Steve Pelluer, one of the National Football League's hottest new quarterbacks, was leading the Dallas Cowboys to the tying field goal--perhaps the winning touchdown--in the final seconds Sunday when the referee stopped him with a penalty that shouldn't have been called, in the Cowboys' opinion.
The Cowboys said that the New York Giants conned the referee into believing that a legal block was illegal. Replay pictures support the Cowboys.
"We got jobbed," Dallas President Tex Schramm said. "It was a judgment call--a poor judgment call--by an official who doesn't understand football."
Here's what happened:
--The NFL had sent a rookie referee, Dick Hantak, to the week's biggest game.
--As Tony Dorsett carried a screen pass from Pelluer to the Giants' five-yard line, Hantak penalized Dallas tackle Phil Pozderac for holding George Martin.
--But Pozderac wasn't holding. Martin, a 6-foot 4-inch Giant end, only made it look that way. He was executing the infamous defensive tactic known to many as the Howie Long rip. As he rushed in, Martin swung his left arm under Pozderac's left arm and locked it.
--Then Pozderac struggled to free himself.
--And, to referee Hantak, it looked like holding. He blew his whistle, and penalized the Cowboys out of the game. Out of the season, maybe.
Veteran referees are seldom fooled by defensive rips. But Hantak had spent his first eight years in the NFL as a back judge. Back there, he didn't see many linemen close up.
For the first time Sunday, the Cowboys showed that they're beginning to understand how to use Herschel Walker.
They threw him 9 passes for 148 yards.
They would probably have scored more often if they'd thrown him nine more. But at least, against the Giants, they tripled Walker's pass-catching average, which had been about 50 yards a game.
Walker, who weighs 220 pounds, presents a huge target in the pass pattern. Even better, he routinely makes every catch that the league's best wide receivers and tight ends make. He rarely drops the ball, and, with his strength and speed, he's a threat to break one every time he's thrown to in an open, or partially open, field.
As a running back, though, Walker hasn't been hurting the NFL's good defenses. Against the Giants, he rushed 10 times for 34 yards. Last month against the great Denver Bronco defense, Walker rushed 15 times for 33 yards.
National television crowds saw a real running back a week ago Monday and again Sunday: Joe Morris of the Giants, who gained 181 yards each time.
"He's like a bouncing rubber ball," Dallas Coach Tom Landry said.
In a six-day sweep, as the Giants outscored first Washington and then Dallas--their two closest rivals in the NFC East--Morris made all of the winning plays.
At 5-7, Morris could be called the shortest big back in the NFL. The truth is that he's usually thought of as a little back. But he's no scatback. He carries his 195 pounds with the flair of the NFL's best big runners.
"(Morris) beat us even when we were looking for him," Dallas defensive tackle Randy White said. "He just has a great feel for the holes."
As a ball carrier, Morris differs from Herschel Walker, for example, in several respects:
--Morris sees the opening quickly.
--He has the instinct to accelerate sharply.
--When contact is unavoidable, Morris knows how to explode into a defensive man.
The good quarterbacks who have escaped injury, or beaten off their injuries, are playing brilliantly this year--Pelluer, Dan Marino of the Dolphins, Jay Schroeder of the Redskins, John Elway of the Broncos, Tony Eason of the Patriots and one or two others.
But at the moment, it's possible that Ken O'Brien of the New York Jets is outperforming all but Marino.
"We couldn't control him at any time," said Seattle Coach Chuck Knox, commenting on O'Brien's four touchdown passes in the Jets' 38-7 rout.
Said Jet Coach Joe Walton: "Kenny's at the top of his game. Kenny was unbelievable. "What impresses me is that he sits back in the pocket and takes a lot of shots."
He means that O'Brien has the nerve to wait for the year's leading wide receiver, Al Toon, to get open.
An instant replay official spent an estimated five minutes studying the tapes before reversing a call in the Atlanta-New England game.
"The third (replay) I saw really helped," former referee Joe Gardi said.
If Gardi indeed waited to see three replays, that was two too many. The NFL never intended for its replay people to rule on plays that close.
"(Gardi) should have let the game continue if he had any doubts after playing one replay," Atlanta Coach Dan Henning said. "A reversed (play) is supposed to be obvious."
Schroeder, who replaced Joe Theismann in Washington, is leading the NFC with 2,370 yards.
In his last two games, Schroeder has passed for 798 yards against the Giants' second-ranked defense and the Minnesota Vikings' third-ranked defense.
The Vikings had a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter when Schroeder's passes caught them. Another Schroeder bomb won it in overtime.