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Philadelphia Eagles

Return Game Season 2 | Episode 8 | 44-6

May 24, 2021

Return Game: Birds, 'Boys, and Bad Blood, presented by NovaCare Rehabilitation, is the sweeping story of the Eagles and Cowboys Rivalry. T.O. left the Eagles surrounded in controversy, and fuel is added to the rivalry fire when he's scooped up by the 'Boys. In 2006, he was coming back to Philly and fans had their popcorn ready as they watched to see what would happen next.

The 2008 season had many bumps along the way but heading into the final game, the Cowboys (and some specific results needed in a few other games that day) were all that stood in the way of the Birds making the playoffs. Would the stars align for the Eagles?


ROB ELLIS: Welcome Back to Return Game: Birds, 'Boys, and Bad Blood, presented by NovaCare Rehabilitation. I'm Rob Ellis.

DERRICK GUNN: And I'm Derrick Gunn. Let's get right back to it. We are now in the mid-2000s. It's 2005 and the Birds are coming off a Super Bowl defeat. Terrell Owens was wearing number 81 for the Philadelphia Eagles and playing with running back Brian Westbrook.

BRIAN WESTBROOK: 2005 came and things got ugly between the team, T.O., and Donovan (McNabb), and they just couldn't see eye-to-eye on a lot of different things.

ROB ELLIS: And Owens didn't just have trouble with the franchise quarterback. T.O. was unhappy with his contract, and he let everyone know about it. There were all kinds of reports and gossip about what really happened between the Eagles and T.O. Here's what Merrill Reese has to say on the subject.

MERRILL REESE: He wanted his contract renegotiated, which the Eagles weren't going to do after one year. And he got into it. He was suspended during Training Camp and the whole thing blew up. He had a press conference in his driveway and did pushups while the writers were asking him questions. And soon after that, he got into some altercation in the locker room, and shortly after that, Terrell Owens was cut from the team. And that ended the Terrell Owens era.

DERRICK GUNN: Like in any messy divorce, the players chose sides. Some supported McNabb and others picked T.O.

MERRILL REESE: In my 44 years of broadcasting the Eagles' games, I have never seen one player who so totally tore a locker room apart.

ROB ELLIS: That was the end of T.O. in Philly.


BRIAN WESTBROOK: Just imagine all that he brought to our team. Now, he's taking that talent, that inspiration, that leadership, that everything, that Hall of Fame credibility to another team that we're gonna have to play twice a year. It wasn't for me. It wasn't a good thing.

ROB ELLIS: Even after knowing all the challenges on and off the field with this wide receiver, Owens was snapped up after he was cut from the Eagles. And who snapped him up? It was none other than the Dallas Cowboys.

DERRICK GUNN: Kristi Scales says the welcome for the newest Cowboy was lukewarm at best.

KRISTI SCALES: It was Jerry Jones who wanted Terrell Owens. Bill Parcells, who was the Cowboys' head coach at the time, didn't want T.O. In fact, four months after T.O. joined the team, Bill Parcells didn't even utter his name to the media. He just referred to T.O. as the player.

DERRICK GUNN: T.O. had a rocky history with Dallas' fans. Was there any way this could end well?

KRISTI SCALES: Jerry Jones signed Terrell Owens to a three-year, $25 million contract. And so now Cowboys fans are supposed to cheer for the guy that they hated, and, even worse, he was actually really good. Terrell Owens, at his introductory press conference, said it's time to get your popcorn ready.

ROB ELLIS: It's safe to say feelings were mixed about T.O.'s departure to Dallas. Fans loved the numbers he was putting up. When he and McNabb were in sync, you could tell you were watching something special. But teams change, and in the NFL, you learn not to dwell on the "what could have been." Jeremiah Trotter and the Birds had a new season to get on with. So no T.O., but Donovan McNabb was still suiting up for the Eagles.

JEREMIAH TROTTER: Donovan's just a goofy, playful guy who loves to have fun. He's one of the greatest quarterbacks in Eagles history. We won a lot of games with Donovan, man. He was a very special talent. We felt very, very comfortable running out of the tunnel and seeing him come out of there with that number five jersey on.

Lito Sheppard closed the door on a Dallas comeback in T.O.'s return to Philadelphia in 2006.


ROB ELLIS: In October 2006, it was time for the City of Philadelphia, Eagles fans, and the team to welcome Terrell Owens back to town for a Sunday afternoon showdown. Jeremiah Trotter remembers that this particular Cowboys Week was a little different than most.

