but that he mentally just wasn't ready. For some reason, most assumed his absence left him unprepared to play.
How far from the truth was that?
Then you read Brad Sham's column here on DallasCowboys.com on Nov. 2, just after he returned to play against Arizona in a nickel role. Dat shed some serious light on where his mind was when he said this when asked if he was suddenly confronting his football mortality:
"I think everybody at this age does, just because of how long I've played. I've been so blessed. When things start hitting you, sometimes it's like when it rains, it pours. That's what it seemed like to me about three weeks ago. You're so down, you try to find any kind of light there is, just to find a positive. It's tough, and it makes you realize, sometime the game's gonna end.
"Some day you would like to pick up your kids and play with them, roll around in the grass or whatever it is. You're hoping you can still do that. It was some hard times, I can tell you that."
That should have been a clue. But no, most just began wondering why Dat Nguyen had been relegated to nickel duty; why he didn't get his starting job back from Scott Shanle, who was starting in the interim, or why, for goodness sakes, Ryan Fowler started on Thanksgiving for the injured Shanle instead of Dat.
But Parcells knew. He sensed Dat was struggling with whether he wanted to continue playing. He was just trying to do what he could to get him through the season by limiting his playing time to just the nickel defense. Just milk some more games out of Dat, not only for performance sake, but for leadership purposes, too. Just try to take away as much of the physical pounding that goes with being an every-down inside linebacker.
So Dat would play four more games, including the one on Thanksgiving Day, which now looms as possibly his last. He would play only on the dime defense against Arizona, but make no tackles. He would make seven against the Eagles and one against Detroit. He was not credited with any tackles against the Broncos.
But now this.
"This is our second conversation about the subject," Parcells said of a possible retirement, "so I think he's pretty well down the road, mentally."
And if that's the case, then indeed this is probably it. The Cowboys will have to push through the remainder of this season with Shanle and Bradie James starting inside. Problem is, though, Shanle missed the last game with a sprained ankle, causing Fowler to play more plays in his first NFL start than he has defensively his entire career.
This also has forced the Cowboys to sign 35-year-old veteran linebacker Mike Barrow, who hasn't played in a game since the end of the 2003 season. The Cowboys will lose a lot without Dat.
Who is going to recognize the shovel pass on the goal line Dat did on that critical third-down play in Philadelphia the Cowboys stopped to force a field goal and give themselves a chance to win the game with a late defensive touchdown?
Who is going to make the game-sealing interception he did at the 37-yard line in that 34-31 victory over San Francisco?
Who is going to recover that fumble he did late in the fourth quarter to zap whatever life was left out of Detroit?
Who is going to make all those plays?
Maybe this is where I should have began, but nevertheless will conclude. In Dat Nguyen's recently released book, Dat - Tackling Life and the NFL, his former Cowboys teammate Darren Woodson wrote this in the forward:
*It was in 1998, and I was at the Dallas Cowboys' training facility in Valley Ranch prior to the start of our season. I'm a proud alum of Arizona State, so I wasn't particularly intrigued by the match-up that was on the television that evening at our facility - Texas A&M vs. Florida State in the 1998 Kickoff Classic. As I occasionally glanced at the TV, however, I couldn't help noticing that the little guy in the middle, No. 9, seemed to be making an play every time I look up. Suddenly, I was fascinated by his ability to make tackles from sideline to sideline. His instincts were so good that he looked like he had stolen the Florida State game plan. *
*"Who is that guy?" I asked several of my *