IRVING, Texas -- As the Dallas Cowboys collected milestones such as the best start in club history this season, coach Wade Phillips sure liked connecting his team to some of the greatest squads in franchise lore.
Yet last week, when it was noted the Cowboys haven't won a playoff game since 1996, Phillips sure was quick to distance his guys from the predecessors who've run up the longest postseason drought in team history.
Sorry, coach, you can't have it both ways. After this weekend, the 2007 edition will be linked one way or another -- either as the team that broke the spell or part of the group that's extended it.
Since winning the Super Bowl following the 1995 season, the Cowboys have won a single playoff game, in the wild-card round the following year. Dallas lost at Carolina a week later and things haven't been the same since.
Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith were together two more full seasons without taking a single step toward another Super Bowl. Worse yet, they lost a playoff game to Arizona. At home.
Cycling through coaches and quarterbacks, the Cowboys have only made the postseason twice more. Both were on the road as wild cards. Both, of course, were losses.
"They say, `They haven't won a playoff game in 10 years (11 actually),' but you've only been in four," Phillips said. "It's not like you've been 10 years in a row and haven't won one. Part of it is getting in there. If you get in there enough, you're going to win your share."
Phillips has a good reason for being a bit defensive about this subject. After all, he's 0-3 as a head coach in the playoffs dating to his days in Denver and Buffalo.
Everyone gets a fresh start Sunday, when the Cowboys play host to the New York Giants, a team they've beaten twice this season.
Conventional wisdom says it's hard to go 3-0 against anyone. And the Giants are 8-0 on the road since losing at Texas Stadium way back in the opener on Sept. 9.
The rest of this week will be spent analyzing the matchup and how things might break Sunday afternoon with a spot in the NFC championship game on the line. For now, here's a look back at the five flops and flameouts that have taken some of the luster off the shiny star on the Cowboys' helmets.
Jan. 5, 1997: Carolina 26, Dallas 17
The Cowboys had been to at least the NFC championship game four straight years. The Panthers were in their second year, period.
Yet Carolina's Anthony Johnson outrushed Smith, and Panthers quarterback Kerry Collins outplayed Aikman. Irvin separated a shoulder in the first quarter and Deion Sanders, who did double duty at cornerback and receiver that season, broke an orbit bone around his eye in the second half.
The Cowboys settled for three field goals on four trips inside the Carolina 5-yard line. And the game ended with the Panthers running out the clock a yard from another touchdown.
"I'm extremely disappointed," Aikman said, "as I think everybody is."
Jan. 2, 1999: Arizona 20, Dallas 7
After a one-year playoff absence, the Cowboys stormed through the NFC East, going 8-0. However, they were 2-6 outside the division.
As luck would have it, they got to open against a division foe, the historically pathetic Cardinals.
In their first postseason appearance since 1982, the franchise won its first playoff game in 51 years -- something Cowboys fans should keep in mind during this 11-year dry spell.
Arizona led 10-0 at halftime, then opened the second half with a 74-yard touchdown run, the longest ever against Dallas in the playoffs. The Cowboys lost a home playoff game for the first time since 1983, getting a late touchdown to avoid being shut out.
"There's a lot of pain in there right now," first-year coach Chan Gailey said.
Jan. 9, 2000: Minnesota 27, Dallas 10
This loss was easy to see coming. The Cowboys hadn't won consecutive games since a 3-0 start and were coming off a win. Plus, it was on the road, and Dallas had lost seven straight road games, despite having led in them all.
The Cowboys led this one, too, but couldn't hold on in the last playoff game for Aikman and Smith; Irvin was out since Week 4 because of a career-ending neck injury. It also was Gailey's last game.
"If you don't have that mental edge you're going to get defeated almost every time," Smith said.
Jan. 3, 2004: Carolina 29, Dallas 10
With Quincy Carter at quarterback and Troy Hambrick taking handoffs, the Cowboys somehow went 10-6 in their first season under Bill Parcells.
They couldn't mask their deficiencies this time. Dallas trailed 16-3 at halftime, then failed to gain a yard in the third quarter.
The consolation was that Parcells' teams usually spring ahead in his second season.
"I've got to improve the team by every vehicle at our disposal," he said.
Jan. 6, 2007: Seattle 21, Dallas 20
Parcells didn't get the Cowboys back into the playoffs for three years. Then came "The Flub."
Legend-in-the-making Tony Romo botched the hold of a 19-yard, go-ahead field goal with 1:19 left. He alertly picked up the shiny "K" ball used only on kicks and headed for the end zone, but was stopped 2 yards away, 1 yard from a first down.
Afterward, he sat on a chair facing his locker, shoulders hunched.
"For it to end like that, and for me to be the cause, is very tough to swallow right now," Romo said.
Before this drought, the longest the Cowboys had gone without a playoff win was nine seasons - from Tom Landry's last postseason win in 1982 to Jimmy Johnson's first in 1991.
During this drought, Gailey became the first Cowboys coach to leave without winning a Super Bowl, then Dave Campo had the double humiliation of not winning a playoff game or even getting to one.
At least Campo can take consolation in having won as many playoff games for Dallas as Parcells.
The most dubious aspect of the Cowboys' skid is the caliber of teams that beat them; only the 2003 Carolina Panthers won the following week.
Oh, well. It's all ancient history, right?
Actually, it's not to one member of the Cowboys, the only guy suiting up Sunday who played in Dallas' last playoff win, a 40-15 victory at Minnesota on Dec. 28, 1996. Backup quarterback Brad Johnson was Minnesota's starter that day.
But that can't be a jinx ... can it?