Cowboys' owner is a hero now

December 17, 1991|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Evening Sun Staff

He stood in the middle of the Dallas Cowboys' locker room, soaking up the moment, savoring the high-water mark of his brief but stormy stewardship.

The one thing Jerry Jones didn't do after Dallas clinched its first playoff berth since 1985, though, was gloat -- even if the Cowboys owner had earned the right.

Three years ago, Jones' controversial entrance into Dallas and the NFL was greeted with cynicism and second-guessing. The erstwhile Arkansas oilman had fired Tom Landry, retired Tex Schramm and totally reshaped the image of "America's Team." When Jones' first Cowboys team went 1-15, he was caricatured as a country bumpkin.

But Sunday's 25-13 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles not only put the Cowboys in the playoffs, it gave Jones the stamp of vindication.

Said the ebullient Jones, "I don't have any five-year plan on my calendar."

In the span of four weeks, the Cowboys went from a struggling 6-5 franchise to a 10-5 wild-card team with Super Bowl aspirations. Credibility arrived with victories over the then-unbeaten Washington Redskins (at RFK Stadium), the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New Orleans Saints and then the Eagles, who had a six-game winning streak of their own.

"Philly was the hottest team in the NFL and we beat them," said Bill Bates, a nine-year veteran who played on Dallas' last playoff team. "We're playing as good as anybody. Nobody's as hot as we are.

"Most likely the [NFC] team that plays in the Super Bowl is going to be a team from our division. Why not let it be us? We had a lot of things we have to get accomplished. Now it [the Super Bowl] is a possibility."

Coach Jimmy Johnson apparently is thinking along those lines, too. He called Sunday's win the biggest of his three-year reign, then added, "But we've got bigger wins coming."

Johnson has won grudging respect from his NFL peers. He split the season series with the Redskins each of his three seasons, but until this week had never beaten the Eagles. When that streak finally ended, the Cowboys did it with a revamped offensive line, a backup quarterback and a seven-sack attack from a pass rush that had been simply sad-sack.

Quarterback Steve Beuerlein, a Los Angeles Raiders reject, has won three starts since replacing injured Troy Aikman at Washington. Beuerlein survived a horrendous first half (2-for-17) to engineer a critical second-half touchdown drive. And the Cowboys' special teams, superb all season, produced the game's big play when Kelvin Martin broke a punt return up the middle for an 85-yard touchdown that put Dallas in front to stay.

"The sign of a playoff-caliber team is a team that makes plays when it has to," Beuerlein said.

The Cowboys conclude the regular season Sunday at home against another playoff-bound team, the Atlanta Falcons.

"We all thought we'd be a playoff team in the fall," Jones said. "But I didn't think we'd do it this way, winning big games on the road. After the last two or three weeks, I thought if we got out [of Philadelphia] alive that we'd go to another level."

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