Cowboys can look to '09 for inspiration

IRVING, Texas -- If Coach Jason Garrett wanted, he could address his players just about every day with "back in my day" stories about what it's like to play for the Dallas Cowboys.

Undoubtedly those Cowboys would have walked to school barefoot through the snow, uphill. Both ways.

But Garrett does so only occasionally, most likely to either prevent repetition or not further burden this team with expectations laid out by guys such as Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith.

"One of the things that our players hear me say all the time is there is inspiration all around us," Garrett said. "That might just be every-day experiences, something happening around the league right now, or something from the past, in football, out of football. Where I feel it's appropriate, I'll share it with our guys. Sometimes those are stories about previous teams that I've been on or other coaches have been on or other players have been on, where I think the example somehow applies to our football team and somehow it would resonate. I don't avoid those at all. I think if they relate, I'm happy to share those with our guys."

In the last week, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones kept coming back to the 1995 Cowboys as an example of a team having the ultimate success despite bumps in the road. Jones recalled the "dumb and dumber" game at Philadelphia when Barry Switzer went with load left on fourth down -- twice -- and failed with the score tied.

But the example is not the best because these Cowboys are not those Cowboys.

Those Cowboys of '95 had Hall of Famers like Aikman, Smith, Irvin, Deion Sanders and a core that had won Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII. Their frame of reference was always coming through when it mattered most.

The core of the '11 Cowboys might have a Hall of Famer or two, but they have never had the ultimate taste of success -- unless you count some of the coaches -- to rely on. Their story has been mostly about December woes.

That's why 2009 matters more.

Refresh the memory a bit: The Cowboys entered December at 8-3 and leading the NFC East but lost to the New York Giants and then failed on three tries from the San Diego 1 in a 20-17 defeat at Cowboys Stadium on Dec. 13.

To make matters worse, their best player, DeMarcus Ware, was taken from the field strapped to a neck board, and they had a short week to get ready for the unbeaten New Orleans Saints.

Nobody gave them a chance. You might remember an ESPN Radio host, whose last name rhymes with "holiday," suggesting they just forfeit.

But the Cowboys won, 24-17, and Ware ended the game with a sack and forced fumble of Drew Brees.

The Cowboys followed that up with a pair of NFC East shutout wins over the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles to win the division and finish 11-5.

This season, the Cowboys lost back-to-back games to start December in stomach-twisting fashion to Arizona (in overtime) and the Giants to lose sole possession of the NFC East lead. They had a short week to get ready for another NFC South foe, though Tampa Bay is not even close to New Orleans' neighborhood, and won.

And now they finish with back-to-back NFC East games with the division theirs to take, starting with Saturday's game against Philadelphia at Cowboys Stadium.

By the time the Cowboys kickoff Saturday, they will know if they have a chance to clinch the division with a win or a winner-take-all finale at New York on New Year's Day.

This team doesn't need to hear about what the Cowboys did in '95. If they need a reminder, they can look at the team picture outside the locker room and the smiles on the faces of Jones and Switzer as they wrestled over the Lombardi Trophy following their Super Bowl XXX win against Pittsburgh.

What this core needs to remember is 2009, when they overcame doom and gloom for what has been its signature moment of the last nine years.

If they do, then maybe one day Garrett can tell stories about the 2011 Cowboys.

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.