WHEN THE INACTIVES were announced over the press box PA a couple of hours before history was written at the Linc, I thought there was a glaring omission on the Eagles list. They saved the mild surprise for last, L.J. Smith. And if you watched the tight end mishandle the football like a cross between a greased pig and a live grenade in the Redskins debacle, you were hardly shocked.

But where was the most obvious inactive? Where was Andy

Reid? The coach had dropped the ball week after week in his never-ending, seldom-accomplished goal of "putting players in better position to win."

Ninety-seven years after the World Champion Philadelphia Athletics had a player nicknamed "Home Run" Baker, the Eagles have a coach who should have been nicknamed "No Run Reid."

Imagine a five number combination lock on a safe filled with diamonds - or Super Bowl tickets, if you will. The first four numbers had been dialed into place and it was up to the Eagles to give it one twirl to hit the number that would click the tumblers and swing open the door to January and the Feb. 1 grail in Tampa.

On that one twirl, either Minnesota or Chicago had to lose and the Bears obliged, coughing up an early 10-0 fourth-quarter lead to the Texans. The Vikes pulled it out. The Tampa Bay Bucs had to lose at home to coach Jon Gruden's former team, the Oakland

Raiders. The Bucs obliged, completing a December swoon that was almost Mets-esque.

Suddenly, the Eagles, enduring the first fan mutiny of the Andy Reid era, were eyeball-to-eyeball with the Dallas Cowboys. They were All-In in a game of Texas Hold 'Em when the Birds awoke on a warm, windy morning holding a pair of deuces.

Click . . . The tumblers turned. Slap . . . The River Card was dealt. Two of spades.

All that remained to seal the wacky drama of one of the most bizarre Sundays in Eagles' franchise history was a little matter of pistol-whipping the despised Cowboys.

And what were the odds that the game itself will be known forever in the Metroplex as "The Alamo in South Philly?" Eagles 44, Cowboys 6. At halftime, it was 27-3. Who knew tight end Brent Celek would score on a 1-yard Donovan McNabb pass into the end zone with 15 seconds remaining in the half to give the Birds a 24-3 lead? Or that with 3 seconds on the clock the Eagles would recover a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and David Akers would drill a 50-yard field goal? Just your basic 10 points in 15 seconds gambit - or seven more points than the Eagles managed in 60 minutes of football futility in FedEx Field last Sunday.

By that stage of the epic rout it was hardly a surprise that the first two scores of the second half represented a staggering 169 yards in returns of Cowboys' coughups that seemed to originate deep in the lower intestines. The first, 73 rambling, shambling yards by Chris Clemons, a 240-pound defensive end, the second, a scoop and scoot by Joselio Hanson, a nimble 185-pound cornerback. As Hanson breezed into Cowboys territory at the spear point of a phalanx of blockers, Tony Romo, the windburned quarterback, slowed, quit and looked for all the world like a small boy curbside at a Fourth of July parade as Joselio and friends steamed by.

A crowd that seemed cheerfully resigned during tailgate time to rooting for an Eagles team playing out an unraveled string just to knock Dallas out of the wild-card berth was totally, insanely bonkers, high-fiving, chest-bumping, howling through all but the dregs of the epic humiliation. Coach Wade Phillips will be lucky to survive the New Year after this chubby knee to the groin of owner Jerry Jones.

No need for me to parse Andy's cheery postgame barrage of verbal Flit, aimed, as always, at muting the insect whine of the uninformed. Time is his for another week. Maybe for more than another week, if a 44-6 annihilation of a hated division rival was foreshadowing.

But if there were anything at all to be taken from this latest day-of-the-blue-snow, it was this: There is no team in the NFL at the moment - from resurgent Miami, a 2007 doormat, to the very beatable New York Giants - that is close to being a Super Bowl lock. Pick a number. Not flawed AFC powers Pittsburgh - manhandled by the Eagles' defense here - Indianapolis, or last year's can't miss, invulnerable - not - New England steamroller.

There are 12 teams left standing with not a lock in the Dirty Dozen. The Eagles squad that was wheeled into the Linc yesterday, the 1 o'clock elimination games about to unfold, had been given last rites. Emotional triage was set up in the locker room.

Now . . . Now?

Permit me to borrow a famous line from departed friend and Hall of Fame baseball announcer Jack Buck:

"I can't believe what I just saw . . . " *

Send e-mail to bill1chair@aol.com.

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