The Dallas Cowboys ought to be lynched for what they've done to the National Football League this season. Hanged by their helmet straps. Or, at the very least, lined up against a wall and forced to watch all New Orleans Saint game films. Which surely would be worse than the electric chair.

If a casual NFL fan -- or even a Redskin zealot -- does not realize what crime the Cowboys have committed, the Cowboys do. Tex and Tom and Gil know. They planned it, 20 years ago, along with a Mr. Big, a silent man named Clint Murchison who mostly provides the money but keeps his distance from the sordid daily details.

What NFL law have the Cowboys blatantly broken?

Only the most sacred one.

You have not heard about The Cycle Law? It's unwritten. But it must be vital, because Pete Rozelle even refers to it every time somebody from Congress wants the Nfl to abide by the antitrust laws. We're different, Rozelle always says. We can regulate ourselves because our rules make our sport cyclical.

Sharing television money and having a draft of college players -- where worst picks first and first picks last each round -- means that every team is good for a few years and then bad for a few years. And so on. A cycle. Nobody dominates the NFL and everybody is happy at least part of each decade.

Wrong. The Cowboys have not played fair. Everyone else has cooperated. The Chiefs and Packers, Redskins and Vikings, Jets, Colts and Raiders. Everyone else who ever won a Super Bowl or played in one has gone at least mildly sour sometime later. Some teams have abided by The Cycle Law better than others, gone sour quicker and stayed sour longer. Even the Steelers seem to be following the precedent.

But the Cowboys -- damn them -- simply refuse to be bad.

And Rozelle and everybody else in authority allows them to get away with it. This is a shocking oversight. America's team must be forced to act like America's economy and at least experience a recession now and then. Pete, you're going to have to get a Bowie-like grip on matters down here and force these renegades back in line.

Everyone else is willing to shove some humility down the Cowboys' sassy throats; nobody else is quite able to do it.

Here is the evidence: for 15 years, or even since they become more than a .500 team, the Cowboys have lived on a success plateau. The Steelers won more Super Bowls and the Dolphins had one season grander than anyone in NFL history. The Cowboys have been better longer.

The Cowboys played for the NFL championship twice in the '60s and five times in the '70s. They might play in their first one of the '80s this season.

The Cowboys have had small periods of doubt, if not drought, times when they seemed to be following The Cycle Law. In 1974, they 8-6 and missed the playoffs. The rest of the league started to get a giddy feeling that the Cowboys were ready to be branded bad again.

That was false hope.

What Tex Schramm, Tom Landry and Gil Brandt did was go out and round up the best draft anyone could imagine. In '75, Dallas drafted nine players who eventually started at least a few games. With 12 rookies that season, the Cowboys made the Super Bowl.

Five years later, as the '79 season melted into the '80 playoffs, the feeling that Dallas would be mortal -- at last -- began to stir again in the NFL.

And for sound reasons.

The Cowboys were 11-5 and made the playoffs, but their vital signs were quivering. Opposition scoring was up, from 208 points to 313; opposition rushing average was up, from 3.6 yards to 4.2; opposition passing touchdowns were up, from 11 to 21.

And Roger Staubach was retiring. He was arguably the best quarterback in NFL history, the one who rallied Dallas from a fourth-quarter tie or deficit a remarkable 23 times.

Roger would be gone this year -- and fans from Washington state to Washington, D.C., clicked their heels in delight. The Cowboys couldn't stop anyone last season; the man who made them go was leaving before this season. And their first- and second-round draft choices were gone, traded for John Dutton, a defensive dud.

Then came Doomsday -- for the rest of the league. Again. Dallas re-signed Too Tall Jones -- and kept a potential Riggins-like situation with Tony Dorsett quiet with a few hundred thousand well-placed dollars. In the first game, the Monday Nightmare, the Cowboys kicked the Redskins and The Cycle Law at the same time.

"You worry about losing 'that feeling,'" said offensive tackle Pat Donovan, "and losing to Washington would have been a real setback. Everybody here had confidence Danny (White) could replace Roger, but you never know until he does perform.

"Our defensive secondary was -- and still is -- very young . . . so that was real tough for them. Monday night on the road -- and RFK Stadium is one of the worst places to play.

"They also did well. They gained their own confidence. And a quarterback like (joe) Theismann, with his experience, he could have hurt 'em. Severly. So a good start in RFK was important.

"And we got it."

And then lost it, temporarily, in a blowout to the Broncos in Denver the next week.

In truth, Cowboy officials are not quite certain just how far this team is headed. It has won eight of 11 games, but not against much talent. And two of the losses have been to NFL dregs. Although a playoff spot seems certain, the final three games -- on the road against the Raiders and Rams at home against the Eagles -- will show the Cowboys their honest level.

It was not supposed to be even this high. Not while a new quarterback was learning his trade full time. Not while kiddie corps in the secondary was getting acquainted. Next year? Danny White is just 28 and almost totally unbruised. The defensive backfield might be good enough to move Charlie Waters to the sideline. There is a full complement of draft choices and . . .

You know the rest. If Rozelle is powerless to stop this dynasty, who can we call? Maybe Willie Nelson. Maybe he could tell mamas not to let their babies grow up to be Cowboys as well as cowboys. Let 'em be Broncos and Redskins and such.

There is one major problem even with that. Willie's as big a Cowboy fan as there is.