Thursday January 20th, 2005

IRVING, Texas -- Dispatches from a slightly giddy, and we do mean giddy, Valley Ranch, aka "We're not Losers-ville any more'':

File this one under the we're-not-making-this-up-department: The first seven or eight minutes of Bill Parcells' news conference Monday was spent on dissecting the hottest of the many hot stories here in the Metroplex.

Namely, did he or didn't he? Did Parcells cry in the locker room Sunday after his Dallas Cowboys won their eighth game of the season, knocking off Carolina 24-20 in a game that pitted teams with two of the NFC's best records.

Several Cowboys players Sunday said their gruff, tough head coach briefly became emotional in the postgame locker room. Some even described it as teary-eyed. And while that was noted in several media reports, including the one I filed from the game, Parcells' fragile emotional state was elevated to breaking news Monday.

Asked if he was one of the ones shedding tears in the Cowboys' locker room, Parcells stammered, "Uh, I don't think so. But it was a hard fought game. That's what happens when you put a lot into something sometimes and you kind of get rewarded for your hard work. It's an emotional thing.''

'Nuff said, right? Uh, wrong.

"Have you ever cried after a regular-season game?'' came the next question.

"Sure,'' Parcells said. "I'm not prone to do that.''

"You said you don't think you [cried Sunday]?'' a reporter interjected, trying to hook the Tuna with his own words.

"Well, I'm not sure, I might have,'' Parcells finally allowed. "But I wasn't really crying or anything. It's a little emotional. So I have them too [emotions]. I'm not ashamed, though.''

Holy smoke. Stop the presses. Somebody run down Dick Vermeil for an immediate reaction.

"You're not getting soft on us, are you?'' came a question from the back of the room.

"No, sure not,'' Parcells quickly retorted. "Don't worry about that.''

When order was restored, the questions about Parcells' postgame crying jag continued. Honest. For a good long while yet. We weren't even close to being finished. Here's a sampling:

Q: How important is for the players to see that side of you?

A: "Hey, I don't know,'' said Parcells, somewhat amazed by the media's level of interest in the inner workings of his tear ducts. "I've never been one to shield my emotions from the players. I'm pretty much going to say what I think. So, there were a lot of things I wanted to say yesterday. I just had trouble getting it all out, that's all.''

Q: How emotionally drained were you after you left the stadium?

A: "I was fine. It's just hard to explain unless you've been there. It's hard to explain what it is. It just overcomes you sometimes a little bit, that's all. I'm not ashamed of it. I think I knew this game was going to be very important to this team, probably more than they knew it going in. So I think now we're in position where I think we're going to be in contention for a while.''

Q: How important was this for a sense of team bonding?

A: "When you have some hard-fought victories, I mean, eventually the team has to be convinced that all the hard work that they do is worth something. And when you win a game like that, that makes a lot of what you do worthwhile. They immediately forget about all the hard work and they remember the jubilation involved.''

Q: The feeling you had (in the locker room), is that what you missed most about coaching?

A: "My happiness is always for other people. I really mean that genuinely. It's not for my own ego or my own satisfaction. It really isn't. With all the big games I've been fortunate enough to be in, I just remember the smiles on the faces of those players. That's what I think of when I think of an L.T. [Lawrence Taylor] or a Ben Coates. That's what I think of. I think of those days when they were happy and laughing and in the locker room, the jubilation. I don't think of the hard times.''

Are you thinking the same thing I'm thinking: First off, 'C'mon Bill, who are you kidding with the "my happiness is always for other people,'' song and dance? Your ego has its own area code. And secondly, have Lawrence Taylor and Ben Coates ever been mentioned in the same sentence before?

For my money, Cowboys defensive tackle La'Roi Glover had just the right take on the Parcells' crying-gate.

"Hey, I saw Mike Ditka cry in New Orleans,'' Glover said. "If Ditka can do it, hell, anyone can do it.''

• Believe it or not, other topics did finally surface at the Parcells news conference. Some of them even had to do with football.

A day after his team assured itself of at least a .500 record, breaking Dallas' three-year streak of losing seasons, Parcells again underlined how important it was for the 8-3 Cowboys to bury their losers label.

"Well, you know they've been getting beat down around here for a little while,'' he said. "Well, the worst is over. It should be. Now could we lose all five of these games here that we got left? Absolutely, that could happen to us. But it's just exciting to be able to be playing in games that really are important.''

Like Thursday's Thanksgiving Day matchup against visiting Miami, which if the Cowboys win keeps them on track for their huge Dec. 7 NFC East showdown at Philadelphia (8-3) in Week 14. The winner of that game will likely win the division and have nothing worse than a first-round home playoff game to look forward to.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, who did Miami tick off in the league office? The Dolphins play the Sunday night game at home against Washington, then have a short-week road trip to Dallas, while the Cowboys get back-to-back home games for the Sunday-Thursday quinela? How does that work?

"If I was on the other side, I'd think so, yes,'' said Parcells, when asked if the Cowboys' annual Thanksgiving Day home game gave Dallas a big advantage.

Two points for honesty.

• But Parcells wanted it made clear that he was not looking too far down the road when he talked about the playoff opportunity that his 8-3 team now has within its grasp. And to prove his point, he imparted a little lesson that he re-learned last week, just before nearby TCU saw its undefeated season go up in smoke against lightly regarded Southern Mississippi.

"I'm not looking at [trying to earn home field advantage],'' Parcells said. "I'm not looking at anything to tell you the truth. I'll tell you what happened around here last week. Because I pay attention to other things beside pro football. I've been watching this TCU, you know. I really have.

"But the only thing I heard coming out of all that stuff over there was the BCS. That's all I heard. And that's all anybody around here heard, BCS, BCS. I didn't hear one word about Southern Miss. Nothing.

"I'm thinking about Miami. M-I-A-M-I. OK?''

• Not only did the Dolphins' day-glo orange jerseys make them look like a mob of traffic cones, but that's about how they played for three quarters or so.

• You heard it here first: Rick Mirer is worthy of being in the running for somebody's starting quarterback job at the beginning of next year's training camp. I'm not sure Drew Bledsoe is, though.

• At this rate, Carson Palmer will make his NFL starting debut for Buffalo in 2005. Remember when we felt sorry for Palmer that he was sentenced to Cincinnati? Who knew it was because he'd never be able to beat out Jon "The Rock'' Kitna?

• Looks like the needle on the old Mastermind-meter is headed back down in Denver. And while we're at it, what's going on with the notion of home field advantage in the NFL? Once upon a time, the Broncos and Packers were virtual locks at home. But Denver has lost two of its past three at home, and Green Bay has dropped two of three games at Lambeau.

Maybe the Broncos and Packers really did mess with their home field karma when they went the new stadium or major renovation route.

• Was that not a touching halftime ceremony in San Diego on Sunday, when the Bengals officially passed the torch to the Chargers as the NFL's reigning laughingstock? You're now responsible for the legacy, Marty Schottenheimer.

• Quote of the day: From Parcells, of course, on the third-quarter five-yard touchdown pass hauled in Sunday by fourth-string tight end Jeff Robinson, who is the team's long-snapper: "When Robinson made that play, that's kind of like your pitcher hitting a home run for you. That's about what it was like. You kind of consider that gravy.''

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.