The Dallas Cowboys still haven't played at Riverfront Stadium.

They were scheduled to play for the first time Sunday afternoon, but they audibled after the first play or two. That's when they realized the Bengals and their fans actually were serious about this thing. I mean, a guy could've gotten hurt out there.

After all, the Cowboys are playing the New York Giants for the National Football Conference East title back in civilization, at Texas Stadium, next Sunday. Why waste the effort on a 6-7 team with a nose guard named Krumrie. Or, as Cowboys center Tom Rafferty jokingly referred to him in a Cincinnati paper, "Krummy."

Krummy made nine tackles in the first half. His Bengals led, 22-0, with 6:13 left in the first quarter. On the ensuing kickoff, Bengals Coach Sam Wyche called for an onside, which the Bengals recovered.

Can an NFL coach be accused of running up the score in the first quarter?

Have you ever seen a team that can win -- and lose -- as spectacularly as the 1985 Cowboys? At least Wyche let the clock run out with first and goal at the Dallas one. Had the Bengals scored, 57 points would have been the all-time high against the Cowboys, whose previous worst was Minnesota's 54 in 1970.

As it was, Bengals 50, Cowboys 24 must rank as the most humiliating, embarrassing, prideless defeat since Tom Landry became coach. The players and coaches should be docked a week's pay. They can't even hide behind the Cowboys Can't Win in the Cold Theory. The anticipated snow was a dry, windless 40 degrees -- a nice day for tail-kicking.

Even more astounding, the Cowboys didn't appear to be mortally shamed by a performance that included four turnovers, six dropped passes, three dropped interceptions and one inexplicably bad interception thrown by Danny White. It got so bad that, with 10 minutes remaining, receiver Tony Hill somehow pulled a hamstring while falling on his head and dropping his third pass. Lots of Cowboys probably wanted to pull hamstrings.

Hope you didn't let your kids watch.

It got so bad that, if you had known nothing about the NFL, you'd have thought the Bengals were the best and the previously 9-4 Cowboys the absolute worst. In the first quarter alone, the Cowboys supplied NFL Bloopers with a year's worth of material. From the first play -- Timmy Newsome, four-yard loss -- the Cowboys were outhit, outhustled and severely outcoached.

This made Bears, 44-0, look close.

And you know what? I don't think it really bothered many of the Cowboys. This team is so Cowboy arrogant that it's almost beyond embarrassment. After all, its playoff destiny remains in its hip pocket. Didn't it beat the Giants at the Meadowlands?

You know how some Cowboys viewed Wyche's in-your-facemask onside and fourth-and-four trick pass to a tackle when it was 43-10? They took it as a compliment, as if Cincinnati still feared another Cowboys comeback.

It was almost as if the Cowboys figured this was just what they needed. Sure, get blown out by a team that was blown out by the Oilers, 44-27. NFL aghast. Cowboys buried by New York and Dallas papers. Cowboys get furiously motivated. Cowboys beat Giants.

Cowboys Theory No. 2: They play best when they play scared.

And you'd think they'd be scared witless after what Boomer did to them. Not Boomer Hogeboom. Boomer Esiason, whose name is as difficult to pronounce as his left-handed darts were to defend. Shades of Snake Stabler. Esiason had time to read Cowboys Weekly while scanning the Cowboys' defense for 15 completions and 265 yards. That's about 18 yards per catch.

The most surprising development in 50-24 was that Esiason had so much time to expose a Cowboys secondary for what it is -- less than swift. The secret of the Cowboys' season has been the blitzes that have freed linemen Randy White, Too Tall Jones and Jim Jeffcoat and confused and terrorized quarterbacks.

But Coach Wyche confused and terrorized the Cowboys with an occasional hurry-up offense and with a blitz-beating quick draw that freed James Brooks for 27 yards and 22-0. None other than 49ers Coach Bill Walsh says of Wyche, "He is the finest mind and teacher of football in the game today." Wyche helped coordinate Walsh's offense from 1979 to 1982, which means he played a part in San Francisco 45, Dallas 14 and San Francisco 28, Dallas 27 in 1981 and '82. Wyche's hobbies are magic and computers, which means he readily can see through Cowboys Mystique, which shields 8-8 talent.

But his players and fans couldn't. They expected the America's Team they'd heard and heard about. Danny White said, "I don't think any of us thought the crowd would be as involved as it was." Or for that matter, the Bengals' defense, which immediately drove Dallas back 32 yards into a safety. When an apparently comatose White went down in the end zone, the place went crazy. And crazy is just the word for the many bearded Bengals fans in orange-and-black war paint.

But please, take nothing away from the Bengals. They were as good as the Cowboys were bad. Their manhandling line and deep-threat receivers are better than the Cowboys'. Their inside-outside tandem of Brooks and Larry Kinnebrew (180 rushing yards between them) is more worrisome than Tony Dorsett and Newsome.

Hey, the Bengals just may be better than the Cowboys. For sure, the Bengals just supplied the Giants with an instructional film entitled, "How to Block and Shock the Cowboys' Blitz."

What's more, the Cowboys admitted after the first New York game that their favorite quarterback, Phil Simms, had "thrown a party" on them. Only Simms' fumbled snap allowed the Cowboys to escape from New York, 30-29. So what should you expect Sunday?

The Cowboys probably are good and scared enough to beat the Giants. But no matter how scared they get, they probably can't win the final game at San Francisco. If they lose both, they could miss the playoffs a second straight year.

After Sunday's exhibition, they deserve to.