Skip to main content
Philadelphia Eagles

Return Game Season 2 | Episode 4 | Buddy Ball

Buddy Ball
May 24, 2021

Return Game: Birds, 'Boys, and Bad Blood, presented by NovaCare Rehabilitation, is the sweeping story of the Eagles and Cowboys Rivalry. Arguably one of the greatest contributors to the Birds and 'Boys rivalry, Buddy Ryan loved to stir the pot, and fans delighted in what he was cooking. They loved his rift with Tom Landry, they loved it when he would disparage the team in the press, and they loved it even more when he led the team in some of the most iconic games of the mid-to-late 1980s.

This episode is packed full of drama and includes revenge plots, a changing of the guard in Dallas, more payback, and snowballs. Buddy really left his mark on this rivalry.


MERRILL REESE: I don't think he purposely ran up the score. But he put regular Cowboys out there on the field, so much better than the ragamuffins who were playing for the Eagles at that time.

SETH JOYNER: I can remember being on the picket line and the scabs were brought in and I can remember the Teamsters almost flipped over these huge buses.

MIKE QUICK: I run into the end zone and he tries to throw me a pass. And usually, it's gonna catch teams completely off guard.

SETH JOYNER: Luis is dazed. And he is stumbling, he's dizzy. And he is like, kind of stumbling and leaning towards our sideline.

RAY DIDINGER: As soon as the Cowboys came out the tunnel, the fans started throwing snowballs at the Cowboys.

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

DERRICK GUNN: And I am Derrick Gunn. If you've just discovered us, welcome!

ROB ELLIS: And if you haven't already listened to some of our earlier episodes, this is a great time to go back and get caught up. They are worth the time!

DERRICK GUNN: Some see the late 1980s era of the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry as the pinnacle. The reason: Both teams and fans packed so much hatred for each other into such a short amount of time. It was really quite impressive!


ROB ELLIS: It's 1987. Buddy Ryan is the Eagles' head coach. He had one year in Philly under his belt. Before landing in the City of Brotherly Love, Coach Ryan had a successful and sometimes tumultuous run as the Chicago Bears' defensive coordinator. Back when he worked for the Bears, Ryan was actually hired by Papa Bear George Halas. The Birds had wrapped Buddy's first season 5-10-1. Not the best showing, but the team was going through a transition as Buddy implemented the culture he would become known for. His second season in charge got off to an unconventional start. We pick up our story up in Week 2 of the 1987 campaign.

CLYDE SIMMONS: I just knew we weren't playing. So you know what, I'm going home and let y'all figure this out and not come back (until) it's time to play. And that's basically what I did.

ROB ELLIS: The NFL players had walked out and decided to strike because, put simply, they wanted free agency. Clyde Simmons went along with it. But then something changed.

CLYDE SIMMONS: And then I was watching television and watching the circle around Veteran Stadium with the unions and all that stuff. And then it started grasping on to me how important this was to have freedoms and choices.

ROB ELLIS: Simmons came back to Philly to join teammates like Seth Joyner on the picket lines.

"Buddy just stood off to the side and twirled his whistle. He wouldn't coach these guys because he didn't want to give that much credibility to these games." Ray Didinger

SETH JOYNER: The entire team pretty much decided to stay out. It was not very well looked upon to be crossing picket lines. And there was a massive picket line in which a lot of the players participated. We, as a team, made the decision that we were all going to go in together because of what our fan base was like, and what they stood for. And we had to represent them throughout that situation.

ROB ELLIS: So you had players picketing outside stadiums across the country. Huge crowds gathered at some sites and caused a headache for the NFL. There had been a players strike in 1982, but back then, the league stopped games during the standoff. But this time was different. The league decided to find a different solution.

DERRICK GUNN: The solution was to recruit replacement players to play as long as the strike continued. It was the first time in the history of professional sports in the U.S. that replacements would take the field. These guys were considered "no-names" and "has-beens." Plucked from obscurity and thrown onto the field.

SETH JOYNER: I can remember being on the picket line and the scabs were brought in. They couldn't just drive into the stadium. The owners had to have them bused every day for practice. And I can remember the Teamsters almost flipped over these huge buses as they were driving into Veterans Stadium for these guys to practice. But you know, that's the way they had to get them in, or it wouldn't have ended well for the scabs, trying to come in and cross the picket line.

