IRVING, Tex. — They call him (Jackpot) Steve Beuerlein these days around the Dallas Cowboys complex, and they smile and shake their heads when they walk past.
"Geez, Beuerlein," says one veteran player as he pats Beuerlein on the back, "you better be smiling, with all that money you're going to be making soon."
Beuerlein can only laugh. And agree. These are pretty good times for the Servite High graduate, about as good as things get for a backup quarterback in this league.
On the immediate level, two years removed from his long, bitter standoff with Al Davis while he was with the Raiders, Beuerlein is days away from his first Super Bowl appearance in his hometown, serving as the very valuable backup to Cowboy starting quarterback Troy Aikman.
But lurking in the not-distant-at-all future lies the lush possibility of free agency. And in a league desperate for proven quarterbacks, Beuerlein, 27, could be the most desirable quarterback free to open bidding that starts March 1.
A Super Bowl in front of his family, friends and Davis, then maybe $2.5 million a year from a team that could use the kind of poise in the pocket and precision passing he displayed in last year's playoffs, when Aikman was injured.
"The way that things have gone here the last couple years after my tough years out with the Raiders, I couldn't ask for a better situation," Beuerlein said last week. "Obviously, I'd like to be playing, but that's not my role on this team right now.
"I've had a great, great time, had a chance to go out and play a lot last year, and did well enough to generate some interest hopefully around the league. And we'll see where it takes me.
"I'm as happy as can be right now."
With Beuerlein at the helm, Dallas won its final five games of 1991, and beat the Chicago Bears in the first round of the NFC playoffs before losing to the Detroit Lions.
That was the Notre Dame product's first major action after a full-season banishment--he did not play a down--by Davis when the Raider owner grew displeased with Beuerlein's salary demands.
Before that, after missing his entire rookie year in 1987 because of a broken foot, Beuerlein started eight games for the Raiders in 1988 and seven in 1989, appearing to win the full-time job from Jay Schroeder at the end of the season.
But his contract holdout at the beginning of 1990 sent him to the bench, and after various squabbles with Davis, Beuerlein was traded to Dallas for a draft pick before the 1991 season, when the Cowboys realized Aikman's frequent injuries were ruining their shot at a playoff run.
Last year, Beuerlein performed his role better than Dallas could have dreamed.
"Deep in my heart and my mind, I really feel like I could and should be the starter there," Beuerlein said of the Raiders, "but it just wasn't meant to be. So now I get on with my life, and things have been great since I left there. . . . I don't have any plans on going back.
"It's kind of ironic, that (the Super Bowl is) taking place back in L.A. I'm sure a lot of people will try to make something of it--isn't it great to come back and what if you bump into Al Davis and all that stuff.
"But the thing I'm most excited about is No. 1, I'm going to the Super Bowl; No. 2, it is in my back yard, so to speak, and my family and friends and everybody will get to enjoy it. I get to share that whole experience with them."
Beuerlein said his family has kept him informed about the Raiders' travails at quarterback, but he takes no particular glee in the team's fall.
"I knew they were having a lot of difficulties and tough times . . . but I didn't get caught up in it because I'm not there anymore," Beuerlein said.
One situation he did understand and follow was Marcus Allen's public criticism of Davis late in the season, outlining what he said was Davis' attempts to ruin his career.
"There's nobody in football that I respect more than Marcus Allen, the way he's handled his situation up there since I've been in the league, since '87," Beuerlein said.
"He could've done this a long time ago. And it's just now, this year, got to the point where he couldn't take it anymore. He knew he had to do something to get out of the situation he was in, and he chose to do it the way he did.
"And he could've been a lot worse, he could've told a lot more than he told, but he just wanted to make it clear he wasn't happy, he felt like he had been wronged. And he has been wronged.
"So I respect him even more for stepping up and saying what he did, and hopefully it'll work out for him in the long run."
For Beuerlein, the long run means getting pursued by several teams in March. The Cowboys probably won't make him their franchise player, and even if they make him one of their two restricted free agents, they are unlikely to match a big-time offer from Kansas City or Minnesota or one of the other teams rumored to be interested in him.