Sunday provided several of those moments in a contest between the Dallas Cowboys and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Not the type of memory that will endure like the "How ‘bout them Cowboys," of Jimmy Johnson. Nor the "We did it our way baby," lunatic ranting of Barry Switzer in 1995. But a flash from the past that calls back players of days gone by who are heralded as some of the greats of the game.
The drive was an Elway legend that will endure for all time in football lore. He led his beleaguered Broncos the length of the field to win the AFC Championship with a mere minute left on the clock. His feats on the field that day, when the chips were down, must be held as the high water mark for a player in his position. The Comeback Kid.
Sunday had an Elway moment. Clean and pure and without the trappings of the last 10 weeks of mire the Cowboys have endured. The team had a moment in the sun created by the rookie Chad Hutchinson.
After starting from the one-yard line, the Cowboys stumbled haphazardly to the 12 on a pass to Tony McGee. Facing 1st and 15 after a penalty, Chad play-actioned then rolled to his right buying time from the pressing Jaguar rush. He worked the progression and found Emmitt Smith moving to a soft spot and bailing out his quarterback as the play threatened failure.
The jury is still out as to what Emmitt really has left of his game. Yet he used smarts and power to get the extra yard needed to secure a first down. A veteran play by a savvy veteran.
Again Dallas was called for a penalty and facing 1st and 15 Coslet called for a pass play. A nice play-action bought time for Chad to throw.
Mike Lucky, the 3rd string tight end ran a turn-in route. Wali Rainer, the middle linebacker of the Jags held the center of the field. He slid to his right as Lucky moved past the hash marks on his left. Hutchinson threw a scud missile past Rainer. He could have swatted the ball down and slowed the drive. But the velocity of the pass was such it whistled past him before he could move.
Lucky did the rest and made a first down, moving the rock another five yards. But the fact remains that Chad threw a rope twenty yards to a spot on the field and past a defender that didn't have time to react. Not a Canton type throw, as yet, but one that shows both the ability to send a heat-seeking rocket through traffic and hit a spot where the receiver will be, but is not there yet.
Ending in a one-yard TD run by Emmitt, Chad threw for sixty-something yards to five different receivers on that drive.
The second play was a more subtle pass that occurred on the first possession for Dallas in the fourth quarter. After trading interceptions the Jaguars moved the ball and scored on a Stacy Mack three-yard jaunt to bring the game to Dallas 14 and Jacksonville 12.
Dallas needed something in the way of points and to take time off the clock. A feat as foreign to this team as a queue at Ellis Island. Nail biting time for some and a resignation for others that knew the game was turning sour for the boys in blue.
Some will point to the pass to Rambo and suggest it was the most important play of the drive. To be sure it was a third and 12, with the Jaguar defense building momentum. Chad hit Rambo on a slant that took him to the Jags 10 yard-line before being force out-of-bounds. Shades of Alvin Harper, Batman!
Yet once again the offense stalled with a ten-yard penalty, moving Dallas back to the 20 and threatening to cause them to settle for a field goal.
Chad hit Galloway on a 9-yard pass to bring up second and goal from the 11. Another nice pass that was right on the mark. Then something interesting happened.
On another brilliant play-action, Chad faded back to the 17-yard line as he surveyed the field. Galloway, the MVP of the game, ran a deep slant to the back of the endzone. Hutchinson saw him separate from the defender and laced a pass to the only spot on the field to cross Joey's path. At the end line of the Jaguar's goal.
Galloway dropped both feet in and then rolled out the back of the endzone for the score. But where this play was unique is Chad's pass. He arched the ball over the defender and into the receiver's hands. He pinpointed it with adequate velocity to travel the 26 yards but enough arch to avoid the defense. Speed and touch. A rare combination, and one a rookie who is four years away from college and football should struggle to make.
In a game long ago between the Giants and the Colts when high-tops were in fashion because of Johnny Unitas, there was a play that stands out. Sam Huff was as feared a linebacker as any that ever played the middle of the field. He stood his ground and ruled the other team with aggression and talent.
Johnny Unitas was throwing a ball in the middle of the field to his running back Alan Ameche. Huff, as always was in the center ready to break up whatever came his way. Unitas rocketed a ball past Huff for a completion. Huff could do nothing but watch it sail past his head.
After the game Huff said, "I couldn't believe it. He nearly hit me in the eye with that pass." But the results showed Huff, as great as he was, wasn't fast enough to break up a Johnny Unitas missile.
A forgettable play as is the one Chad Hutchinson tossed for the second Dallas touchdown Sunday. And certainly I would never compare Hutchinson to the greatness of Unitas.
But in those two plays Sunday lies the hopes and dreams of fans that have suffered through seemingly endless 5-11 seasons. A ray of sunshine when a sandy-haired kid with a permanent smile showed a promise of greatness.
Hutchinson's composure and sheer courage take me back to another sandy-haired quarterback for Dallas. His accuracy, that seems to get better week-by-week, is reminiscent of Troy Aikman. His drive to turn the game around harkened us back to a fonder day when Elway changed the course of a season for the Broncos. His laser beams to receiver's looks like Johnny U. in his hay day.
Hutch is a long way away from these immortals. He needs to learn so many things to get him up to speed with even the most vanilla quarterback in the league. Yet he possesses confidence and a positive spirit that prompts him to laud praise on an offensive line that has allowed their leader to be hammered too many times over the last four games.
On a November afternoon, with the boos from the Dallas fans still echoing in his ears, he showed us a glimpse of what the game is like when the players rise above the mediocrity that has plagued a team for a season. When one fledgling quarterback puts the team on his arm and leads them to victory. When all the stars align and for a brief moment today blurs with football history.
Stars like Unitas, Aikman, and Elway. And maybe someday Hutchinson.
A Moment In History
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