The scene was funeral. There even was a wreath, thrown inside the Redskin dressing room by the ever-gracious Harvey Martin after a game reasonable witnesses insist should not have ended when it did today.
Few football games ever have generated more intense drama, higher highs and lower lows, sometimes within a few minutes. The Redskins came here exceedingly confident they could beat Dallas and almost certain that only a cruel twist of fate could keep them from the playoffs.
They lost the National Conference East title when Roger Staubach mustered the sort of impossible rally that has been rather common for him this season. And their season ended when a Chicago Bear team that usually can't score six touchdowns in three games mustered 42 points.
The early mood after the game was disbelief. The silence was broken only by reporters forced to ask questions no one wanted to answer. Joe Theisman wrapped his head in a towel; Danny Buggs leaned back into his locker, starting vacantly, holding his left foot.
To all of this came one more bitter blow. A few minutes after the final bit of confusion and frustration, before anyone other than the team was admitted, the Cowboys' Martin angrily opened the door and tossed a wreath onto the floor.
"See this?" he yelled at startled reporters. "They sent it to me this week."
Martin left immediately after the gesture that symbolizes what makes this rivalry so special. It was the best he could do, there being no time for a rub-it-in play on the field.
The wreath landed at the feet of reserve offensive linesman Fred Dean, who later spit out: "He ain't nothin' but a front-runner. He made All-Pro on bull jive. And they ain't nothin' but lucky."
Everyone was bitter, but no Redskin was quite sure where to direct it.
"How could the St. Louis Cards call themselves professional players after they laid down like that?" center Bob Kuziel asked. "Our team played like champions. We don't deserve to have it end this way."
Fuses were understandably short. If most Redskin wanted to yell at the wicked irony, Terry Hermeling was the only one who pulled the vent.
"We should have at least had a chance to kick the ball," he bellowed, referring to the Redskins appearing to have called time with one second left, hoping for one desperate field goal from nearly 60 yards by Mark Moseley that never came.
Nearby Moseley was saying "I'd run onto the field. I'd bet there was a second on the clock. It would have been 58 or 59 (his longest career field goal is 54 yards), but I had the momentum going my way.
"I might have uncorked it up into the stands."
When he composed himself somewhat, though he could not stop an occasional tear, Theismann offered the most poignant perspective on the game and the team. Somebody volunteered the game still wasn't over.
"If it's not, why am I getting undressed?" he said, "Where is the justice in this world? This is a team that started from absolutely nowhere and accomplished a lot. But not nearly as much as we thought we should.
"Everyone wanted this so badly. I've never seen anyone play with such heart. Know what this is like?It's like when you fall in love. It's so deep that you fall so hard when it's over. You don't know what to do.
"I love 'em. All of a sudden she walked out the door." A tiny smile appeared. "Now you guys'll say Joe always has something to say, even if he doesn't know what. But it felt so good out there.
"We only had two bad series in the whole game -- at the start of the second half. (On the final play) I turned to the official behind me and signaled time even before Danny (warren) caught the pass.
"But he's not the kind you can talk to. He said just to get out of my face. And I've got enough to do without doing their job, too."
To no one in particular, Theismann offered one final plea: "What's amazing is that we're 10-6 and one of the five best teams in the NFL. And all we're doing is going home."
He chose not to reflect, either on the game or the season. Not immediately. But that would be impossible on the flight home.
Should Coach Jack Pardee have gone for a first down on fourth-and-the-length-of-the-ball instead of kicking a field goal from the seven with Washington down by four points in the fourth quarter? When Mark Murphy intercepted a pass and the Redskins scored a touchdown moments later, it seemed the correct decision.
But the play before, Theismann missed the unguarded Clarence Harmon in the end zone.
And he was just wild enough on an effort to Harmon two minutes before halftime that would have yielded gobs of yardage. Instead, it became fourth down -- and Staubach had time to drive Dallas 85 yards for the touchdown tha narrowed Washington's lead to three points at intermission.
There were all manner of ironies, today and throughout the season. If Washington had scored on first-and-goal from the two against the Saints, it would be in the playoffs. If Pardee had been more greedy against the Packers, pushing for a touchdown instead of running out the clock, the Redskins might have overcome that Chicago four-point advantage.
An hour or so after the doors were opened Diron Talbert did look back -- and was pleased.
"I've always said if this was a rebuilding year. It's been a lot of fun. This is the most discouraging loss I've ever had (though the 1968 Rams for whom he played had a 12-2 record and failed to make the playoffs).
"But it's over. What can you say? You build up a dynasty by beating a lot of people. But the December teams always make the playoffs."
The winner in these Cowboy-Redskin battles always tries for one more telling blow when all but the final score is decided. Martin offered a verbal cleat in the ribs today.
"They deserved what they got," he said. "And they got nothing. They'll be home for Christmas. I don't like them and they don't like me. That's why they sent me a funeral wreath."
In truth, the last thing the Redskins seemingly would want would be to incite Martin additionally . . . But it matters not now.
What does, Pete Wysocki was saying, "is that you just saw one helluva football game." He added: "I think each of us here should thank everyone else for playing the way we did all year.
"We've got some good hearts here, some big hearts. A team concept. This has been the greatest year for me personally. I really mean that."