The Hawk's Nest:  1983

George Lucas released Return Of The Jedi, the last episode of his Star Wars saga. Well, the last one that was any good.

KISS went public for the first time sans makeup on an MTV special. And any questions concerning Gene Simmons' ethnicity were resoundingly answered.....The Rock And Roll Rabbi was born.

Sally Ride became the first woman in space. Upon their return, her disheveled traveling mates confirmed that a gravity-free environment has absolutely no adverse effects on the annoyance of nagging.

Al Pacino introduced us to the phrase, "Say hello to my little friend". Thankfully, our relief at the fact that he was still wearing pants when he said it, drew our attention away from the worst Cuban accent ever.

Michael Jackson's Thriller took the world by storm and gave us a glimpse into his unique genius. Years later, his nose fell off after 437 plastic surgeries. The 'genius' thing apparently didn't transcend his music.

I graduated high school. That in itself is remarkable considering I spent most of my senior year cutting school to pull bass out of the Loch Raven Reservoir. My dedication to academic excellence was the pride of the Yellowbeard household.

Shuffled amongst these noteworthy happenings, 1983 also saw the Dallas Cowboys make one final run at greatness under Tom Landry. The previous three seasons, 1980-82, saw our team make it to the NFC Championship each year. Only to limp home to watch the Super Bowl from the comfort of their couches like the rest of us.....All three years. With the pain of three near-misses fresh in their minds, the Cowboys came out of the gates strong in the '83 season. A 7-0 start catapulted the 'Boys to their most productive offensive output in the organization's history. Danny White had career years in both yardage and touchdowns and engineered several come from behind wins. Tony Dorsett also added one of his best seasons to the explosion on that side of the ball. The offense was unstoppable.

The defense on the other hand.....

In all fairness, they were holding their own the first seven games. But when six of your front seven are 30+ years of age, the rigors of an NFL season will take it's toll. The body doesn't recuperate the way it used to, and nagging little injuries and strains slow you down. The eventual lack of production up front led to an abundance of breakdowns in the secondary and Thurman's Thieves wound up surrendering way too many big plays to keep the unit competitive. Simply put, the best offense Landry ever managed to put on the field wasn't able to over come his aged, weakening defense. Time had chased that group of warriors down from behind and hamstrung them. They were old. They were tired. And watching them struggle against their own football mortality was heart-wrenching. They just couldn't sustain.

The 1983 season remains memorable to me for various reasons. Not the least of which was my newfound freedom. I had graduated high school, gotten my first apartment and started college, all within a few months. It was the first time I had no responsibilities other than to myself. And I was having a blast. It was a challenge to keep my priorities in line. I had promised myself I would be diligent in my studies and keep the partying in check. For the most part, I did. But being 18 and more than a little cocky, I slipped up from time to time and tried squeezing as much life as I could into each 24 hour period. Work, classes and various lovelies kept me from being bored. It also kept me from many a night's sleep. I stretched the limits as much as I could. It was exhausting. But the one thing that kept me grounded.....The one thing that remained a stabilizing force amidst the chaos.....The one thing that kept me from getting completely sucked into the depravity was the Dallas Cowboys.

It was a fun time. That season had a special feel to it. It started with a wild Monday Night showdown with the Redskins. It was the first of many games that season that came down to the wire. On his way to 29 touchdowns and nearly 4000 yards through the air for the year---career bests---Danny White led the boys back from a twenty point deficit to beat Washington 31-30. Dorsett did his part to help secure a win with 151 yards on the ground, including a 77 yarder that saw him get caught from behind by Darrell Green. Probably the only person in the league who could've done that. Was an exciting way to begin the season.

Save for two, the next six games of the win streak were pretty routine for the Cowboys at that time. Scoring a lot of points covered any deficiencies the defense brought to the table. That meme would change the second half of the season, however. The two games that gave the Cowboys problems early were week four against New Orleans ( surprise ) and week six against Tampa Bay. The Saints game saw an uncharacteristically ineffective offense get bailed out by a Ron Fellows' blocked FG return for a TD and a sack of Kenny Stabler by Anthony Dickerson for a safety. Both late in the fourth quarter leading to a 21-20 victory. Against Tampa, a late 52 yard White pass to Timmy Newsome sent the game to overtime where kicker Rafael Septien won it. The Buccaneers' QB for the contest was Jack "The Throwin' Samoan" Thompson. Nothing significant about that. It's always been one of my favorite sports nicknames and just thought I would share.