RAY DIDINGER: Nobody liked the idea of replacement football. All the coaches knew that it was a farce and a mistake. But a lot of coaches took the attitude that, "OK, look, I'm going to do the best I can with these guys. I'm going to try and coach them. I'm going to try and make them into a team. I'm going to go out. I'm still going to try and win games."

ROB ELLIS: But not Buddy Ryan.

RAY DIDINGER: In the three weeks that they were together, they were on a practice field, but Buddy just stood off to the side and twirled his whistle. He wouldn't coach these guys because he didn't want to give that much credibility to these games.

ROB ELLIS: Instead of these physically and mentally tough NFL players, like Joyner, the Eagles' squad was made up of these replacements. But in Dallas, the situation was different.


MERRILL REESE: Quite a few of the Cowboys had crossed the picket line.

DERRICK GUNN: Kristi Scales is a Dallas Cowboys sideline reporter. She has been with the Dallas Cowboys radio network for over 30 years. Scales says the '87 squad didn't have much of a choice.

KRISTI SCALES: Tex Schramm, the Cowboys' team president and general manager, really put the screws to the most popular and best players on the team. I'm talking about Randy White and Tony Dorsett, as well as the starting quarterback Danny White, guys like Everson Walls. Those guys actually crossed the picket line. And it's because Tex had threatened to take away their future player annuities.

DERRICK GUNN: Shortly after the strike started, Ryan had to face Landry with his half-real and half-pretend Cowboys at Texas Stadium.

MERRILL REESE: And they just battered the Eagles' replacement players.

ROB ELLIS: One player beating up the Birds was a kicker named Luis Zendejas. Zendejas joined the Cowboys as a replacement player. He accounted for 11 points in that game.

DERRICK GUNN: File the name Zendejas away, you'll be hearing about him again.

ROB ELLIS: While the Eagles were getting thrashed, Ryan thought that perhaps Landry was "running up the score."

MERRILL REESE: He put regular Cowboys out there on the field, so much better than the ragamuffins who were playing for the Eagles at that time. They weren't NFL-quality players. So did he run up the score? He didn't have to run up anything. They just dominated the Eagles. They were just totally outmanned.

DERRICK GUNN: Kristi Scales has a different perspective.

KRISTI SCALES: It was late in the game and the Eagles had a chance to get on the scoreboard again. And so the Cowboys already had 41 points and the game was in hand. But by sending Randy White and "Too Tall" Jones back into the game to stop the replacement Eagles from getting a late score, it helped fuel the acrimony between the teams.

ROB ELLIS: It sure did Kristi!

DERRICK GUNN: The final score – Cowboys 41, Eagles 22.

RAY DIDINGER: They were scoring touchdowns and they beat the Eagles badly. And Buddy just stood on the sidelines steaming, watching this whole thing. So that when the game was over, the Cowboys won, of course, because they had all the good players. And Buddy walked off, you know, shaking his head. Fully determined that one day we get his revenge. And he did.

DERRICK GUNN: The 1987 strike lasted 26 days. It set the tone for a rocky few years between the Eagles and Cowboys with games that really highlighted the rivalry. And the revenge was stoked by Buddy Ryan.

ROB ELLIS: After the strike ended and the Eagles were back together, Coach Ryan was in his element.

NFL Eagles stars Randall Cunningham, left, Mike Quick, center, and Reggie White gather to record a rap music video in a Philadelphia studio on Nov. 15, 1988, with eight teammates. The chorus begins “Buddy’s watching you,” a reference to coach Buddy Ryan. (AP Photo/George Widman)

Eagles players including Randall Cunningham, Mike Quick, and Reggie White teamed up for a song with the chorus, "Buddy's Watching You," a tribute to the head coach.(AP Photo/George Widman)


MIKE QUICK: He was happy because Buddy loved his players. And he didn't want to coach the replacement players.

ROB ELLIS: That's Mike Quick. Quick was a wide receiver for the Eagles from 1982 through 1991. It was common knowledge that Coach Ryan favored the defense over his offense, but number 82 made it into Ryan's good book.

