A bearded gentleman in a Santa Claus suit strolled around Veterans Stadium today, ringing a bell and shouting "Go Eagles!" Many of the greetings flung back by the home team's fans were unprintable.

Nothing went the way the Eagles had dreamed, as they handed Dalas two touchdowns in the first six minutes and settled back to lose their ninth straight to the Cowboys, 31-13. Just to make the situation more miserable for the 64,66m suffering spectators, it was so cold (32 at keckoff) that the Liberty Belles were forced to cover the skimpy outfits with sweatsutis after a brief pregame routine.

Despite this day of near-total disaster, the Eagles remain alive in the wild-card playoff chase and Coach Dick Vermeil said, "We've got to beat the (New York) Giants next week but we've got a very good chance. Minnesota has to go to play Oakland and Green Bay has to go to play the (Los Angeles) Rams. We can still do it, but if somebody can figure out this playoff thing, I wish he'd explain it to me."

General Manager Jim Murray, who coined the motto "Eight and five and still alive" two weeks ago, offered revised words of wisdom: "Eight and seven and help from heaven."

Heaven offered no assistance today, as Philadelphia committed five turnovers, the Cowboys none. Dallas fumbled four times, but on each occasion a teammate came up with the ball.

The Eagles' first scrimmage play set the pattern. Split end Harold Carmichael made a diving catch of a Ron Jaworski pass for a seven-yard gain at the Philadelphia 22, rolled on the ground and permitted the ball to slip off his hip. The Cowboys' Cliff Harris scooped it up and raced to the five, from where fullback Scott Laidlaw produced a touchdown in three carries.

"I was getting ready to make my second-and-three call I looked up and saw the guy running with the ball," Vermeil said. "That shocked me."

"I just didn't have control over it," said Carmichael, who extended his catch-a-game streak to 95 on the unwelcome play. "I thought it was dead... I thought I was out of bounds... I thought (Charlie) Waters had touched me. But I didn't put it down. I just didn't have control."

On the Eagles' second possession, Jaworski fired a third-down sideline pass toward flanker Charles Smith. Dallas cornerback Benny Barnes cut in front of Smith to make the interception at the 50 and carried it to the Eagles' 16. On the Cowboys' first play, Roger Staubach threw a screen pass to Tony Dorsett, who raced into the end zone through space cleared by Herbert Scott's devastarting block on linebacker Drew Mahalic.

Philadelphia fumbled the ensuing kickoff, three players grabbing for it at the 20, and the man who picked it up, Larry Barnes, slipped and fell at the 25. The Eagles then were penalized for holding and delay of game before punting to the boos of the crowd.

The Philly fans, more malevolent than most, produced their first cheer when the Cowboys' Harvey Martin was injured. The booed Martin lustily as he was helped from the field.

A 73-yard drive in seven plays evoked more cheers and trimmed Dallas' lead to 14-7 before the first quarter ended, A 42-yeard pass play, on which the 6-foot-8 Charmichael shed three tacklers, took the Eagles to the Dallas five and Mike Hogan covered the final yard.

Butch Johnson, a Cowboy who specialized in wrong-way running, fumbled a punt at the Dallas 2k in the second quarter, but Dennis Thurman retained possession for Dallas. It was the Eagles' last opportunity to close the gap.

Early in third quarter, Staubach escaped a third-and-eight problem at the Dallas 23 by hitting Tony Hill on a fly pattern for a 54-yard gain. On the next play, Dorsett cut inside Laidlaw's block and sprinted 23 yards into the end zone.

Jaworski suffered eight sacks, half by Marylander Randy White, who treated guard Tom Luken with complete disdain. Under the awful Dallas rush, Jaworski completed only nine of 26 passes, although he did hit Carmichael with another 42-yarder to set up a consolaton score from the four by Larry Barnes. Mike Michel earned a final jeer from the few fans remaining withg a low extra-point kick that was blocked.

"I don't live in a fantasy world," Vermeil said. "They're a better football team than the Philadelphia Eagies, that's all. We needed to force Dallas into turnovers to have a chance and instead we made the turnovers. You can't play catch-up football with those down linemen of theirs. They're too well-coached and they have too many skilled athletes to play catch-up."

Obviously, he doesn't believe in Santa Claus, either.