DALLAS — Tony Dorsett used to have the territory to himself. Then, along came Herschel Walker. Big. Tough. Fast. Folks wondered if the two of them could work the place together. They reckoned this town might not be big enough for the both of 'em.
Well, maybe it isn't. Maybe Texas Stadium doesn't need Dorsett any more. Maybe the new star is going to be the lone star.
Making his National Football League debut, Walker ran for two touchdowns, including the game-winner with 1:16 to play, in carrying the Dallas Cowboys to Monday night's 31-28 win over the New York Giants.
The work load fell to Walker because Dorsett sprained an ankle during the first period and sat out the second half.
"That was a big disappointment to me, because I was just getting into the game, in and out, and just getting comfortable with it," Walker said. "When he went down, I looked up in the sky and said, 'Lord help me,' because I knew I needed a lot of work to go in at tailback."
Walker started Dallas' game-winning drive by dragging Giant tacklers 23 yards after catching a pass, and ended it by scoring on a 10-yard draw play. For the night, he rushed 10 times for 64 yards, and also caught six passes. Ride him, Cowboys.
"He's just a football player in every sense of the word," said winning Coach Tom Landry, who has been coaching so long that he evidently thinks "footballplayer" is one word.
"It's exciting to watch good athletes perform, and Walker is certainly one of those," Landry said.
After losing all five of their preseason games, and two of their last three games a year ago, the Cowboys definitely had need for a star other than the ones on their helmets. They figured Walker would help, but not this much, not this soon.
It took him only one night in a new league to make metropolitan New Yorkers long for those New Jersey Generals days of old. Perhaps it is going to be true that the caliber of competition is not going to matter to Herschel Walker. Perhaps he is in a league by himself.
The Giants, thought by some to be Super Bowl worthy, wanted to win this season's opener in the worst way. It was by sweeping the Giants and Washington Redskins in hand-to-hand combat last season that the Cowboys took the NFC Eastern Division championship, even though all three clubs had records of 10-6.
Dallas does not lose its opener often, though. The best opening-day team in NFL history, Tom Landry's Cowboys are 22-4-1 in season openers. They once went 17 straight years without losing one.
This latest one was in jeopardy with 5:24 to play, when Giant wide receiver Bobby Johnson outpositioned defensive back Ron Fellows on a long, floating pass, then slipped free for a 44-yard touchdown that put New York on top, 28-24.
It was going to take a last-minute drive, not a field goal, to save the day for Dallas--and Roger Staubach had long since retired. But quarterback Danny White, booed early in the game by his home fans, brought the Cowboys back on his way to a highly successful night: 23 of 39 passing for 279 yards and 2 touchdowns.
He started by tossing a short pass to Walker, who dragged would-be tacklers behind him like a mailman with a dog at his pants cuff. Walker finally was felled at the Giant 49, right at the game's two-minute warning.
White found Tony Hill open along the sidelines and connected for 35 yards to the Giant 16. Two passes to tight end Doug Cosbie got the ball to the 10. Walker got it in from there, with one large charge.
The best the Giants could do after that was drive to the Dallas 45, but a final desperation pass fell incomplete among a crowd in the end zone, leaving losing quarterback Phil Simms slamming his helmet to the ground at midfield.
"I hate him!" Simms said of Walker afterward, not meaning it. "He made some big plays, didn't he?"
Not so impressed was Giant wide receiver Lionel Manuel, who said of Walker: "He's just another athlete who's got a lot of pub (publicity). He still has to prove himself."
Walker let the personal stuff slide and concentrated on the team effort, complimenting his line and calling the victory "very exciting, especially with all the controversy over the years between the Giants and Cowboys. The Giants have a very good team. But we played really well, and after coming off an 0-5 preseason, this is a big win for us."
The lead changed hands four times in the second half, starting with a two-yard touchdown run by running back Joe Morris that gave the Giants a 21-17 lead. White's one-yard scoring pass to rookie tight end Thornton Chandler gave the advantage back to Dallas, 24-21, early in the fourth quarter.
"It seemed like whoever had the ball last was going to win it," Giant Coach Bill Parcells said later. "Too bad that's not what happened."
Said Dorsett: "It was a typical New York-Dallas game. I thought Herschel did extremely well. He had the opportunity to play and he took advantage of it.