It wasn’t a game that will go down in Cowboys history. Actually, it wasn’t even a game that the Cowboys had any business winning. What the Texas Stadium crowd got in week 4 of the 1983 season was an ending that amazed even the players.
The Cowboys scored first when Danny White connected with Drew Pearson on four yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. The Cowboys followed that score with a Rafael Septien 41 yard field goal that gave them a 10-0 lead.
In the second quarter it would be the Saints that would battle back to tie the Cowboys. Saints kicker Morten Anderson kicked a 19 yard field goal. Then Saints running back Wayne Wilson scored on a two yard run to tie the game at 10-10.
Before halftime the Cowboys took the lead 13-10 when Rafael Septien kicked his second field goal of the game from 34 yards.
The Saints tied the game again with the only points of the third quarter. Morten Anderson kicked his second field goal of the game from 42 yards. The game was tied at 13-13 as the fourth quarter started and the fireworks were about to begin.
On the third play of the fourth quarter and the Cowboys sitting at their own three yard line, Coach Tom Landry reached into his bag of tricks. Danny White took the snap from center and threw a lateral to Drew Pearson who would look to throw and take the Saints by surprise. White’s pass to Pearson was tipped, but still made it to Pearson. The tip interrupted the timing of Pearson’s pass attempt to fellow wide receiver Doug Donley who was streaking down the left sideline.
Saints cornerback Johnnie Poe, who was covering Donley left coverage and ran towards Pearson. Poe hit Pearson’s arm as he attempted his pass and the ball was then tipped high in the air by the Saints Frank Warren. Tony Elliot from the Saints jumped high to grab the ball, but he could only deflect it. The deflection went right back to Frank Warren who came down with the interception. Four plays later the Saints took their first lead of the game when Wayne Wilson scored from the one yard line. The Saints now led 20-13 with 12:35 left in the game.
The mistakes for the Cowboys continued on the kickoff as Ron Fellows fumbled the ball and the Saints recovered at the 20 yard line. The Saints were looking to add to their lead, but on 3rd and 12 Saints quarterback Kenny Stabler fumbled the ball from center and Cowboys Larry Bethea recovered.
The Cowboys could not take advantage of the turnover as Danny White added to the Cowboys fourth quarter mistakes. White threw an interception that the Saints returned to the Cowboys 35 yard line. The Saints once again were looking to add to their 20-13 lead. On 4th and 1 Saints Coach Bum Phillips decided to go for the field goal.
As Morten Anderson attempted his 43 yard field goal, Cowboys Ed Jones got his hands on the ball for the block. Ron Fellows recovered the block on one hop and returned it 62 yards untouched for the touchdown.
“I wasn’t thinking anything but picking up the ball,” Fellows said. “I knew it had to be six.”
Rafael Septien looked to tie the game at 20-20 with the extra point, but the Saints Tyrone Young blocked the kick and the Cowboys remained behind 20-19 with 7:05 left in the game.
The Cowboys got the ball back at their 20 yard line with 4:30 left in the game. Four plays later the Cowboys were at their 49 yard line. Tony Dorsett took a pitch-out from Danny White as the Saints were blitzing. Dorsett broke free into an empty secondary and scored what the Cowboys thought was the go ahead touchdown from 49 yards out. But the officials ruled that Dorsett stepped out of bounds at the 15 yard line.
Danny White continued the drive as he looked to put the Cowboys back on top. White looked for Doug Donley over the middle at the goal line as he beat cornerback Johnnie Poe. But White never saw Saints linebacker Dennis Winston who intercepted White in the end Zone. Instead of taking a knee for the touchback Winston came out of the end zone. He managed to get to the five yard line before being tackled. The Saints offense took over with 2:07 left in the game and still holding onto a 20-19 lead.
All the Saints needed to do was run out the clock and they would improve to 3-1 on the season and hand the Cowboys their first loss of the season. On first down running back Wayne Wilson, who had scored twice in the game was tackled after gaining only one yard. On second down the Saints were looking to put some room between them and the goal line.
Kenny Stabler dropped back into the end zone looking for receiver Jeff Groth, but Everson Walls had him covered. This allowed Cowboys linebacker Anthony Dickerson who was blitzing to beat Wayne Wilson and sack Stabler for the safety. The Cowboys took the lead and won the game 21-20. It was the first time that a team losing by one point won by one point on a safety.
It was a game the Cowboys had no business winning as they turned the ball over six times and allowed seven sacks on Danny White. The lone bright spot for the Cowboys came from Tony Dorsett who rushed for 124 on 16 carries.
“I’ve never been in a game as bizarre as this one,” Everson Walls said. “Were we lucky? That’s an understatement.”
“That was probably the most bizarre game I’ve ever been involved in,” Dorsett said. “We did everything possible to lose the game, and we still won it.”
“They deserved to win the game, there’s no question about it,” White said.
With the strange win by the Cowboys over the Saints they improved their record to 4-0 in 1983. The Cowboys would make a habit of coming from behind in the first half of the 1983 season as they built a 7-0 record with five come from behind wins. Their luck would end in week 8 as they fell to the L.A. Raiders 40-38.
The box score from this game can be viewed here.