, White burst a bursa sac in his right elbow. Nobody cared that, by the second half, that hinge was, in his words, "as big as a grapefruit . . . stiff, sore, swollen."

What they care about here is that, with the Cowboys ahead, 21-6, White threw a touchdown pass.

To the Redskins.

"The key to the game," said Dallas Coach Tom Landry. "We had to give 'em a break to win, but we did."

What matters in Texas is that, with Hill open by five yards and heading toward a certain touchdown that would have put Dallas ahead, 35-30, with five minutes to play in the game, White overthrew a basic pass.

"Nine out of 10 times, he hits me with that," Hill said.

"He had the play that could have won the game for us, but he overthrew him," said Landry, matter of factly. "That's how close you come from winning to losing."

Finally, with 1:58 to play and trailing, 30-28, White and the Cowboys got the ball at their 28.

It was the Cowboys situation, the Staubach moment. Two-minute drill. Final field goal. A 31-30 victory.

More legend.

But this time, with White at the wheel, the game was as good as over four downs later. With (probably) the season, with (perhaps) his own Cowboys career, with (just maybe) the whole direction of the Dallas franchise on the line, White led America's Team one yard backward.

Out of downs and out of luck.

They led Landry to be interviewed, and darned if they didn't prop him up directly under a huge blowup of three headlines that read: "A Roger Rally Leaves SF in Tears," "Staubach 'Hearts' Dallas to Win," and "Cowboys Need Miracle and Get It."

"We played so well, it's a shame we had to lose. We should have won. Some days you just can't make the big plays," said Landry.

The great coach praised White. "I don't blame anybody," he said. But he couldn't hide the impression that, somehow, if only Staubach were still at quarterback, everything would have worked out all right.

"Oh, yeah, we had a good chance when we got the ball with two minutes left," Landry said wistfully.

The rest of the Cowboys also had that empty feeling that, somehow, they had been cheated.

"I feel like we totally outplayed them," said tight end Doug Cosbie. "Our defensive line dominated the Hogs . . . I really thought at the half we were going to blow 'em out. We wanted it more than they did. But we turned the ball over.

"I feel like we gave it to them. I respect the Redskins but I don't give them that much credit today."

For the past four seasons, whenever the Cowboys have come up a brick shy, it has been all too easy for them to find some unnameable, unspeakable flaw in White: the 2 percent that he's missing, the 2 percent that can't be taught but combines leadership, luck, moxie and an absolute raging refusal to lose.

White feels it, has felt it all season as Landry has jerked him from starter to backup to starter to backup and now back to starter.

In a sense, White carries the whole ambiguous symbolism of the Cowboys on his shoulders. There's just the slightest trace of self-pity in his voice. But in sports, that's the arsenic of confidence-eroding poisons.

"This may end up being the last game I ever play in Texas Stadium. But I've felt that way every game this year," said White.

"There's not a team in this league that would go out trying to win for us next week if that's what it took to get us into the playoffs," he added. "They would try for themselves, but not us. If that were the case, they'd be more likely to lie down. Maybe that's the price you pay for so much success.

"There aren't a lot of teams in the league that care much for us.

"I'm sure everybody is glad we're 9-6 (and almost out of the playoffs for the first time since 1974.)"

For half an hour after the game, White stood with an ice pack around his elbow answering questions. The melted ice dripped down his sweater, soaked his blue slacks, made his black loafers look as though they were under water.

White didn't notice. His mind was still on the field. "The first half, I don't know when our offense has ever worked that well . . . Maybe never . . . Boy, I was really having fun . . . There have been times when the coach and I just weren't on the same page, but today we worked well together.

"In the second half, the rush got heavy and that extra split-second changes everything . . .

"During the game, it seems like the minutes takes forever. Then, afterward, it seems like the whole game went quickly, like you didn't have time to do anything."

Too much of the futility of the Cowboys' season, of their last five seasons, really, is condensed in White's voice. He really thinks that he lacks the final 2 percent and that the man before him had it. He knows that the word is out in the National Football League, has been out for some time, that the Cowboys' mystique is dead.

And he thinks he's the reason that, now, they're just another pretty good team, not the good team.

But he's wrong.

This evening, one Cowboy after another alibied just like Cosbie. "We beat 'em, they just lucked out," would be the paraphrase -- exactly the words teams always used about the old Cowboys.

One Cowboy, asked if Dallas were the better team, refused to agree.

"No," said Danny White. "The better team doesn't lose."

As the Cowboys spend what will probably be a long, dull winter searching for that missing 2 percent, they might be wise to run 48 others of their number through their computer before they spindle and mutilate Danny White any more.