JEREMIAH TROTTER: There's been a lot of tension in the air. It seems like the players are practicing harder, running harder, getting extra lifts in, the coaches pay a little more attention to detail. And so you'd like to say you kind of got that playoff atmosphere all week, so he's been the whole build-up.

DERRICK GUNN: While the players were prepping for the 4:15 PM kickoff, David Akers says fans were getting pumped in the parking lot.

DAVID AKERS: This one is going to be a little bit more hyped up because T.O. was coming back and there was some animosity. We saw people burning jerseys and all this stuff prior and a little, a little bit on the crazy side. But that's what makes Philly Philly, right?

ROB ELLIS: The hype around number 81's return was palpable. Almost comical.

KRISTI SCALES: T.O.'s return to Philadelphia was an absolute circus from a media standpoint. I did my pregame sideline reports not from inside the stadium on the field, but we set it up that I could be outside roaming amongst the tailgaters, which was phenomenal. A local radio station there in Philly had set up a thing where Eagles fans were to bring their Terrell Owens Eagles jerseys and they put them in a coffin. There were bootleg T-shirt sellers going through the parking lot. And they were selling these T-shirts. I bought two of them. One, they were white with green letters, and it said you can't spell idiot without T.O. That's what I remember about that game is the parking lot, buying bootleg T-shirts.

ROB ELLIS: Inside the Linc, Jeremiah Trotter and the Birds were all business.

JEREMIAH TROTTER: You just try to go out and execute everything you worked on in practice. And you know what's at stake. Not only is it the Dallas Cowboys, it is an NFC East team, and the first goal every year is to win the East. So there's a lot at stake in that one game.

ROB ELLIS: The Birds scored first on a touchdown by Brian Westbrook.

BRIAN WESTBROOK: When you're winning a football game, you work really hard to score touchdowns. I mean, it's hard work. Some drives are 70, 80 yards. It's just a long experience. And so, you know, we can take the lead, it's kind of like, you release yourself. You're happy. You're glad. And you just think that it's gonna continue to roll like that. And sometimes it does, most times it doesn't.

DERRICK GUNN: So true! The Cowboys score. Then they score again, taking the lead.

BRIAN WESTBROOK: When the other team fights back, now you got to go back out there and work hard again. You got to go back out there and try to regain the lead. And so in the seesaw-type of battles, it's, you know, grinding to score. Then it's a relief when you score.

ROB ELLIS: Donovan McNabb scored on a 1-yard touchdown, a moment of relief!

BRIAN WESTBROOK: It kind of went back and forth when you play your division rivals where the games are decided by three points, five points, something like that. It usually is hard to have that relief because they're not they're usually not blowouts.

DERRICK GUNN: Dallas scored again! The roller coaster of emotions continued. They took back the lead. It was Cowboys 21, Eagles 17 at the half!

ROB ELLIS: The game was not going the way the home team thought it would. But they were still in the fight. It was Philly and they were playing at home. There were over 69,000 fans the Birds did not want to disappoint! The third quarter starts with Hank Baskett scoring an 87-yard touchdown, giving the Eagles a slight edge, 24-21. They clung to the lead until the end of the quarter.

DERRICK GUNN: Straight out of the fourth-quarter gate, the Cowboys add three points. The score is tied, 24-24!


ROB ELLIS: About halfway through the final 15 minutes, the Eagles score, taking a seven-point lead. But it still is anybody's game.

BRIAN WESTBROOK: It's gonna come down to the last possession. So you're trying to keep your energy level up as high as you can, just so that, when it's your opportunity, you're ready to go out there and make a play.

ROB ELLIS: But then Lito Sheppard, the cornerback who had that 101-yard pick-six in 2004, was ready for a repeat! Here's Jon Dorenbos, the long snapper who played for the Eagles from 2006 to 2016.

JON DORENBOS: Two things about playing with Lito Sheppard. One, he made big plays against the Cowboys, but two, every time he would intercept it, I loved when they would go on the loudspeaker whatever and they played the song, "Lido, whoa, oh-oh-oh."

DERRICK GUNN: Thank you Boz Scaggs. But anyway, Lito Sheppard picks off a pass from Drew Bledsoe late in the game. Seriously, there were only 31 seconds left on the clock. And he just ran.

JON DORENBOS: Lito Sheppard picks it off in the end zone and takes it for 102 yards for us to not just take the lead because we already had it, but to really clinch it to take the sails out of the Dallas Cowboys. And that stadium went absolutely crazy. Probably one of the most fun (point after kicks) I've ever snapped. David Akers and I ran out there, stadium's going nuts. Akers kicks it through. The rest is history.

