Cowboys Believe in Jason : Pro football: Reserve Garrett keys 36-point second half in 42-31 victory over Packers.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The weary and injured Dallas Cowboys snickered this week when Coach Barry Switzer said they would win on Thanksgiving because he believed in Peter Pan, Tinker Bell and Disneyland.

Late Thursday, the eyes of 53 grown men were like saucers, their voices filled with wonder.

"Coach said he believed in fairy tales," Nate Newton said. "Well, we just dropped one on them."

Footballs fell from the sky. Tiny men scampered across large expanses of green. Outlandish wishes were granted.

And a former Ivy League quarterback led the Cowboys to their biggest second half in history during a wild 42-31 victory over the Green Bay Packers.

"You know what this was?" asked Michael Irvin, his smile even brighter than his necklaces. "This was beautiful."

More specifically, this was a third-string quarterback named Jason Garrett, making his second start in six professional seasons, leading the Cowboys to a 36-point second half and helping them overcome a 17-3 deficit.

This was running back Emmitt Smith nearly outgaining the Packers by himself, totaling 228 yards, including 68 on a screen pass.

This was Brett Favre and Sterling Sharpe connecting on four touchdown passes for the Packers, all for naught.

"If you had told me before the game that we would get 31 points and not turn the ball over, I would have to believe that we would win the game," said a stunned Favre. "Even against the Dallas Cowboys."

And this was, of course, Switzer saying that he predicted it from the moment he turned on his TV set Thanksgiving morning.

"Guess what show was on," Switzer said, his voice rising. " 'Rudy'! 'Rudy'! 'Rudy!' "

Not once in the last two years has a bit player succeeded in football without somebody mentioning that movie about the former Notre Dame walk-on.

But the title fits Garrett as well as anybody. Before Monday, the Princeton graduate had spent most of the season on the scout team, and most of his career in hiding.

Undrafted out of college, a veteran of the World League and Canadian Football League, Garrett was known mostly for his shocking red hair and the absence of an NFL touchdown pass on his resume.

He was only starting because in a span of a couple of hours last Sunday, starter Troy Aikman suffered a knee injury and backup Rodney Peete a thumb injury.

Asked where he was going after passing for 311 yards and two touchdowns against the league's fifth-ranked defense, Garrett did not say Disneyland.

"Going back to the scout team, I guess," he said.

This is a guy who says he slept through a fire alarm that emptied much of the team's hotel at 6:30 a.m. Thursday.

"Maybe it sounded everywhere but my room," he said.

This is a guy whose first downfield pass Thursday was a perfect completion . . . . to Packer cornerback Terrell Buckley.

By the time the first half reached its final minute, the Packers were leading, 17-3, and Garrett had completed five of 16 passes for 54 yards.

In front of Texas Stadium fans hoping to see another Clint Longley, a Cowboy Thanksgiving hero of 20 years ago, Garrett was doing a better imitation of Luc Longely.

Then the first of several strange events occurred.

Ernie Zampese, the Cowboys' offensive coordinator, left the press box for the field, thinking the offense would run out the clock.

That left the play calling for the final 30 seconds to Switzer, who thought differently.

"I said hell no, let's throw it deep and see if some of our big guys can rebound it," he said.

For the rest of the game, Garrett tossed up jump balls like he was an NBA referee.

After 59 yards worth of passes to receivers Michael Irvin and Alvin Harper, the Cowboys got a last-second, 37-yard field goal by Chris Boniol to cut their deficit to 17-6.

The Cowboys charged out of the locker room after halftime and scored touchdowns on their next five possessions.

Kevin Williams' 87-yard kickoff return set up the first score. Garrett's 45-yard pass to wide-open Harper accounted for the second.

"You want to hear a funny story?" Garrett asked. "This week my wife, who was cooking our turkey dinner, said, 'I don't give you football advice much, but when you are out there, throw the ball high to Alvin.' "

Forty-three yards of penalties by the frustrated Packers set up the third score. Smith's long screen pass led them to the fourth.

By then, they led, 32-24, and needed only Garrett's soaring 35-yard touchdown pass to Irvin on their next possession to clinch it.

The defense survived its only important test during that time, sacking Favre once and forcing two other incompletions when the Packers were attempting to drive while still trailing by only eight points late in the game.

"I can't remember when we've played with such incredible intensity for 30 minutes," said defensive end Jim Jeffcoat.

The last time they scored this many points in a game was in Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena, when they scored 55 against the Buffalo Bills.

Unreal?

Long after Switzer had finished waxing about his 10-2 team, long after the 6-6 Packers had checked their easy final-month schedule in search of some hope, somebody phoned one of the movie networks.

And yes, "Rudy" was showing Thursday, 8 a.m. in Dallas. You could look it up.

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