In a year where the NFC East is the football embodiment of a garbage can, in a year where injuries have plagued both teams and where “underwhelming” and “below expectations” seem to be the newspaper headlines, there is really only one thing that matters when the Philadelphia Eagles travel to Texas to take on the hated Dallas Cowboys this Sunday. There’s only one rallying cry that will be heard in South Philly and beyond, as a miniature version of a collegiate rivalry week is in full swing. There are only two words that can accurately describe this game and really, only two words are needed.
The New York Mets could have won the World Series. The Phillies could have re-inked Ruben Amaro. The New York Giants could have pulled out that game against the Saints. Sam Bradford could have agreed to that four-year, $18 million per year contract extension. The Flyers could have lost that shootout against the New York Rangers. Domonic Brown could still be a Phillie.
As bad as all of those things would have been, and some are just too terrible to even think about, in the eyes of a true-blue Philadelphia sports fan, if any of those things happened, there would still be something worse, that of course being to get swept by the Cowboys for the third time since the 2010 season.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Obviously Amaro still being here is by far the worst, but you get the point.
Preseason goals are simple and never change from year to year: Make the playoffs, win the division, go to the Super Bowl, win the Super Bowl, beat the Cowboys.
And that’s not just what the fans want to see, it’s in the mindset of the players. Most will tell you, at least on the record and during their playing days, that the games against Dallas are just the same as other games and that as Chip Kelly himself said before this season’s first head-to-head in September, that there is no added motivation when the Cowboys come to town or vice versa. However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to sense that behind closed doors, the games against as Dallas are as much circled on the team’s calendar as they are on each of ours.
Partially because players learn quickly just how much it means to the fans when they actually do beat Dallas.
Linebacker Mychal Kendricks had this to say about Dallas last season:
“A division game, on Thanksgiving and we’ve got a lot at stake. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I think everybody is excited about this game. We’re always excited, don’t get me wrong, but it’s Dallas and for us, for the fans, that’s the rivalry team. Let’s get it on.”
“The first thing they said was, ‘Welcome, great that you’re an Eagle. Just make sure you beat the Cowboys.’ You kind of start to understand the nuances of the rivalry and just how big it is immediately. Then you take into account how historical this division is and how Eagles-Cowboys games always seem to have something special going on, and the fact that this year we’re both 8-3, yeah, we know it’s big. And we know how the fans feel about it.”
Putting aside the just general hatred and disdain the two fan bases and sometimes franchises, have had for one another, there is the added element of competition. Rivalries are marked by at least one of three characteristics including history, proximity and an actual sense that the teams are on a level playing field. The Cowboys own the 112 meetings 63-49 in the four-decade long rivalry, but only once, in the 1970s, was one side really so dominant over the other. If you were to subtract the 17-3 Cowboys record during that decade, the total would stand at a dead-even 46 wins for each team. And really, that is more indicative of what this rivalry has been.
The Eagles and Cowboys have put each other through hell and over the past 30 years in particular, have become one of the NFL’s most high profile rivalries. The games are always marked by bitterness, whether it arises prior to kick-off with trash talking or at some point during the game, such as when Terrell Owens, still with the Eagles, celebrated a touchdown on the Dallas star or when Michael Irvin suffered a career-ending injury only to have his ailment cheered by fans, or even afterwards, such as Bounty Bowls I and II in which Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson alleged the Eagles have taken bounties out on players including Cowboys’ QB Troy Aikman.
No matter the game, no matter the perceived “it’s nothing special” mentality, there’s a grittiness and a tension just waiting to be unlocked. Like an open wound, if it’s poked at too many times, it’s going to start to bleed, be it blue or green.
Such will be the case on Sunday. At this point, both teams, who were in the preseason top-1o for odds to win the Super Bowl, are not where they wanted to be. Injuries have plagued both rosters as have disappointing performances from top guys. But in spite of their miserable failings, the Eagles and Cowboys are remarkably still in playoff contention. In fact, a loss from both the Giants and Redskins coupled with an Eagles win, actually puts Philly at the top of the standings, at a less than modest 4-4 record. So while the teams aren’t exactly playing for supremacy there will still be a sense of urgency, especially for the Cowboys, who have lost every single game since Tony Romo got injured. This is basically a must-win for them, all the more reason why the Eagles and their fans will want to see Dallas’ hopes dashed on their own home turf.
Additionally, this game has the added element of DeMarco Murray, the latest player to cross the battle lines in the rivalry’s history. Murray will be playing his first game back at his old home stadium and after a lackluster showing the first time he went against his old team, last year’s NFL leading rusher will be looking to get back to those kind of numbers. If for nothing else other than to prove, in front of the Dallas fans, that the team made a mistake in letting him go.
It wouldn’t matter if both teams were winless or if they had no hope of winning the division, Eagles fans are always going to want to defeat the Cowboys, just that much more than any other team on the schedule. They are always going to celebrate that win just a little more, enjoy it just a little longer.
Beat Dallas. It doesn’t matter how, it doesn’t matter where, it doesn’t matter when and it certainly doesn’t matter why. All that matters is that it happens. It doesn’t get more simple than that.