ARLINGTON -- The Dallas Cowboys will take the field today against the Pittsburgh Steelers hoping to continue their run to the playoffs.
It will also be their first real attempt to move forward from the tragedy of the past eight days that has them on an emotional roller coaster they have never experienced.
The death of linebacker Jerry Brown, his memorial on Tuesday and the status of nose tackle Josh Brent -- charged with intoxication manslaughter in the death of his best friend and teammate -- will certainly cast a shadow on the rest of the Cowboys' season, no matter how they finish.
"Oh, yeah, it is absolutely that," said coach Jason Garrett, whose leadership and handling of the team during this trying situation has already been hailed as the crowning moment of his coaching tenure. "It's an ongoing thing for a long, long time for everybody. Nobody who is associated with this organization, this football team who knows Jerry and Josh and this situation, this tragedy will ever really be the same as a result of it."
The Cowboys (7-6) will use football to take their minds off the tragedy and to continue living. Making a run to the playoffs -- the Cowboys probably need to win the final three games, starting against the Steelers (7-6) -- is the best way they feel they can honor Brown.
Still, some things can never be forgotten.
No one knows that more than former Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson. The recent events have forced him to relive his own personal apocalypse from March 23, 1984, when he fell asleep at the wheel, ran into a tractor trailer on Interstate 635, killing his younger brother Carey Mark, 27.
Pearson, who underwent surgery to stop bleeding in his liver, suffered what turned out to be career-ending injuries in the crash at the age of 33.
"It was a big turning point in the life of Drew Pearson. It's going to be a big turning point for Josh Brent," said Pearson, who is in the club's Ring of Honor. "Guilt is the No. 1 feeling you feel. That is what Josh feels. Why was Jerry's life taken and not mine? It was the same with me. All I had to do was give up an NFL career. He gave up his life. You feel guilt for your family and friends. You took someone away from them that they loved. That guilt will be deep rooted and will be with him for the rest of his life."
That guilt can lead to loneliness, depression and despair. It happened to Pearson and it will likely happen to Brent. That is why Pearson applauds the Cowboys and the players for vowing to stay connected with him as he goes through this ordeal -- despite their need to focus on the playoff chase.
Brent, who is out on bail and facing up to 20 years in prison, has been placed on the reserve/non-football injury/illness list. He is allowed to continue coming to the team facility as he awaits trial. The Cowboys players say they will continue to treat him like family.
Pearson said the only way he made it through and is still surviving today was because of the support of his teammates and Coach Tom Landry.
"That guilt can be depressing and overwhelming," Pearson said. "It was for me. It took me awhile to realize I was depressed. I was eventually able to deal with it because of friends, family, teammates, the fans and my coaches. They were there for me, comforting me. It's good therapy to talk about it. I still deal with it every day, every time I get out of my garage and get in my car. Every time I pass the scene of the accident on 635, I want to cry."
Pearson has not talked to anyone on the Cowboys about his own experiences, but he has watched from afar. He said he is most impressed with Garrett, who has reminded him of how Landry handled his tragedy.
"Coach Landry was there with me [in the hospital] on a continuous basis," Pearson said. "I didn't know he would be there. I didn't know he felt that close. We were starting minicamp that Monday after the accident. He addressed the team and then left to be with me at the hospital. To me, there were a lot of similarities with the way Garrett handled the team this past week. He struck the right chord trying to balance what was right for the family and the team."
Doing what's right for the Cowboys now, according to Garrett, is trying to play their best football against the Steelers.
The Cowboys played on an emotional high in last week's victory over Cincinnati -- less than 24 hours after being told of the tragedy. They have more time to process the situation, letting the reality set in. Garrett said he hopes there won't be an emotional letdown today.
"We are still working through that very human situation we went through," Garrett said. "At the same time, we all have jobs to do."
The schedule and preparation is back to normal -- unlike last week, when the Cowboys suspended their normal pregame rituals of football-centered meetings on Saturday night.
Cornerback Brandon Carr watched from afar as his former team, the Kansas City Chiefs, went through a similar situation the week before. They gave an inspired effort in beating the Carolina Panthers the day after learning that teammate Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins before committing suicide at the team facility. The Chiefs had an emotional letdown in a loss to the Cleveland Browns a week later.
Carr, the only player in the league directly connected to both tragedies in Kansas City and Dallas, said moving on and playing with inspired effort is the only choice.
"I guess it's always a possibility of a letdown and all those things," Carr said. "I've found some peace and hope guys have been progressing in their grieving process. Life continues on. The best thing we can do is try to continue on and celebrate their lives, and remember them every time you step on the field and just cherish the moments we have out there and take advantage of it and take care of business."
Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760