Plenty of story lines as Dolphins face Cowboys

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 27, 2003

IRVING, Texas - There are plenty of juicy story lines for the latest Thanksgiving Day matchup between the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys.

How about:

- Two coaches in the spotlight, one (Bill Parcells) adding to his reputation as a master rebuilder, the other (Dave Wannstedt) trying to save his job.

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- Two quarterbacks who sometimes seem to have more wins than fans, one (Quincy Carter) coming off his best game in more than a month, the other (Jay Fiedler) making his first start in more than a month.

- The first NFL game in the state for Miami's Ricky Williams, who won the Heisman Trophy at Texas; last season's rushing leader, he'll be facing the league's second-best run defense.

- Two teams coming off vital, close victories.

Add in throwback jerseys ordered up by the NFL marketing machine, and the result is an intriguing, meaningful matchup - not just something to keep on eye on while feasting Thursday.

''It's cool, it's great, it's fun, it's fantastic, it's exciting,'' Cowboys defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said. ''I've got family back in California eating turkey and watching football. That's what it's all about.''

Motivated by the nationwide audience of family, friends and peers who soon will be voting on the Pro Bowl, the Cowboys have won twice on Thanksgiving the past four years, only to go 6-13 the rest of those seasons, never finishing better than 8-8.

This time, Dallas (8-3) is tied for the lead in the NFC East and is among four teams with the best record in the conference. A victory would clinch the team's first winning season since 1998 and give the Cowboys nine wins before December for the first time since 1995 - their last Super Bowl season.

More importantly, Dallas needs a win to follow up a 24-20 victory over Carolina that brought tears to Parcells' eyes and helped Carter re-establish himself as the leader of the offense.

In their preceding four games, the Cowboys were shut out twice and had two sloppy wins.

''If we want to accomplish our goals, it's got to happen now,'' Glover said. ''We feel like, 'Why not us?' That's been the talk for a while. Why not us?''

Miami (7-4) had the ultimate short week, playing Sunday night, then having to travel to Dallas on Wednesday.

At least the Dolphins overcame a 13-point deficit to beat Washington 24-23 Sunday. The way they won lifted their spirits.

Once Fiedler replaced Brian Griese at quarterback, Williams ran for two fourth-quarter touchdowns, giving Miami its largest fourth-quarter comeback since 1980.

Fiedler, who had a sprained left knee, returns with the Dolphins two games behind the Patriots in the AFC East. Miami is a game ahead of Denver and Cincinnati for the conference's final wild-card spot.

''We feel good about what we're doing. We have to. We don't have much of a choice,'' Williams said. ''We have a good team and we know that. It's just about executing and coming through in situations.''

After Dallas, the Dolphins go to New England, then play Philadelphia at home. Those three teams are a combined 25-7, which might seem like a trap to Wannstedt considering Miami's recent reputation for late-season flops. Miami finishes the season at Buffalo and home against the Jets.

''For the most part, we do have a five-game tournament and the consolation bracket is not guaranteed to us,'' linebacker Junior Seau said. ''We understand that.''

Miami and Dallas have met three times on Thanksgiving.

There was a matchup between the past two Super Bowl champions in 1973; a '93 game played in ice and snow that was won on Miami's last-second field goal after Dallas' Leon Lett slid into a dead ball, lost possession and gave the Dolphins a second chance; and a '99 game that featured Jimmy Johnson returning to Texas Stadium for the first time as a visiting coach, and Dan Marino and Troy Aikman returning from injury absences.