The Sunday night game in Week 8 against the Raiders highlighted the defensive holes on the team. They put up over 500 yards of offense and beat us 40-38. 500 yards is a lot in today's high-powered game. In 1983, it was bordering on the ridiculous. QB Marc Wilson ripped us for over 300 and Marcus Allen, though his yardage total was pedestrian for him---55 rushing, 67 receiving---was involved in the most memorable play of the season for me. It's funny what sticks in your mind. And after thirty years, this one still plays over and over in my head. Wilson over threw a wide open Allen across the middle and Marcus made an incredible diving catch. To show the refs he had caught it, Allen, who had yet to be touched by a Cowboy, raised the ball in his hand while lying on his back on the field. A Dallas defender---can't remember who---ran by and slapped it from his hand without touching Allen. The Cowboys recovered the ball but the refs said Marcus was down and gave it back to the Raiders who eventually scored on the drive. That play has bugged me for three decades. Just another reason to hate the silver and black.

After their first loss of the season, Dallas continued to put points on the board and their defense held it together enough for the team to roll it's way to a 5-1 record over the next six games. Sitting tied with Washington at 12-2 on the top of the division, the two teams met in Week 15 for the NFC East crown. The Redskins spanked us 31-10. We couldn't stop their running attack and Danny White tossed three picks in the humiliating loss. The Cowboys had built a competitive fire in their bellies over the course of the season. They seemed to be on a mission to avenge the disappointments of the previous three years. But they came crashing back to reality against their rival. Whatever momentum they had gained throughout the year was unceremoniously squashed. They didn't recover.

On the final week of the season, they got hammered again. This time in San Francisco, 42-17. Joe Montana and the Niners were just too much. We moved the ball well, but couldn't over come five turnovers. Montana's four touchdowns and inspired play by their special teams were the deciding factors. Dallas was staggering into the playoffs on a two-game losing streak....

The 12-4 Cowboys hosted the 9-7 Rams in the Wild Card game on the day after Christmas for what should have been---at least on paper---an easy win. Anybody wanna guess what happened? Dallas scored a late touchdown to make it look good, but the Rams took care of business and sent the Cowboys home for the winter 24-17. Again, big plays and a steady, methodical running game did the trick. The season was over.

And with it, the last real chance for Tom Landry to once again be called a World Champion.

After failing to post a winning record for the first time in twenty years the following season, Landry managed to squeeze a 10-6 performance and a division title out of his Cowboys in 1985. They were a shell of their former selves, but benefited from a weak schedule and an even weaker division. A 44-0 drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Bears and a 50-24 loss to the Bengals were signs of what the future held. They just didn't have the goods anymore. In what turned out to be Landry's last playoff game as a head coach, the Los Angelos Rams, behind Eric Dickerson's 248 yards rushing and Dallas' six turnovers, put an official end to the the Cowboys' run of excellence under the guidance of the man in the funny hat. Landry lasted another three years, but the glory days were gone. The sun had set on that chapter of America's Team.

Much ink has been spilled examining the reasons why the team collapsed. Lord knows I can't add anything of value to that discussion. Some say the changes---both offensively and defensively---that Landry had brought to the field, while innovative in their time, had become outdated and predictable. Others say the team had simply gotten old. Since Landry's computerized carpet-bombing of draft prospects had been adopted by all teams, it's effectiveness had been minimized, leaving the Cowboys a weakened and depleted roster. But the explanation that is given most as to the cause of Dallas' spiral into the depths of mediocrity is the one that cuts the deepest. The game had passed Coach Landry by.

I don't know if that's true. Maybe I just don't want to believe it. Either way, Tom Landry gave us all something to hang our hats on. He gave us a legacy of greatness. And to me, even though the season didn't end the way I had hoped, 1983 was one of the great ones.

Everybody sees things differently. We embrace the events that transpire around us and incorporate them into our lives. My memories of that time in my life are vivd because those were the experiences that shaped me the most. I grew as a person and developed the work ethic and values that drive me today. And I'm proud to say, the Dallas Cowboys and Tom Landry not only came along for the ride, but played a major role in that development.

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