DANNY WHITE IS . . .ALL BLACK AND BLUE : Passer Has Taken His Lumps Regaining the Starting Job, but He's a Happier Cowboy

Times Staff Writer

Seen Cowboy quarterback Danny White lately?

Body by Lumpy. More bruises than a month-old pear. Bought a new car recently and it was an ambulance.

If White were any more hurt he'd be a cadaver. Morticians ask for sideline passes when he plays.

Since training camp, White has sprained his left ankle, right hand, neck and a thumb. He has bruised his left shoulder and ribs. He has suffered a concussion, a separated rib cartilage and a broken rib. White didn't know if that was a star or a bull's-eye on the side of his helmet.

In White's locker is enough protective gear to clothe a SWAT team. There are shoulder pads that go under his regular shoulder pads. There is a thick flak jacket that will be put to good use when the Cowboys play the Rams today at Anaheim Stadium in an NFC divisional playoff game. On one shelf is a brief message: Control your own destiny! White would settle for an evening of uninterrupted breathing, what with his battered rib cage.

After a recent practice, defensive back Dennis Thurman looked at White with pity and offered weak encouragement. "Man, you don't look so bruised," he said. "Your body looks, uh, better."

White smiled and readied himself for another visit to the training room, where a new wing reportedly will be named in his honor. Cowboy trainers should treat White as a restaurant patron: "Whirlpool for one, sir?"

Blue Cross status or not, this is the man Coach Tom Landry has chosen to run the Cowboy offense. When not undergoing a CAT scan or an X-ray, White has done well. Dallas ranked first in NFC passing yardage, and White finished the season as the conference's fourth-rated quarterback, behind Dieter Brock of the Rams.

After an early-season dalliance with interceptions--12 in eight games--White severed the relationship and threw just five more for the rest of the year. Along the way, the Cowboys won the title in the difficult Eastern Division.

"(White) has put us in the position we're in," defensive back Dextor Clinkscale said.

All well and good, but White is equally pleased with some other numbers--such as the number of working limbs that remain attached to his body. Or the number of teammates who now seem to accept and support his selection as quarterback.

Then there was the large team turnout for a White-coordinated Christmas video recording session in October to benefit several local charities. A little gesture, but it goes a long way in describing the difference between the 1985 and 1984 seasons for White.

"Danny is a happier person," said wide receiver Mike Renfro, who roomed with White during training camp. "He's our leader offensively, for sure. But he's more one of the guys than he was a year ago when he had to deal with something that he wasn't used to dealing with."

That something would be competition for his job. It is generally accepted that the position of starting quarterback for the Cowboys is passed down like a family heirloom. Eddie LeBaron to Don Meredith to Craig Morton to Roger Staubach to White.

But last season, Coach Tom Landry said to heck with tradition and relied on his now-famous "feel" to decide his quarterback. He selected Gary Hogeboom, a strapping young man who had spent four full seasons learning the Cowboy system.

"I wouldn't say it was handled very classy," Renfro said.

Hogeboom started the 1984 season against the Rams and promptly set a team record with 33 completions in 47 attempts, 343 yards, a touchdown and a 20-13 victory on national television. Hey, this was easy.

Meanwhile, White, a starter for four years, stayed on the bench. There was talk of trades and bad blood between White and Hogeboom. A Dallas newspaper had added to the tension by publishing a Cowboys players' poll that indicated a preference for a change in quarterbacks, from White to Hogeboom.

"It was a real struggle," White said. "Fortunately, I had a lot of people give me a lot of good advice as far as how to handle that kind of adversity. Once you realize that what you're dealing with basically is your ego, it's much easier to deal with.

"It doesn't mean that I didn't want to be out there just as badly as I ever have, and that it wasn't frustrating for me, because it was. I just had to constantly remind myself that the only thing being hurt was my ego.

"People weren't criticizing me as a person, or my effort, my desire . . . those things that are very important to me," he said. "Even my statistics were really not questioned. It was just a matter of the team being in a situation where they really needed a shot in the arm, something to happen to kind of add a spark.

"Coach Landry . . . was willing to really try anything. Gary's got the kind of personality and approach to the game that can provide that spark if everything else is working. Unfortunately, it wasn't, and it really didn't turn things around like he hoped it would."

There is little satisfaction in White's voice as he recites the history. He'd rather it would not have happened, at all--this clumsy, awkward switch from one quarterback to another. But it did, and White said he accepts the consequences.

Even back in 1982, the strike year, White had troubles. Teammates resented his apparent pro-management stance and his meddling in negotiations as a settlement grew closer. Add to this an image, real or imagined, of Pat Boone in cleats and shoulder pads.

