The heat was hot, the torpid day dragged on. Out by the quiet stable of showers, Gary Hogeboom went heavy on a plate of fruit salad. Across the room, Danny White found a chair near an open breezeway and started on a heap of jambalaya and French bread.
Most of the Cowboys' football team had left the dressing room after noon meetings, but Rafael Septien had found a little spot in front of his locker and fallen asleep. There was a piece of watermelon melting into the new blue carpet by his right ear.
When he woke up, somebody asked the veteran kicker what he thought about the ongoing quarterback mess -- the struggle between White and Hogeboom over the last three years to win and own the starting job -- and he said, "I don't even care a little bit. It's nothing. I like to relax."
Upon returning from their training camp at Thousand Oaks, Calif., Coach Tom Landry and the Cowboys left their old address in North Dallas and moved further up the prairie to a sprawling commercial and residential park called Valley Ranch, which sits off the interstate in a big, steaming space once occupied by humble sage and mesquite trees. At the heart of it all, there's an 80,000-square-foot building under siege by a team of carpenter-types slapping together the future. The Cowboys, after 25 years of big business, have a new home in suburban Irving. But some things remain unchanged.
"You go five years in this town without winning a Super Bowl and that's trouble," said White, who will start Monday night's season opener here against the Washington Redskins. "The only solution to our problems is to go out and have a great season and do all the things we can and should do. But until we win the Super Bowl again, it's not going to get better, I don't care who the quarterback is. Whether it's Danny White or Gary Hogeboom, the people in Dallas aren't going to accept anything less."
The last time the Cowboys won the Super Bowl was Jan. 15, 1978, under the steady and unrivaled leadership of quarterback Roger Staubach, who retired in 1980 after 11 seasons. White took over and played well, but the team lost three NFC championship games in a row. Fans and local sports writers took to calling him the quarterback who couldn't win the big one, and demanded a change. That first failure to win a Super Bowl berth, White said, probably was when it all began -- The Great Quarterback Controversy, which may or may not be resolved. One thing's for certain, the situation continues to create problems for Landry and the Cowboys' management, although many of the veteran players say the team finally has come together and learned to disregard the ugly fuss over the quarterbacks.
Defensive tackle Randy White said, "I see more unity on this team now than I have in the last few years, and that's no kidding."
Said tight end Doug Cosbie, "I leave the quarterback problem alone. I think everyone finally realized it was between Gary, Danny, Coach Landry and management. It doesn't affect my job. My job is to block and to get open and catch footballs."
This week, Hogeboom asked Landry to consider trading him rather than making him play behind White, who missed two preseason games with torn cartilage in his left rib cage. "I hope they realize they've got to make a decision," Hogeboom said. "You like to think it would happen fairly quickly, but who knows?"
The Cowboys finished the preseason undefeated, as did two other NFC East teams: the New York Giants and the Redskins. Against Houston in the final preseason game, Hogeboom threw two touchdown passes as White, dressed in street clothes, watched from the sideline.
"The key thing," Hogeboom said, "is that it's my sixth year (in the NFL) and Coach Landry doesn't think I can start here. I say I should go someplace else if that's how he feels. Without a doubt, I think it's a terrible, negative factor on the team. I've said all along, if I can't do it here, I want to try and do it someplace else."
Landry has ruled out the immediate possibility of trading Hogeboom because, he says, the job continues to remain wide open. "Everybody competes in this business for the job they have," Landry has said a thousand times. "And if they fail to do the job, they have to move over and give someone else a chance."
White backed up Hogeboom for almost two-thirds of the 1984 season, which also happened to be the first time in 10 years that the Cowboys missed the playoffs. There were moments during the bitter preseason competition last August when White, now in his 10th year, fought back tears in the locker room. At least one poll by a local newspaper revealed that the majority of the team wanted Hogeboom to start. Cosbie said the competition for the starting job was "sort of like watching a referee throw up a basketball and telling whoever came up with it that he could have it."
Hogeboom, a tall, sinewy hardballer from Central Michigan, was brilliant in his first regular-season start in 1984, completing a club-record 33 passes in 47 attempts for 343 yards and a touchdown in a Monday night victory over the Los Angeles Rams. He went 6-4 in his starts last year, but Landry said he "didn't produce the touchdowns and big plays we need to have," and demoted him in favor of White, who started the final four games. Landry always has awarded the player who finished the season as the starter the same position at the beginning of training camp.
Even White, who's relieved and elated to be in charge again, says, "the situation with me and Gary just keeps getting worse each year. As the team has more and more problems, the finger starts getting pointed more and more. And the finger always points at the quarterbacks."
Said Hogeboom, "I tried to do everything they wanted me to do in the offseason and everything they wanted me to do in the preseason. I was happy with it. But I'm still in the same position . . . As far as I'm concerned, my future is now."
But the problem at quarterback is not the only source of concern for the Cowboys. Veteran fullback Ron Springs, who goes on trial Monday in Dallas on charges of assaulting a female police officer, was waived at the end of the preseason. Timmy Newsome takes his place, leaving Tony Dorsett as the only running back with any notable experience. James Jones, who missed more than two years because of a knee injury before being activated in the eighth game last season, and Robert Lavette, a rookie, are listed behind Dorsett on the depth chart.
At wide receiver, the Cowboys enter the season with Tony Hill and Mike Renfro, two injury-prone veterans, as the starters, and two unheralded middle-round draft choices as their backups. Hill missed five games last year because of a shoulder injury. Renfro has had two major knee surgeries in the last eight years.
"I guess when you think about it, there is some concern whether Tony and I can both stay on the field for 16 games," Renfro said. "If I was a betting man, I'd say one of us is gone. Maybe both."
The best news for the Cowboys is that they gave up just 50 points in the preseason, or a 12.5 average, and their defense promises to be as formidable as any in the league. All-pro Randy White said he couldn't wait to get started, and defensive end Ed (Too Tall) Jones, who weighs every bit of 275 pounds, said he's feeling "stronger than ever." He also said he's ready to play the game as he's always played it, "which means I'm ready to give it my best shot. If a guy doesn't get up, it's just an unfortunate thing. If he does, it's fine."