Tragedy makes game feel trivial

CINCINNATI, Ohio -- The National Football League didn't stop last week when Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend and killed himself, making an orphan of his three-month-old daughter.

The next day the Kansas City Chiefs -- with Belcher's red jersey hanging in his locker -- went out and beat the Carolina Panthers.

And the NFL isn't going to stop this week because the Dallas Cowboys are grieving over practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown died in a one-car accident and nose tackle Josh Brent, the driver, is in an Irving jail, charged with intoxication manslaughter.

There's too much cash at stake for the league, sponsors and fans, many of whom have spent money on tickets or travel.

Sad, isn't it?

So the Cowboys will play Sunday.

But it seems silly discussing who's going to play nose tackle for the Cowboys against the Cincinnati Bengals because Jay Ratliff is hurt and Brent won't be playing anytime soon.

Or whether the Cowboys can start an improbable playoff run with a win over the Bengals, who have won four consecutive games.

It all seems so trivial when compared to the reality of life and death.

As the players went to individual meetings Saturday night and gathered for the usual Saturday evening team meeting before being dismissed for the night, it's hard to believe how many could focus after the tragedy their team is enduring.

"We're all just trying to get focused for tomorrow," backup linebacker Alex Albright said. "Guys are really just focused on football and coach did a good job of addressing: We need to remember Jerry and what's happened, but our season is still on the line and we still need to go forward and work toward that season we want to have."

It's a tragedy for the players and coaches still with the team because they've lost two teammates -- two members of their family -- without any warning whatsoever.

And one of them is gone forever.

Anyone who's ever been part of a professional sports team will tell you it's the guys in the locker room they miss more than the games or the practices once the retire.

They miss the camaraderie.

They're with their teammates all day. Every day.

They work together. And train together. And a lot of times, they pray together.

Ultimately, they play for each other -- not for the coaches or the owner or even their adoring fans.

The best teams are those on which the players don't want to let each other down because the players know exactly how much time, effort and energy they've invested in the week of preparation.

It's the reason the wins feel so good and the losses hurt so much.

Now, the Cowboys must figure out how to put their emotions -- if it's even possible -- to the side long enough to play a football game.

Maybe the Cowboys will channel their grief and play their best game of the season and beat Cincinnati. Perhaps they'll be so distracted by the events of Saturday that they'll start slow and get blown out.

Either way, it doesn't seem like it matters that much right now. Not when Brown's life has ended and Brent's life as he knew it is over.