MIKE QUICK: He was great to me. And so Buddy, there's no ambiguity. You knew, Buddy loves you. Buddy does not like you. And there's really not much gray area there. He understood me. He liked the way I play because I know every day I'm gonna come to work. And he appreciated that in me, and many of the offensive guys, but he took care of me. In fact, he told the defensive guys when we were in live stuff, like, don't hit 82. He didn't want me to get hurt because he needed me on Sundays. So, Buddy took good care of 82.

ROB ELLIS: Number 82 would come to be remembered for his part in what unfolded next.

KRISTI SCALES: Buddy Ryan and Tom Landry were polar opposites. Landry was always placid. In fact, he was known as the plastic man, you know, he didn't show a lot of emotion at all. And then Buddy Ryan was the opposite. He was fiery, and he was the perfect archetype of an old-school football coach.

DERRICK GUNN: It's true, Ryan and Landry were so different. And it was this personality clash that helped fuel the rivalry in the late '80s. Landry was a clean-cut military guy. Always dressed to perfection – jacket, tie, and fedora.

ROB ELLIS: Ryan, a military man himself, resembled a feisty bulldog who knew just how to rile up his players, coaches, and Eagles fans.

RAY DIDINGER: Buddy couldn't stand the Cowboys. He seemed to really despise Tom Landry. Buddy didn't like a lot of people. But Landry seemed to be at the top of his list. And very quickly, he learned that in this town, nobody likes the Dallas Cowboys, and so he knew one of the ways to become really popular really quick in Philadelphia was to beat up the Dallas Cowboys.

ROB ELLIS: In the late '80s, the Eagles were playing better than the Cowboys. This was a franchise first. The Cowboys' superiority had waned and the Eagles took full advantage. The Eagles made the playoffs from 1988 through 1990 while Dallas was bringing up the rear of the NFC East.

DERRICK GUNN: Coach Ryan was loving this moment of NFL dominance.

ROB ELLIS: He sure was, and so were Eagles fans! Between the game in Texas Stadium on October 11 and the rematch in Philly on October 25, the strike ended. Players who were on the picket line were itching to play. And the NFL was back in business.

DERRICK GUNN: And Buddy Ryan's anger towards Tom Landry had time to fester.


RAY DIDINGER: It was the first game after the strike was settled. The very next game, fittingly, was Dallas comes to Philadelphia to play the Eagles. So now they're coming into play a Cowboy team that they didn't like, anyway. And now half of these guys had crossed the picket line and help break the union. So you can imagine what the emotional level of the game was.

ROB ELLIS: The game started uneventfully, though. Field goals were exchanged.

DERRICK GUNN: And then the Eagles' score started to creep up.

ROB ELLIS: By halftime, the score was 13-10, so Dallas was still in the game. Early in the third quarter, the Cowboys had made it 13-13.

DERRICK GUNN: The tie didn't last long. The Cowboys slipped further and further behind. The score at the end of the third quarter was 20-13.

ROB ELLIS: Maybe Coach Ryan was thinking about how the Cowboys may have run up the score a couple weeks ago. But as Seth Joyner puts it, Buddy wanted to send a message.

SETH JOYNER: He was big on sending messages, you know, "Hey, what you did was wrong. And not only we're going to make you pay for it, but you can expect that this is going to be the mode of operation. This is the way we're going to beat you up. This is the way we're gonna beat you down. We're gonna mentally, physically, and psychologically demoralize you every time that we play."

KRISTI SCALES: Philly had taken a lead in the game, and could have just run out the clock, but instead, over on the sideline, Randall Cunningham and the Eagles' coaches are plotting a way to get back at the Cowboys and that's what led to the famous kneeldown play or non-kneeldown.

ROB ELLIS: Here's Mike Quick, number 82.

MIKE QUICK: We already felt comfortable that we were going to win the game. But rather than kicking a field goal late in the game, we had this play, and it was called the Quick field goal.

ROB ELLIS: So the play is called.

MIKE QUICK: The ball is going to be snapped to Randall, but I never ran off the field like I normally do. After a third-down play, I stayed over near the sideline. And when the ball was snapped to him, I run into the end zone and he tries to throw me to pass. And usually, it's gonna catch teams completely off guard.

DERRICK GUNN: It's almost as if Tom Landry had a sixth sense about Ryan's plan.

MIKE QUICK: Well, the Cowboys at the last minute, they recognize that we're running a fake. And one of the guys just ran out and hit me. So, we ended up getting a foul called on him.