ROB ELLIS: The history books on that game read Eagles 38, Cowboys 24. And you are probably wondering how much of an impact T.O. had.

KRISTI SCALES: The Eagles pretty much had their way with the Cowboys in that game and T.O. had only three catches for 45 yards. I believe he was skunked in the first half. He didn't even get any of his catches until the third quarter. Drew Bledsoe was the quarterback that day and he was sacked seven times and intercepted three times. I think that that was a case where a team really did feed off the crowd.

ROB ELLIS: There will always be a giant "what if" surrounding the McNabb and Owens partnership. And for the two Reeses, Merrill and Ike, that is still quite sad.

MERRILL REESE: As a combination, they were unparalleled. Terrell Owens, despite all of the histrionics and off-the-field stuff, was a magnificent receiver. He was one of the most dangerous receivers in the National Football League. During his time, there was nobody better, and Donovan McNabb was an outstanding quarterback. There are people who today do not give him the credit he deserved. But I will tell you that in modern Eagles history, he's the best quarterback this team has ever had.

IKE REESE: There's blame that can be placed on both sides in certain areas. I'll say this as a former teammate of those guys. And I played with Donovan a lot longer than I did with T.O. I just wish they could have stayed together because I noticed the beautiful music they could have made together.

DERRICK GUNN: So true, so true.


ROB ELLIS: Hey Derrick, you are probably wondering what was happening in 2008?


ROB: I think you are! The U.S. plunges into a financial crisis. Spotify launched in Sweden. Senator Barack Obama was elected president.

DERRICK GUNN: Rob, I've got some too. Did you know it was the year Beyonce and Jay-Z got married? Madonna turned 50, and Iron Man and Dark Knight were also released in 2008.

ROB ELLIS: I didn't! Thank you. And for the Eagles, by 2008, Big Red, aka Andy Reid, was in his 10th season as head coach. He was still inspiring his team. Brent Celek, a tight end from Cincinnati, was drafted in 2007. Here's his take on Coach Reid.

BRENT CELEK: The easiest way to explain it. He's like the Godfather. Everyone looks up to them. Everyone respects him. When he talks, you listen. And I just think with the way he handles himself, with the way he handles his players, his players respect him to a whole nother level.

DERRICK GUNN: In Dallas, the Cowboys had another new head coach – Wade Phillips. This year also marked the final season teams would play under God's watchful eye in Texas Stadium. The 'Boys would move into a new stadium the next year.

ROB ELLIS: Brian Westbrook, now in his sixth season, says 2008 had been a bit bumpy for the Birds.

BRIAN WESTBROOK: That season, it had been rough. We had been up and down. We hadn't played as well as we should have played. We had some injuries. Core guys were getting a little bit older, including myself. So we lost some games that season that we shouldn't have lost. And it was just a bad situation for us.

ROB ELLIS: It's true. By Week 17, the Eagles were sitting at nine wins, five losses, and one tie. To add to the general feeling of disappointment, the Cowboys had bested the Birds in their Week 2 meet-up, 41-37. Those close ones can really stick with you.

DERRICK GUNN: Now the 'Boys were back for a game at the Linc. Both teams had lost the week before, the Cowboys to the Ravens and the Eagles to Washington. Despite those losses, the Birds could still make it to the playoffs.

DAVID AKERS: We had the 4:15 game or four o'clock game, and I believe the percentage chance of us making it to the playoffs was 17 percent before the day started.

ROB ELLIS: Like so many make-or-break games before this one, it wasn't just beating the Cowboys that would propel the Birds to the next stage of the season. It was much more complicated than that. The Raiders needed to beat the Buccaneers and then the Bears had to fall to the Texans. Plus, the Eagles needed to win. On the line: A Wild Card spot.


DERRICK GUNN: The Eagles kickoff was at 4:15. The Bears and Texans, and Raiders and Buccaneers both started playing around 1 PM. So this meant a convocation of Eagles could keep an eye on these two games.

ROB ELLIS: What the what now, convocation?

DERRICK GUNN: Oh Rob, it's the collective noun for Eagles. Surely every Eagles fan knows that! Back to Brian Westbrook.

BRIAN WESTBROOK: What ended up happening was those games that we needed to win – the help that we needed from the other teams winning – they played before us. Everything was just kind of lining up the exact way we needed it. So now, our destiny is solely in our hands. Our ability to make the playoffs is solely in our hands. Our ability to go to the next level and continue to run was in our hands.

