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Saturday night in the ATL

Yesterday the Cowboys ventured into the ATL for a matchup with the resurgent Falcons. The Falcons were coming off two straight wins and had designs on the playoffs, and getting a win at home would've been a big step. Meanwhile, Dallas was trying to bounce back from an embarrassing drubbing at the hands of the Saints. Tony Romo needed to re-establish his credentials as a top-tier QB and the Dallas defense was hoping to erase the debacle of the week before. It had all the makings, as they like to say.

So I ventured over to the Georgia Dome to get a first-hand look at this game. Upon arriving in the vicinity of the Dome, the first thing I noticed was the number of fans who were wearing blue and white, not red and black. Sure the Falcons fans had us outnumbered, but we made a strong showing. The atmosphere was festive as the NFL came to my fair city to play on a Saturday night - that gave the game a different flavor. Primetime games always feel a little bit different, and on Saturday nights, their close to unique. The weather was perfect, not that it mattered inside, but outside - for the tailgaters - you couldn't have asked for more. I talked to some Cowboys fans, many who made the trek from all over the country, from places like Nebraska and Wisconsin.

For Dallas fans, the jersey of choice was Roy Williams, followed by an old favorite, Emmitt Smith. There was a smattering of Terrell Owens jerseys, a few DeMarcus Wares' and other assorted Cowboys. I got the feeling there would've been more Tony Romo jerseys, it's just too early in his career for everybody to get one. Maybe Christmas will solve that problem for many Cowboys fans. The most amusing jersey I saw was one for Rocket Ismail, I'm not kidding, I felt like starting a fund for that fan so he could update his Cowboys regalia. The general talk around the campfire was about Tony Romo. How good is he? How good will he be? Can he take us all the way?

Inside the stadium, before the game started, the Cowboys came out to warm-up. Romo had to come out with the kickers to practice his holds, and received a huge cheer from the Cowboys faithful. A little later, Jerry Jones came walking out, and in usual Jerry fashion, he made his way to the edge of the stands. Cowboy fans greeted him and held out shirts and hats for signatures; naturally Jerry obliged. Bill Parcells, in contrast, was all business as he stood in the middle of the field and spoke to no one in particular, but watched the flights of the kicks, measuring Gramatica's range and no doubt scouting how the Falcon's kickers looked for the evening's game.

Once game-time arrived, the Falcons fans were in full-frenzy. It was as loud as I've heard them in person, and I've been to a few Falcons games in my lifetime. I won't go into the game itself; I'll cover that ground in my film review which should be available sometime tomorrow. But I watched the sidelines to get an idea of the interaction between players and coaches.

Bill Parcells is a solitary figure on the sidelines. Most of the time, there's no one within a 5-foot radius of him. Almost no one walks up to him and starts talking, the limited interaction is when he goes to the players or the coaches. Early in the game, on kickoff coverage, he didn't like something Kevin Burnett did, and chewed him out for 15 seconds or so. Then the assistant coach would come over and calmly talk to the player, Parcells was already moving on. After another series, one when the defense allowed a TD pass in the flats, Parcells walked over to the bench, and once the defense sat down, started barking at Bradie James and Akin Ayodele and the rest of them. I guess he was telling them to get that fixed on the field. That was the life of Parcells, long periods of solitude while pacing the sidelines, followed by short bursts of the Parcells' temper. Other times, he just gives the stare. But he does acknowledge good plays when the players come off the field.

Terrell Owens spends a lot of time talking to Tony Romo, Patrick Crayton or another receiver - and the fans on the sideline. OK, he doesn't actually talk to the fans, he just screams in exuberant outbursts to the Cowboys faithful that were behind the Cowboys bench. Romo spends a lot of time on the phone, or talking to the assistants, that's when he's not looking for his baseball hat or splashing cups of water on his face. But in one interesting sequence, Parcells and Romo had a brief exchange. It was just after the Falcons went ahead 28-21 and Romo was getting up off the bench and picking up his helmet. Parcells was walking his way, and from the body language and the head nods, I'm guessing Parcells walked over and said something like: "It's your turn now kid, get us some points." Romo nodded and jogged toward the field. Obviously I can't confirm the conversation, but the timing, the body language, the facial expressions - and years of playing and watching sports - instinctively told me it was something like that.

During the game, there was good-natured taunting going on in the stands. The crowd was lively, but competitively friendly. We tried a few "Let's go Dallas" chants, but they were quick to drowned us out. No one minded when we cheered the Cowboys though, and we had to sit by and hear it as they took the lead. But as Dallas started taking the lead late in the game, the Falcons fans weren't as loud. When the Cowboys took the ball with about 8 minutes to go in the 4th quarter, everybody knew this was going to be the key drive. As the Cowboys made first down after first down, we started to get louder and louder. The Falcons fans grew silent as they saw it all slipping way from them, the game and possibly the season. When MB3 put the nail in the coffin, there was a stampede for the exits. MB3 closed the show.

Outside after the game, the Cowboys fans were grinning ear to ear. Plenty of knowing smiles were passed between strangers who were bonded only by the logo on their clothing. The occasional shouts of "How `bout them Cowboys" echoed in the night, knuckle-bumps were given freely. As I got closer to my car, a guy and his girl were walking the same way. They were wearing the star, too. We exchanged pleasantries, and then he said to me "That last drive, that was a championship drive". On that night, I couldn't have agreed more.

Here's the play that had everybody buzzing at the game.

Hat tip to Parl for this fitting reminder of the game.

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