ROB ELLIS: After the pass interference penalty, the teams line up on the 1-yard line.

MIKE QUICK: Then we ended up scoring a touchdown. It was Keith Byars that ran in a touchdown after that play.

ROB ELLIS: The final score, 37-20.

DERRICK GUNN: Message received!

RAY DIDINGER: Clearly, that was Buddy's response to Tom Landry for rolling up the score on the replacement players. Buddy said, "You know, OK, he opened the can of worms, and I shut it," was the way Buddy explained that.

KRISTI SCALES: It was sneaky. And it was a way to get back at the Cowboys. And I think that it was viewed by Cowboys Nation as alright, here we go.

MIKE QUICK: It was not necessary. But it was fun.

ROB ELLIS: It sure was Mike!

MIKE QUICK: They loved it. It's Philadelphia. And everyone was aware of how the Cowboys had beaten us up down in Dallas. And fans in Philadelphia, they loved it and they love Buddy for it, that he's gonna rub it in their face and run up the score. So yeah, it was a good day.

ROB ELLIS: It's 1988. Ronald Reagan is in the White House. Don't Worry Be Happy, Simply Irresistible, and Bon Jovi's Bad Medicine were blasting from car radios.

DERRICK GUNN: The movie Rain Main starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman was number one at the box office. It had some competition from Coming to America and Die Hard.

ROB ELLIS: WOW! That was a good movie year! On the field, the Eagles played solid football all season. Going into the final December game, they stood a good chance of clinching the NFC East title. And Ryan had been working up to this moment. Here's Ray Didinger with a lay of Eagles land in 1988.


RAY DIDINGER: Buddy had really kind of built his team. He had built his defense. I mean, offensively, they still weren't great, but they had Cunningham, who was a great player. And they just had a killer defense. And with every week, they just seem to grow in confidence and they gained momentum. And nobody wanted to play against that defense because they were so good. I mean, Jerome Brown, Reggie White, Seth Joyner. And so, by the end of that season, they were playing the best defense in football.

ROB ELLIS: A new face on the defense was a guy named Mike Golic. He joined the Birds in '87 after the strike and after Coach Ryan's revenge kneeldown play. The Ryan mystique may have been one of the reasons Golic wanted to land here.

MIKE GOLIC: The thing that intrigued me about Philly was Buddy Ryan, me being a defensive lineman and Buddy being a defensive coach and Buddy having a lot of success as a defensive-minded coach. I thought this was a good place to go.

ROB ELLIS: So Mike Golic, Seth Joyner, Clyde Simmons, part of Buddy's fearsome defense, and Mike Quick, a member of the offense, head to Dallas. Kickoff was at 1 PM. The Cowboys' home turf was not Seth Joyner's happy place.

SETH JOYNER: I never liked playing Texas Stadium for a variety of reasons. You're inundated with Dallas Cowboy fans. That's the first thing and they can be some of the most obnoxious fans and opposition to popular belief. A lot of people think that Philadelphia Eagles fans are the absolute worst, I beg to differ from the Dallas Cowboy fans and they're sarcastic, higher-than-mighty way of being Cowboy fans.

DERRICK GUNN: Oh, Dallas is well aware of its reputation. Brad Sham, the Voice of the Cowboys ...

BRAD SHAM: You know, the old saying about Texas Stadium was that there was a hole in the roof so God could watch his favorite team.

ROB ELLIS: I am going to ask for a pause here so Eagles fans can let out a collective groan.

DERRICK GUNN: And go on, throw in a universal eye roll as well! But the truth is ...

BRAD SHAM: They just didn't want to add on the extra money to put on a retractable roof. But that's the arrogance with which Cowboy fans view their team.

ROB ELLIS: And Joyner says it wasn't just the pompous fans that frustrated him.

SETH JOYNER: I never liked the field either. The field is always like this crown, feels kind of rounded from the middle to the sides. But, hey, it's an opportunity to take down the Dallas Cowboys again. So, you learn how to block out the distractions.

DERRICK GUNN: This game was the final game of the 1988 season. To add to that milestone, it was the game to clinch the NFC East.

ROB ELLIS: The Birds were well-placed to go all the way.