ROB ELLIS: OK, so by their 4:15 PM kickoff time, the Eagles knew that all they had to do was beat Dallas. Super easy, right?

DERRICK GUNN: First quarter, field goals are exchanged. And then it was almost as if the Cowboys just didn't want to put up a fight.

ROB ELLIS: Donovan McNabb scored, Correll Bukhalter found the end zone as well. And then Brent Celek made a play.

BRENT CELEK: I think it was just a play-action corner route where we're faking a run and then I was running a corner. They dropped me and I was wide open. Easy throw, easy catch. Nothing to that one.

DERRICK GUNN: He makes it sound so easy. Poof! Touchdown.

BRIAN WESTBROOK: There was a point where I felt like I wasn't even playing. I almost felt like a fan, watching our defense perform at such a high level, watching other players in our offense just take over the game. And it was a beat down. You know, we jumped on them early on in the game. And it got ugly quickly.

ROB ELLIS: David Akers kicked a field goal to bring the first half score to 27-3. Jon Dorenbos wasn't in the locker room at the time, but he imagines the theme of Coach Reid's halftime talk would have been something like this ...

JON DORENBOS: When you're playing really, really well and you have a big lead going into halftime, two things can happen: Keep the momentum and come out just as strong or stronger. Or you kind of get lackadaisical, right? The other team makes adjustments and the next thing you know, that momentum shifts, so you have to do everything in your power to stay motivated to stay on top of your game to finish it. And at halftime, that's when it's going to determine which way you go.

ROB ELLIS: Well, at the start of the third quarter, the Birds show zero signs of letting up on the 'Boys. And then there's an exciting play involving Brian Dawkins. Brian Westbrook and Jon Dorenbos explain what happened.

BRIAN WESTBROOK: They were right over a little bit past midfield, maybe the 30- or 40-yard line and I believe Dawk came off the edge in one of the things that Dawk always did, was almost like he flew through the air to tackle a guy. On that play, (Tony) Romo was back to pass and all you see is number 20 – visor, 20 across the chest, biceps, triceps, forearms, just going crazy in tackling him, knocking the ball down.

JON DORENBOS: Brian Dawkins comes in and sacks Tony Romo, causes a fumble, and who scoops it up? Chris Clemons picks it up, takes it 73 yards for a touchdown.

BRIAN WESTBROOK: And I remember after that, I'm watching the run down the field to score a touchdown. But I see Dawkins down on the ground like he gave everything he had to make that play. And I just remember me and Donovan running to go pick him up.

JON DORENBOS: Now, what does this do? This puts us up 34-3 and this is why this is exciting, because this was our chance to get in the playoffs. So if we get a victory here, that gives us the Wild Card berth. And sure enough, every touchdown we scored and as that lead grew more and more and more, all I heard is it's playoff time, baby!

DERRICK GUNN: This is still all happening in the third quarter! The Eagles scored another touchdown and then nailed another field goal. By the end of those 15 minutes, the score was 44-3, Eagles. The Cowboys scored just three more points in that game.

KRISTI SCALES: Honestly, that one I don't really remember as much because the Cowboys got thumped. I just remember that it was decisive for the playoffs, but I really don't have a lot of memories from that game.

DERRICK GUNN: I am sorry to remind you Kristi, but the final score – 44-6, Eagles.

ROB ELLIS: So what does it feel like to win such a lopsided victory at home?

BRIAN WESTBROOK: Well, it was a great feeling because not only did we win, that win meant we were headed to the playoffs. Most important thing in football, get to the playoffs, and then allow your chips to fall where they may. And so, because we had a rough season with a lot of disappointing losses, it was important for us to get in.

ROB ELLIS: The Eagles would continue that season, beating the Vikings in the Wild Card round. Then they would take down the Giants at the Meadowlands in a decisive victory in the Divisional Round. The Birds were knocked out by the Cardinals for the NFC Championship. But fans still remember the touchdownless game of 2008! We're coming for you 2010s! Oh, what a decade!

DERRICK GUNN: We've got more December suspense! I really love/hate when the season comes down to the final Eagles and Cowboys game!

ROB ELLIS: I know! But it's like what (Dallas sportswriter) Schuyler Dixon said about the Birds, the 'Boys, and the NFC East title.

SCHUYLER DIXON: It's been kind of back to the Eagles more recently because they've just basically been handing the division title back and forth for the last few years.

DERRICK GUNN: But we want that title every year!

ROB ELLIS: And I am contractually obligated to bring it up. The Eagles had a critical win over the Cowboys on the road to the Super Bowl!

DERRICK GUNN: I cannot wait!

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