Tony Dorsett, the other running back in Saturday's game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams in Anaheim, Calif., was blunt in his postgame appraisal of his team's effort. "We should have just gone back to Dallas and given them the ball game at halftime," said T.D.
Fair enough, except for two things. One, the game—a 20-0 Rams rout—was history long before halftime. With 9:41 left in the first quarter, Mike Lansford kicked a 33-yard field goal that gave L.A. an insurmountable 3-0 lead. The Cowboys made it as far as the Rams' 20-yard line just once all afternoon—in the third quarter—and then promptly lost four yards in four plays. And two, if the Cowboys had packed up early, they would have missed the reemergence of former rushing champ/holdout Eric Dickerson, who gained 170 yards in the second half and showed once again how unfair it is for a man so big (6'3", 218-pounds) to be able to move so fast.
Dickerson finished the day with 248 yards on 34 carries, breaking the NFL single-game playoff rushing record of 206 yards, set by the Chargers' Keith Lincoln against the Patriots in 1963. He also broke the Rams' team record (247 yards, Willie Ellison vs. New Orleans, 1971) and the rushing record of the Cowboys' opponents (232 yards, Jim Brown, 1963). Dorsett, whose 138 rushing and receiving yards were more than half of his team's paltry total net offense of 243 yards, was impressed by his counterpart.
"I wanted to compliment him after the game, but I couldn't even get near him," Dorsett said. Dickerson, of course, was mobbed by the media in this town which seemingly loves entertainers more than it does winners. The mellow Orange County crowd actually booed the Rams in the third quarter, even though the team was up 13-0 at the time.
In a video community like L.A., which spawned both Rocky and Rambo, boredom is the greatest sin of all. And, yes, the Rams' ball-control strategy—lots of runs, few passes (quarterback Dieter Brock was six of 22 for 50 yards on the day), tough special teams, killer defense—is boring. But as Dallas coach Tom Landry noted before the game, "The Rams are 11 and five because of their strategy. There's nothing more boring than going five and 11." And now the Rams are 12-5 and closer to the Super Bowl than they've been since 1979, when they lost to Pittsburgh in XIV.
Except for those people who felt Dickerson's 3,913 yards in his first two NFL seasons were a fluke, the game held no real surprises. Indeed, the game seemed to prove what Dallas watchers have suspected for a while now. Despite going 10-6 and winning the NFC East for the first time in three years, the Cowboys are not a very sound team. The club's success this season was due to mystique, mirrors and Landry's bomber-pilot guidance. "We need some new people," says one front-office man bluntly.
Before the game, Dickerson spoke of the Rams' special problem—namely, that his measly 1,234 rushing yards this season had left fans frustrated. He admitted that his preseason holdout (he missed two games in a contract dispute) and injuries to the offensive line had kept his production down. But he also knocked the fans for their perspective.
"We don't have the best offense in the world," he said. "I'm not gonna say we do. But people are spoiled here. I had two great seasons, and now they expect another 2,000 yards. But things change. I mean, there were times that if you were out there on the field, you wouldn't find a place to run for about a month."
Dickerson smiled to show he wasn't mad at anybody. "What's been gone is the home run, the 150-and 200-yard games," he added, grinning wider. "But, hey, it's gonna come."
Indeed. On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Dickerson took the ball out of his I-back position, darted into the right side of the line behind fullback Barry Redden, cut upfield and blew past cornerback Ron Fellows and safety Michael Downs for a 55-yard touchdown. It was his longest run of the year, and as he headed south his legs looked like the spinning wheels of the Road Runner leaving 11 Wile E. Coyotes in the dust.
In the fourth quarter, Dickerson raced over right end for a 40-yard touchdown. Again, he shook off grasping hands at the line of scrimmage and then simply out-raced everybody to the goal line. Linemen Dennis Harrah, Tony Slaton and Jackie Slater and tight end David Hill provided key blocks, but it's possible nobody else in the NFL could have scored as easily as Dickerson did. "We call it 'Off to the Races," said Hill.
Late in the fourth quarter, Dickerson had 244 yards rushing and Dallas had raised the white flag. But coach John Robinson ran Dickerson two more times to get him the club record. Finally, the crowd gave the Rams and their gifted back a seemingly heartfelt cheer. Still, the stands were half empty long before the final gun sounded. In the people's defense, there was a hint of rain in the air, and you just know what moisture can do to the finish of a Porsche.
Nearly lost in the wake of Dickerson's performance was the rock-solid job turned in by the Rams' defense. Playing the toughest zone pass coverage in the league, the Rams harassed quarterback Danny White (24 of 43 for 217 yards and no touchdowns) into throwing three interceptions, one of which was returned for 55 yards by cornerback LeRoy Irvin. The Cowboys were held scoreless for the first time in their 36-game playoff history.
In the Rams' locker room the offensive line celebrated. In the two previous seasons, Dickerson had given his blockers watches and rings. But after this low-production year, the linemen were anticipating nothing more than T shirts.
David Hill looked at Dickerson as he came out of the shower and smiled. "Daddy," Hill said, "we passed T shirts and moved up to sweaters today."
"Caps, maybe," said Dickerson.
Mink coats might be nice for Chicago.
Dickerson outraces the last man, corner Ron Fellows, on his 40-yard touchdown run.