RAY DIDINGER: They put themselves in position going into that final game in Dallas, where if they won and the New York Giants lost to the Jets, that the Eagles would win the NFC East. That final day, both of those things were in play. And the way it worked out, both games are played at the same time.

ROB ELLIS: This was a pretty big game. And then there was the added pressure of having your fate tied to the Giants and the Jets.

MIKE QUICK: That's all we talked about. We talked about taking care of our business, making sure that we got it done, and hoping that the Giants would lose in New York. They're at the Meadowlands. But we felt like we got to go down to Dallas, and not worry about what's going to happen in New York, take care of the Cowboys, and let the chips fall where they may

ROB ELLIS: Clyde Simmons is a man of few words, but intense focus.

CLYDE SIMMONS: We just got to do our part. We can't worry about what nobody else does. No, we have to do our part. And the first thing we have to do is win a ballgame. And went in there with a notion that we got to win this game. So, the intensity was definitely up just even more so because it became like a playoff atmosphere for us because if we didn't win, we're going home.

DERRICK GUNN: The Cowboys scored first. And hung on to that one touchdown.

ROB ELLIS: The Eagles rebounded in the second quarter with a field goal from kicker – Luis Zendejas! That's right Luis Zendejas, the replacement player had been traded to the Eagles.

DERRICK GUNN: The Cowboys just couldn't make any inroads against Coach Ryan's defense.

ROB ELLIS: Wide receiver Mike Quick scored in the third quarter on a pass from Randall Cunningham.

MIKE QUICK: I ran a crossing route. And I outran the corner that was trailing me. And there was a linebacker out there, Garry Cobb. And it was kind of between those two guys to try to get a stop on me. I got the edge. I basically outran both of them and got to the end zone. And I remember high-stepping, spiking the ball at Garry Cobb, because he was the guy who was in Philadelphia for a while that I knew. And it was kind of always nice to get back at ex-teammates.

RAY DIDINGER: And so the Eagles beat the Cowboys pretty handily.

MERRILL REESE: I remember a lot of plays in big games. But that was a game where they just won. And there was nothing spectacular about that game.

DERRICK GUNN: Kristi Scales' assessment of this game is going to burst some Eagles fans' bubbles.

KRISTI SCALES: The Cowboys were awful in 1988. The Cowboys had lost 10 straight. They had lost 11 of their last 12; they finished 3-13. And so when you ask a Cowboy fan about the NFC East game at the end of the year, it's like, "What are you talking about?" That game was not important for the Cowboys. They had been written off long before. I think it's important in Eagles history.

ROB ELLIS: That win was only one part of the NFC East puzzle. All eyes turned to what was happening in the Meadowlands.

MIKE GOLIC: So when you have to win, you know, you got to concentrate on that first because it doesn't mean anything if you don't. But if you start to get a game under control, then you can start to scoreboard watch a little bit to see if it's gonna work out for you.

MERRILL REESE: It was still going on while the Eagles game was wrapping up. So, I described off the television screen, the last few minutes of the Giants' loss to the Jets.

"Oh, hell, who are the Cowboys? We beat them all the time anyway." Buddy Ryan

SETH JOYNER: As our game was ending, the Jets vs. Giants game just ended. And the scores were up on the Jumbotron, so we could actually see what was going on. And I can remember the celebration broke out on the field. As we were leaving the field after the game, when we realized that the Jets had, in fact, beat the Giants and we were NFC East Division Champions.

RAY DIDINGER: And so they actually began having their celebration right there on the field of Texas Stadium in front of all the Cowboys fans, which made it even sweeter, I think. Buddy kind of had a typical Buddy moment there that he couldn't resist taking one more jab at the Cowboys when he was walking off the field. One of the Philadelphia TV reporters said, you know, you won the championship. How's that feel? Feels great, blah, blah, blah. And the guy said, and you did it by beating the Cowboys. Does that make it extra special? And Buddy's response was, "Oh, hell, who are the Cowboys? We beat them all the time anyway." So that got a lot of play back in Philadelphia. That really tickled the fans because not only did he win that division championship, but he was able to stick it into the Cowboys one last time.

ROB ELLIS: It's now around 30 years after the game and to Joyner there is only one thing that would have made this victory sweeter.

