It happened time after time (after time after time) with the Patriots in 2007, and it's happening once more after Brett Favre and the Vikings scored a late touchdown against the Cowboys on Sunday. The score came on an 11-yard pass to Visante Shiancoe on fourth down with 1:55 left in the game, and it put the Vikes up 34-3.
Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking, an NFL veteran of 12 years, took exception to the score and went over to shout at whoever was listening on the Minnesota sideline. After the game, his objection was more audible.
"I thought it was totally classless and disrespectful," Brooking said, according to the Dallas Morning News. "This is the NFL, that's not what this is about. I don't think there's a place for that … I was looking for [Vikings head coach Brad] Childress [on the sideline]. I didn't think it was right."
Brooking likely failed to see the irony in his statement that "this is the NFL." In the NFL, the best team wins. And when the best team is up by 20 points, that team has earned the right to do what it feels best. Whether it's run the ball, pass the ball or show off with some trick plays, the defense is paid to try to stop it. The fact that Dallas' defense was demoralized by the end of the game doesn't change that.
What then would have pleased Brooking? A field goal? Last time I checked, kicking one of those successfully adds three points to the scoreboard. That's the aspect that is too often overlooked by people who shout that teams run up the score. In kicking a field goal from the 11-yard line, you're all but guaranteed three points; in running a play from scrimmage, you're at least giving the defense a chance to stop you.
There weren't many other options, either. Had Favre taken a knee and turned the ball over on downs, it would have turned an NFL playoff game into a youth soccer match. Had he done that, would the Cowboys try to march down the field and score, or would they sense the friendly nature of the football game and order Tony Romo to take a knee as well? Wouldn't that be merry?
There's also the fact that the Vikings are heading into an NFC Championship game, and through 58 minutes, Shiancoe hadn't caught one pass. A key member of Minnesota's offense — especially in the red zone — it's not outrageous to say that the Vikings wanted to get in one last bit of practice before the biggest game of their lives next week in New Orleans.
That's at least what Childress would want you to believe.
"As Lou Holtz used to say, 'It's our job to score points. It's their job to stop us from scoring points,'" Childress said at his postgame news conference. "That happens. It wasn't rubbing it in. It's just taking care of business and being aggressive at the end of the game."
Vikings defensive tackle Pat Williams said, essentially, just the opposite.
"We don?t care what Keith Brooking says," Williams told ESPN.com. "He was about to get his a– whupped on our sideline over there. It don?t matter. Nobody said anything when they blew out the Eagles. It?s the playoffs. It ain?t no regular-season game. If you lose, you go home. We take no pity on them. Do they expect us to? I don?t care about no Brooking. He can say whatever he wants to say."
For Brooking, this isn't over. He pointed to the schedule next season, intimating that revenge will be served when the two teams meet.
"They get to see us [in the regular season in 2010], so you better believe I will have that one circled on the calendar," Brooking said.
And that there is perhaps the most troubling aspect of all of this for the Cowboys and their fans. Here's a guy who is obviously a leader on the Dallas defense and knows a thing or two about what it takes to play in the NFL. Yet even with all his experience, he openly admitted that there is room for added motivation in his preparation. A champion never says he's got extra motivation to win, because that would indicate that he wasn't motivated 100 percent from the beginning.
This year, we know Brooking won't be a champion, and we know that even 12-year veterans can show that they still have a lot to learn.