But if nothing else, White is persistent. He endured the talk and rumors, and by season's end in 1984, he had regained his starting position. No one did cartwheels, but at least, it seemed the controversy had cooled.

This year, White knew he would remain the starter. Landry had said so.

"If you finish the season as a starter, you go into training camp as a starter," Landry said during the off-season.

So, of course, White took advantage of the situation by spraining his left ankle during preseason workouts. Against the San Diego Chargers, he separated rib cartilage and missed the last two weeks of training camp.

In the second game of the regular season, White sprained his throwing hand and missed the fourth quarter. The Cowboys lost.

The pain continued. In October, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he broke a rib, and missed a game against Philadelphia the following week. The Cowboys lost to the Eagles.

In November, the Chicago Bears knocked the bejabbers out of White. Concussion . . . neck sprain. A month later, against the New York Giants, White suffered bruised ribs and then a bruised shoulder. The injuries forced him to miss a game against the San Francisco 49ers. The Cowboys lost that one, too.

Said Landry: "Mentally, it's been a much easier season (for White). Physically, it's been one of his toughest."

White disagreed. "Part of the mental pressure comes from the physical side of it," he said. "When you've got injuries and you're trying to get well, it puts more pressure on you mentally.

"I've never really in my life felt the pressure week in and week out like I have this year. Each game, for me, seems like it was a playoff game for us. We've had a lot of those this year. Compared to '80, '81, '82, I've felt a lot more pressure this year mentally than I really ever had."

White still isn't thrilled by Landry's decision to start Hogeboom last season. He understands the reasons, but that doesn't ease the hurt. White also isn't sold on this latest vote of confidence. Things change, as they did in 1984.

"(Landry) saying I'm the starter doesn't necessarily make a big difference," White said. "If you really and truly have that kind of a situation, it helps tremendously. That's really the difference in some of the great quarterbacks and some of the quarterbacks that struggled. They've got a situation where regardless of how they perform in any given week, they're going to be out there the next week, and there's not going to be a big deal about it."

Read between those lines and you have a good idea of the disappointment White felt last season.

White said he remembers the circumstances five years ago, when Staubach retired and White became the starter. It was less complicated then, with fewer worries.

"That was a great situation for me because I was the quarterback, I knew I was the quarterback and everybody was depending on me," he said. "For a quarterback to feel that dependency from the rest of the team, the coaches and the organization, that's a real important factor.

"I don't necessarily feel it's been that way to the extent it's been in the past. But it's a step in the right direction. It's been much better than it was last year."

White's re-acceptance hasn't come easily. Hogeboom was one of the guys. White wasn't. Teammates liked Hogeboom's aggressiveness, his nerve. White was an extension of Landry, exacting, calculating.

Factions formed. Predictably, the Cowboys' play reflected the controversy. Dallas finished the 1984 season 9-7 and was left out of the playoffs for the first time in 10 years. Finger-pointing became the favorite pastime among the Cowboys.

Through it all, White said he and Hogeboom kept a professional, though strained, relationship.

"It was completely blown out of proportion," White said. "There was never a conflict between us personally, and yet, everybody tried to make it that way.

"I think that hurt us a great deal. It forced players into situations where they felt that if they supported one, it was a negative thing for the other one. That's not good for any team because now everybody's got to choose sides. It just had a real negative effect on the team."

Said Hogeboom: "It was definitely a negative last year. No doubt, there wasn't that much this year. Nobody had to listen to the garbage."

As for Landry's preseason choice of quarterbacks in 1985, Hogeboom said: "I would say it helped Danny. The guy who is No. 2, it's not going to help too much."

If there were any doubts about White, they've been dispelled this season. He has overcome interceptions, injuries and inquiries. By doing so, he has become part of the gang.

"The way that the teammates have perceived Danny now is that he's truly a competitor and truly a guy who will fight to the end," defensive back Bill Bates said. "I mean, he had his back to the wall, and it seemed like nobody wanted him to be quarterback. He kept fighting and he kept proving that he was the quarterback and could win games.

"We realized that, 'Hey, Danny is out there fighting for his life as well as Gary.' They both want to play all the time."

It is one thing to be prodded but another to be pushed and shoved to the ground while the world marches on your back. White, 33, has felt both and prefers his current situation, that of the incumbent. Even being gimpy and battered beats sitting on the bench healthy and unused.

"My goals basically remain the same every year," White said. "At this point in my career, I want to become one of the top quarterbacks in the league and take this team to the Super Bowl. I want to be the kind of quarterback that my teammates can depend on, that's consistent and makes the big plays that win games."

In this, the season of repair rather than despair, White can be sure of his standing. Happiness has returned to White--kicking, biting the whole time, but back all the same. He doesn't plan on letting it go.

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