White, Cowboys Engineer Franchise-Best Comeback To Nip Redskins 31-30
The anticipation of opening night was fast turning into the realization of a summertime nightmare for the Dallas Cowboys. Before a national television audience and a raucous Washington fanbase, America’s Team was displaying every shade of incompetence in the shadow of America’s capitol building.
In just one half of play, a Cowboys squad coming off three consecutive NFC Championship Game appearances had spotted their archrivals a 20-point advantage in ugly fashion to open the 1983 regular season. Quarterback Danny White trudged into the tunnel having authored but one solitary completion during the first two quarters, and the defense right on his heels, sucking wind and licking bruises like beaten dogs after being on the field for nearly 23 of the game’s opening 30 minutes in ninety-degree temperatures.
“The defense was really beat at the half,” admitted concerned head coach Tom Landry. “An offense can get better by playing a long time, because they know where they’re going. The defense had to run all over the place every play.”
With his team clearly out of sorts, Landry could not offer hope to a dispirited Cowboys locker room, but he did provide direction. “He told us,” recalled Tony Hill, “that we were going into the second half 0-0. That we had 30 minutes to show the rest of the country what the character of the team was, what Cowboy tradition was all about.”
Said Landry: “I told them now it was a matter of pride.”
A game that had all the trimmings of a runaway Redskins victory in the first half then turned on its hinges, leaving Howard Cosell nearly speechless in the ABC television booth while making heroes of the visiting Cowboys, who authored a most unlikely franchise-best comeback.
Dormant through the first two quarters, White emerged from the locker room intent on throwing bombs all over RFK Stadium. Early in the third frame, he found Hill running free behind Washington cornerback Vernon Dean, and hit his speedy wide receiver in stride for a 75-yard touchdown play.
Before a third-down play on Dallas’ next possession, White had specific instructions for Hill in the huddle. “If you get a bump-and-run, go deep,” White told him.
Hill did exactly that, and was in position to make a one-handed grab down the right sideline for a 51-yard touchdown. And with 6:35 showing on the third-quarter clock, the crowd and the Redskins began to show strains of worry on their faces. A 23-3 Redskins advantage had been trimmed to 23-17 in little more than a blink of an eye, and when normally-reliable kicker Mark Moseley (Moseley was the 1982 NFL MVP) missed a 31-yard field goal shortly after, the fear of an unavoidable fate set in for everyone in burgundy and gold.
“They came out for the second half thinking they had it won,” said Landry. “But when you lose your momentum like they did, you can’t re-start it. And that makes you tend to worry.”
It didn’t take long for the Cowboys to capitalize on Washington’s missed scoring opportunity, their 80-yard scoring march highlighted by an 18-yard completion from White to tight end Doug Cosbie and an 18-yard bolt up the middle by Tony Dorsett. (Though he only carried 14 times during the game, Dorsett finished with 151 yards rushing.) White capped off the drive himself, by running around the right end from 1-yard out to put Dallas ahead 24-23.
The final nail in the Redskins’ coffin was supplied by the Dallas defense. With pressure in the form of Randy White closing in on him, Joe Theismann’s sideline pass was intercepted at the Washington 37-yard line by cornerback Ron Fellows. Fellows’ 33-yard runback set up Dallas’ final score, a short toss from White to Cosbie to give the Cowboys an all but insurmountable advantage with 1:49 remaining.
Against a soft Cowboy defense in prevent mode, the Redskins executed a slow time-consuming march that culminated with a 1-yard toss from Theismann to tight end Don Warren. But it was too little and too late to undo everything the second-half of play had wrought.
“It was two completely different games,” said Landry. “In the first half, I don’t think I’ve seen a team play better than Washington. In the second half, all we had to prove was that we could come back.”