IRVING, TX. - Chris Canty has been here before. As a redshirt sophomore at the
University of Virginia, his Cavaliers were headed to a bowl game, but
they had designs on a "bigger bowl." To earn that bid, they needed to
beat the rival Maryland Terrapins.
In a game he called the closest he
can compare to this week's do-or-die game the Cowboys will play this
week against the St. Louis Rams, UVA came through with a 48-13 win over
The Cowboys face more dire circumstances this weekend. Whereas a loss
to Maryland still would have sent the Cavaliers to the postseason, a
Dallas loss this weekend means the 2005 season is over. Even a win by
the Cowboys doesn't ensure a playoff berth -- Dallas needs help from
the Philadelphia Eagles against the Washington Redskins or the Atlanta Falcons against the Carolina Panthers just to have a chance. Canty said
Wednesday that the buildup to this game is far more intense than that
leading up to his alma mater's showdown three years ago with their
Atlantic Coast Conference rivals.
"It's different," the Cowboys' rookie defensive end said. "There's more
of a sense of urgency at this level. You can see everyone really
practicing with a purpose. We always work hard, but this week,
everyone's really focused."
Defensive tackle Jason Ferguson calls this kind of game "fun."
"We've all played football all our lives," Ferguson said. "This isn't
the time to get nervous. This is what you play for. There's more on the
line (than in most regular-season games), but it's still football."
The Cowboys welcome the Rams to Texas Stadium Sunday evening. The
Falcons and Panthers play the early game, and the Redskins and Eagles
square off in the late afternoon game. So whether the Cowboys will have
anything to play for already will be known. But to hear the players
tell it, they're hoping to be completely oblivious about the results of
the earlier games.
"There's one game at noon, and the other one's at 3," center Al Johnson
said. "I could watch the earlier game, but I won't. You can't afford to
get emotionally attached to another game. Emotionally, that will drain
"We're all going to know by kickoff what we're playing for. But we've
got to look at it like our fate is in our own hands. We've got to go
out and win."
That the Cowboys need help to reach the postseason gnaws at the team,
"We know all the talent we've got," he said. "So sometimes we say 'why
didn't we get this taken care of already?' There's too much talent here
not to go to the playoffs. But we put ourselves in this situation, so
now we just need to go out and win."
The players insist they will make every effort not to focus on the
early games. Johnson said he won't turn on the television, for fear
that he won't be able to turn it off. Canty said he plans to sleep, to
try to get as much rest as possible. Ferguson said he might play video
games. But while he doesn't like the fact that the Cowboys are in this
do-or-die situation, he is confident in his teammates' abilit
y to get
the job done.
"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else Sunday night," Ferguson said,
"because these guys want to go out there and fight."