'boys Have Beef With The Zebras

Posted: October 27, 1997

It's a conspiracy, man.

The NFL's officials, says Dallas Cowboys linebacker Broderick Thomas, have it in for America's Team this season.

``I believe the refs are against us,'' he said late yesterday afternoon in a nearly empty visitors' locker room at Veterans Stadium. ``Check it.

``It's a bit too mean. We've got guys putting their lives on the line here, and we got these guys, jacking around, making bad calls . . . It's no sweat off their back.

``Whoever's the head of officials - I mean, he's not doing his job.''

Thomas's angst came on the heels of a 13-12 loss to the Eagles that dropped the Cowboys into the pack of the NFC East at 4-4, and left their division record at 1-4.

It came after a game in which Kevin Smith's apparent interception in the second quarter was ruled a trap, a game when defensive and offensive pass interference was called on the same play, a first-quarter pass to the Cowboys' Michael Irvin.

Above all, it came after a kindly spot of an Irving Fryar fourth-down reception allowed the Eagles to continue a fourth-quarter touchdown drive, and their surprising win.

Exhibit A for Thomas and the Cowboys was the spot given to Fryar on his reception. Needing 11 yards to gain a first down, the Eagles' receiver appeared to turn either at the marker or just short of the marker, before taking a step or two forward to catch the ball.

The spot, though, put the ball back where the turn had been. Or farther.

Said Cowboys free safety Brock Marion: ``I don't think he was ever where they said he was.''

Said Smith, who tackled Fryar immediately: ``It's a game of inches. And on fourth-and-11, guy gives him an 11-yard spot on a 9-yard route. That's pretty good.''

For the Eagles, it was. It gave them a first down on the Dallas 32-yard line with 2:12 remaining in the game, trailing, 12-6.

After two consecutive drops by - incredibly - Fryar, it also gave the Eagles a much-needed shot of adrenaline, and seemed to work the reverse for the Cowboys' defense. Peete completed a 7-yard pass to Kevin Turner on the next play, and then Ricky Watters broke free for 14 yards, to the Dallas 11.

Marion, who had distracted Fryar on one incompletion during the drive, tackled Watters to save a touchdown. But it was just delaying the inevitable. Two plays later, Eagles rookie tight end Chad Lewis deked Cowboys rookie safety Omar Stoutmire to the ground and caught the game-winning touchdown in the end zone.

Stoutmire, who made a big interception in the Cowboys' 26-22 victory over Jacksonville last week, was nearly inconsolable in the locker room afterward.

``No excuses, man,'' he said. ``I got beat.''

And while many of his higher-profile teammates also tried hard not to make excuses, they weren't exactly praising their conquerors, either.

``We actually beat ourselves,'' said running back Emmitt Smith, who rushed for 126 yards on 25 carries. ``I can't say that they did, because we didn't execute. We didn't execute when it counted. That's the bottom line. You execute when it counts, you're going to reap the benefits from it.''

Specifically, the Cowboys were stopped on three first-half drives, twice unable to score a touchdown after getting inside the Eagles' 10. Why?

``If I had the answer to that, I could correct a lot of problems in the world,'' Emmitt Smith said. ``I don't have the answer to that.''

His coach did.

``I said we'd win football games if we still played with the intensity and desire,'' Barry Switzer said, his anger bubbling but not boiling over. ``That had nothing to do with the ballgame. The reason we didn't win the ballgame is that we couldn't tackle the damn backs, we didn't line up right and we made damn mistakes. It wasn't because we didn't bust our ]butts].''

Said Emmitt Smith: ``We've got to score more points on offense. We've got to get the ball in the end zone. If we can get in there, it will create a lot of things. More points, more opportunities. If we could have turned just two of those field goals into touchdowns, that's 14 points right there.''

He added: ``I'm not looking for excuses. I'm not going to turn and say this game was lost on a referee mistake. No. If we go out there and execute like we're supposed to, all the referee stuff and all that stuff wouldn't mean anything. We would have won the game.''

But since they didn't, and for most of the season haven't, the referees impacted their games.

For some, perhaps, to a point of distraction.

``I had the interception,'' Kevin Smith said. ``It seems the ball is just not bouncing our way this year . . . How can you call a double pass interference? I've never seen that before in my life.''

``You go back and look at any of our games,'' Thomas said. ``There are bad calls all over the field. I mean, they're just crazy, all over the field, week in and week out. Close game against Arizona. We recover a kickoff. And our man has the ball at the bottom of the pile. Still has the ball. They give the ball to them.''

Emmitt Smith wouldn't get sucked in. It's a loser's lament.

``We have to do things that won't put us in that situation so that we don't have to depend on a call,'' he said.

``Execution,'' agreed Kevin Smith. ``Right now, that's our real enemy.''

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