SETH JOYNER: Listen, you always would love to be at home in Veterans Stadium, with the 70,000-plus fans that support you all year and be able to share that moment with them. But the celebration broke out, not only on the field, but it carried over into the locker room, and it carried over to the plane on the plane ride back home. It was a big moment because it meant for the first time we were going to the playoffs. It was a big deal because we were making headway from being a bottom-dwelling team in our home division to now sitting on top of the division.

DERRICK GUNN: This game is notable for a reason other than the Eagles winning the division. It would be the final game of Tom Landry's 29-year career as head coach of the Cowboys. He was fired in the offseason. His replacement – Jimmy Johnson.

ROB ELLIS: It's probably not surprising, but Buddy Ryan also seemed to have a vendetta against Jimmy Johnson!

DERRICK GUNN: He sure did!


ROB ELLIS: Just when you may have thought we had reached peak rivalry. It was about to take another turn and the guy at the center – Luis Zendejas.

SETH JOYNER: Luis went down to Dallas and started spouting his mouth off, telling family secrets. The Dallas newspaper started printing, and it started getting a lot of public attention. And that was the genesis of a lot of the turmoil and chaos that ensued during that week leading up to the Thanksgiving Day game.

ROB ELLIS: Luis Zendejas was born in Mexico City. He was a soccer player before getting recruited to be a kicker in high school. He had a brief stint with the Minnesota Vikings before landing in Dallas.

DERRICK GUNN: In 1987, he was waived from the Cowboys. But then the strike started and he was re-signed to be part of the replacement team.

ROB ELLIS: The following season, Zendejas had changed teams and became a Philadelphia Eagle.

DERRICK GUNN: He lasted a little over one season before the Eagles cut him and he re-signed with the Cowboys.

RAY DIDINGER: He was angry that Buddy didn't tell him personally that he was letting him go. He had sent an assistant coach. Luis thought that was kind of disrespectful. So Luis had said a few things about Buddy on his way out the door that Buddy didn't appreciate.

DERRICK GUNN: Zendejas signed his contract with the Cowboys on November 7, 1989, and just a few weeks later he would face his former Eagles teammates in Texas.

MIKE GOLIC: When they say Bounty Bowl, there were a lot of teams that did things like that – put money on hits, but money on players? We knew what was coming.

ROB ELLIS: Mike Golic and Seth Joyner explain one of the most sensitive subjects in sports. This idea of a "bounty."

SETH JOYNER: They've been around. They were around long before I even entered the NFL.

DERRICK GUNN: The idea is players or coaches put a monetary reward on someone from the opposing team. This player could be a threat who needs to be taken out ... or taught a lesson.

SETH JOYNER: Really what wound up happening was someone came into the special teams meeting room, a player, and was displeased with Luis spilling family secrets even though now he was on the hated enemy's team. And that was the genesis of it.

MIKE GOLIC: What is interesting is, if you can say, honor amongst thieves, you can put it that way. You would never collect on anything like that if it was an illegal hit. So does that make it sound more pure? I'm sure not.

RAY DIDINGER: We never know quite what was said behind closed doors. But the word came out that Buddy had let it be known to the players that if one of you guys takes out Luis Zendejas, it might be a little something extra in it for you. So the idea was he put a bounty on Luis' head.

ROB ELLIS: It's Week 12 in the 1989 season. The Eagles are 8-4. Not a bad showing for Coach Buddy Ryan and the Birds.

DERRICK GUNN: By this point in the season, the Cowboys are 1-11. So the shadow of the Cowboys that had loomed over the Eagles for decades was practically non-existent.

ROB ELLIS: November 23, Thanksgiving Day. Eagles and Cowboys fans undoubtedly had polished off the traditional turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes to be in their favorite gameday chairs by the 4 PM kickoff.

DERRICK GUNN: Both teams held each other to zero points in the first quarter. But that didn't last long. Heading into halftime, the Cowboys trailed by 10.

ROB ELLIS: Not a great showing for a home game. But coming out of the halftime break, the tensions that had been bubbling beneath the surface of the Eagles' players reached their apex. Kristi Scales again.

KRISTI SCALES: Zendejas was only on the field one time for the kickoff because there weren't any extra points or field goals. And so he kicks off to start the second half.

ROB ELLIS: Seth Joyner and Mike Golic take it from here.

