Jason Garrett balances grief, reality

IRVING, Texas -- For more than five minutes after Sunday's emotional
20-19 win against the Cincinnati Bengals, Jason Garrett spoke from his heart about what happened to the Dallas Cowboys over the weekend.

His voice was a little raspy, his eyes a little red from the game and the tragic accident that led to Jerry Brown's death and Josh Brent's arrest early Saturday morning. He gave details that few knew about the practice squad linebacker from his short time with the Cowboys. He spoke proudly about what his players accomplished in winning the game and honoring Brown.

But he kept coming back to a life lost.

"In reality, we're going to snap back into it in what we lost," Garrett said Sunday.

Reality will continue to hit the Cowboys for the rest of the season and maybe longer.

Now comes the hardest part for the Cowboys coach, and it has little to do with Dez Bryant's finger injury or the X's and O's of Sunday's game plan for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"It has been challenging from Minute 1, obviously, for everybody in how to handle it and how to process it," Garrett said, "and how to grieve through it and how to grieve and move forward, and it will continue to be that way."

The Cowboys will hold a memorial service Tuesday for Brown. Garrett said he was unsure what kind of tribute the team will have going forward to honor Brown by keeping his locker intact for the year or having a patch on the jersey or sticker on the helmet.

There's also a question about Brent's future. Brent, who is facing an intoxication manslaughter charge, was at Valley Ranch on Monday and met with Garrett. The team has said it intends to support Brent as best as they can, but he could face immediate punishment from the NFL.

Somehow, Garrett has to lead through this tragedy the way Joe Gibbs led the Washington Redskins through the murder of Sean Taylor in 2007, the way Marvin Lewis led the Bengals through the 2009 deaths of wide receiver Chris Henry and the wife of former Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, Vikki, and the way Romeo Crennel is leading the Kansas City Chiefs through the murder-suicide situation involving Jovan Belcher two weeks ago.

He intends to reach out to some of those coaches.

"I just didn't think there was time enough to kind of have a thoughtful conversation about it," Garrett said. "So we had to kind of work our way through it and use the resources we had here. But going forward, I do plan to reach out to those guys and just try to see as we go forward what's the best way to try to continue to honor the person we lost, but at the same time getting everybody to move forward and try to live life as fully as we can in so many different ways."

The Cowboys will practice Wednesday and play Pittsburgh on Sunday.

At 7-6, the Cowboys are firmly in the NFC East race, a game behind the New York Giants for first place but in third place behind Washington only because of the Thanksgiving Day loss to the Redskins. They are one game out of a possible wild-card spot, too.

It all seems so trivial, but perhaps cruelly the game goes on.

Massaging the feelings for players in different states of grief will be difficult for Garrett, but he repeated a mantra that he has used all season: focus on today, focus on the task at hand.

"Most of it is in regards to football," Garrett said. "This is in regards to life and football, and so we had to do that. You have to practice what you preach as coaches. As best we can we have to do that."

Athletes have a way of compartmentalizing things, separating real life in ways perhaps other can't or don't. During the season, they live largely regimented lives. From September through December, they know what they are doing on every different day of the week.

"The other night I tried to convey to our players that this is not a football-is-life situation, but there are some things we can learn in football that can help us in life and one of those things is getting to the next play," Garrett said. "And if you have success on a particular play, that play's over and you've got to get to the next play. And if things don't go well for you on that particular play, that play's over, and you've got to get to the next play.

"And since we've been this high, every coach that I've ever been around has taught us that. In Pop Warner. In junior high. In high school, college, professional football -- it's the same thing. You have to somehow, some way get to the next play. And I think that's a great training ground for life. What can you control in your life? I can control this play. I can't control the last play. I can't control the next play. I can control this play. … I think oftentimes you can lean on that training in other phases of your life."