Over the last 30 years, the Cowboys and Eagles have enjoyed one of the NFL's fiercest rivalries, featuring revenge games, bounties on kickers, and playoff eliminations. On Sunday night, we will be treated to one of the least meaningful contests the two organizations have played in decades.
The Cowboys and Eagles will lock horns once again on Sunday night, in a nationally televised game on the biggest of stages. Such a game usually has the network bean counters in a tizzy, because these teams not only come from big television markets, but also are such fierce rivals, with a storied history. Since the Cowboys came into the league in 1960 (coincidentally the last time the Eagles won a championship), these two teams have enjoyed some great moments, each of which has served to heighten the rivalry. To wit:
The 1980 NFC Championship Game: After losing to the Cowboys with staggering regularity for almost fifteen years (the Eagles beat the Cowboys only three times from 1967-79!), the Eagles, under coach Dick Vermeil, were resurgent. In 1980, Philly won the NFC East crown due to tie-breakers (both teams were 12-4 and split their two meetings, but the Eagles scored more points). After playoff wins, the two teams faced each other in Philadelphia, with the Eagles forcing Dallas to wear their unlucky blue jerseys. Thanks to Wilbert Montgomery and a stifling defense, the Eagles defeated the Cowboys 20-7.
The 1991 Turnaround: In week three of the 1991 season, the Eagles pounded the Cowboys, sacking Aikman eleven times in a 24-0 victory. Three months later, in the season's penultimate contest, however, Dallas entered Veterans Stadium with a chance at their first playoff berth since 1985. The Cowboys gritty defense kept the game close and Kelvin Martin broke open a defensive struggle with a stunning 89-yard punt return for a touchdown to a 25-13 victory. To further sweeten the pot, the loss knocked the Eagles out of the playoffs.
The 90s Dynasty Teams Make Reggie White Cry: The Cowboys ousted two of the best teams the Eagles have fielded from the divisional round of the playoffs by decisive scores in both 1992 (34-10) and 1995 (30-11). Want some more sugar in that coffee? In both seasons, the Eagles had to watch Dallas go on to capture Super Bowl Championships. By 1995, Philly's All-world defensive tackle Reggie White had moved on to Green Bay; after crushing the Eagles, Dallas beat the Packers 38-27 in the NFC Championship Game.
44-6: In the final week of the 2008 season, the Cowboys traveled to Philadelphia with a wild card playoff berth on the line. The Eagles jumped out to a 27-3 halftime lead on their way to a blowout of the Cowboys, who looked like they had simply quit on Dallas head coach Wade Phillips.
Sweeeeeep!: In 2009, still stinging from the 2008 season's ignominious ending, the Cowboys swept the season series from Philadelphia, winning in Philly in October, 20-16, and then closing out the season with a dominating 24-0 home victory in the regular-season finale. As a result, Dallas earned a wild card round rematch with the Eagles. For the third time that year, the Cowboys beat the Eagles, and even more soundly than they had the previous week. The Cowboys scored 27 second-quarter points en route to a 34-14 drubbing of the hated birds.
The simple fact is that both of these organizations have frequently been good--since 1970, they have 23 division titles and 43 total playoff berths between them. And, they have often been good at the same time, which is why they have often faced each other in playoff games, or games with playoff implications. As a result, both teams - and especially both fan bases - have no great affection for one another. Need I remind you of this NFL Films classic?
This Sunday's contest isn't likely to elicit such a lofty emotional response, largely because neither team is having anywhere near the kind of season their fans had envisioned back in August. As we know, the greatest pessimist is the disappointed optimist; with Dallas at 5-6 and Philadelphia nursing a seven-game losing streak, I think both fan bases fall into this category. ESPN NFL East blogger Dan Graziano came up with the following statistical nugget that underscores just how rare this is:
But wait, there's more. As Graziano notes, this is the second time this season that the two teams have brought losing records to the contest. What was the last season that the Eagles and Cowboys each had losing records both times they faced off? 1963. Yes, that's right, it's been 49 years (!) since the Eagles and Cowboys brought losing records to both of their games with each other. In other words, Sunday night's tilt will offer a rare, rare moment in the history between these two teams.
I'd suggest that we should savor it, but, well, you know...