See, winning in the NFL is so precious and sustained success so fragile, evidenced by the headline in the New York Post: Champs To Chumps. Or this one in the New York Daily News: Stupor Bowl.
None of this is what you want to hear I'm sure, but as was pointed out before the start of this Dallas Cowboys' most disappointing season, just because you went 13-3 the previous season doesn't guarantee you a 13-3 season this year. Just because you got off to a 3-0 start and everyone and their brother is labeling you "Super Bowl favorites," doesn't mean failing is prohibitive. Just because you've had the best conference record one year doesn't grandfather you into the playoffs the next year.
As the title in Troy Aikman's 1995 children's book suggests, Things Change.
This is not to suggest misery likes company, and you guys certainly have attracted a lot of company over the weekend, but nothing should be taken for granted in the NFL, not by you and certainly not by the players if indeed these Cowboys fell into that trap after having won 16 of their last 19 regular-season games three games into this 2008 season.
Think not? Then you need some more playoff oddities.
The Carolina Panthers went 8-0 at home this season, and there wasn't a soul who wanted to meet them in the playoffs. Yet the Arizona Cardinals went to Charlotte, N.C., and spanked the NFC south champs but good, 33-13, and for the first time in club history winning two playoffs games in the same season and now are fixing to play host to their first NFC or NFL title game since they won the 1947 championship as the Chicago Cardinals, beating, yes, Philadelphia, 28-21, at Comiskey Park.
Need further proof how fragile winning is?
The Baltimore Ravens, that other sixth seed, needed the back judge to way miss a play-clock violation for their key third-down conversion on the game-winning field-goal drive to count and for the referee to decide their quarterback, Joe Flacco, did not step out the back of the end zone while scrambling to throw a pass, a safety there likely dramatically changing the course of that game.
The Eagles, leading 20-11 at the start of the fourth quarter, needed a spot on a Derek Ward third-down run to come up like four inches short of a first down they would not get on fourth down either to fall by the wayside.
The Steelers, they turned around the game against San Diego in the third quarter, not only having a linebacker intercepting a batted pass at the line of scrimmage that replay somehow upheld, but also getting their punter, Mitch Berger to induce a San Diego muff by kicking short - again, since I'm sure you remember that point in the game against the Cowboys - and having the ball bounce off the helmet of San Diego's Eric Weddle for another takeaway.
And speaking of takeaways, were you aware only five teams in the NFL this season had fewer giveaways than Carolina's 19? And the Panthers commit six turnovers against the Cardinals in one game?
Go figure. All of it.
Remember last year the shame placed on the Cowboys, becoming the first No. 1 seed in the NFC since the 12-team playoff format began in 1990 to not win at least one playoff game? Well, they got company, the irony being it's the Giants, who whacked them 21-17, last year's oddity now stretching to two consecutive years. In fact, when including the AFC, five of the NFL's last eight No. 1 seeds over these past four seasons have failed to advance in the playoffs.
See, see what I mean? Just shut up and go play. Take nothing for granted, good or bad. Just put your head down and run, my dad used to say, they'll tell you where you finished.
A worthy NFL proverb for sure.