SETH JOYNER: I remember the play Luis Zendejas kicking off and we're receiving the ball. Jessie Small was a linebacker drafted in the (second) round by the Eagles. He is playing in the center of the kick return team. And his job is to block either the guy on the right or the left of the kicker. Well, as soon as Luis kicked the ball off, Jessie abandoned his responsibility. He just ran straight for Luis and just clocked him and how Luis didn't see him coming is still foreign to me. I mean, my goodness, you kick off for me, is he watching the ball in the air? But I mean, he just almost undressed him.

MIKE GOLIC: He took a shot on that one, that's for sure. And then he came kind of pointing his finger over to Buddy after the hit and stuff, and his helmet was all almost sideways on his head. Yeah, it was a pretty good, pretty good shot.

SETH JOYNER: And Luis is dazed. He is stumbling. He's dizzy. And he's actually disoriented. And he is leaning towards our side. And I can remember him almost getting close to our sideline, and someone on our sideline, stepped off and pushed him back out to the middle of the field and said, "Oh no, you're on that side now."

KRISTI SCALES: Zendejas was staggering. In fact, he headed towards the wrong bench. And they had to turn him around and point back so that he can get over to the home side of the field.

SETH JOYNER: Inside our little world, sometimes it's governed by different rules. And the players understand what those rules are. And when you overstep those rules, there's a penalty to pay for them. So he knew what could happen. He just didn't think because he was a kicker that it would happen to him.

RAY DIDINGER: And at the end of the game, Luis Zendejas is hollering at the Eagles players as they're coming off the field and saying, "You guys, you put a bounty on me," and Eagles players are laughing off Luis, saying you're nuts. And so this becomes part of the whole storyline.

DERRICK GUNN: The Cowboys had absolutely nothing to be thankful for that Thanksgiving Day. The score was 27-0.

ROB ELLIS: The Cowboys were sent home to cry in their pumpkin pie. But for Mike Quick, beating Dallas at home, the best Thanksgiving gift ever.

MIKE QUICK: We used to hear how they left the roof open so that God could watch his favorite team play and all that nonsense that they're caught up in. So when you have a chance to rub it in their face to beat them, and especially on their turf? Yeah, that's a good day.


ROB ELLIS: Between rumors about bounties swirling in the media and Buddy Ryan and Jimmy Johnson's mutual hate, this really helped stoke the rivalry.

DERRICK GUNN: I like to think that Coach Tom Landry left a transition memo for Jimmy Johnson that said: "Keep hating Buddy Ryan!" But knowing what we know about Landry, that's a bit of a long shot.

ROB ELLIS: If there was a memo like that, it should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or on a plaque outside the Linc!

DERRICK GUNN: It was early December 1989. And the city was really leaning into it!

SETH JOYNER: Cowboys week is just electric. On Monday morning, know this Dallas Cowboys week, the focus is just different. The energy is just different. The environment is different on Dallas Cowboys week.

ROB ELLIS: So after the Thanksgiving game at Texas Stadium, the Cowboys came to town for a rematch.

DERRICK GUNN: Clyde Simmons says the team didn't need any juicy headlines to get amped for this game.

CLYDE SIMMONS: It's building because you know, the closer the game time, the more intense you start feeling as a player and all that stuff because you feed off of some of the things the crowd is doing and how they're acting and they are chanting Eagles and (the Fight Song) and you just start feeling this stuff you know that is not just a typical game. But I know it's important because it's the Cowboys.

ROB ELLIS: Even Mother Nature got in on Cowboys week.

RAY DIDINGER: That day of the game, it snowed the day before. And so there's all kinds of snow in the stands and they hadn't really cleared it.

ROB ELLIS: So if you are Dallas. In the 1980s. At the Vet. After it's snowed. With Buddy Ryan coaching the Eagles. WATCH OUT!

DERRICK GUNN: Odds are you can guess what happened next.

RAY DIDINGER: As soon as the Cowboys came out the tunnel, the fans started throwing snowballs at the Cowboys. They threw snowballs mostly at Jimmy Johnson, but they threw them at everybody. And it became a whole big thing. And that's all anybody talked about was, again, it was Luis Zendejas – was there/wasn't there a bounty – and the Philadelphia fans added their own touch to it by turning it into a snowball fest.

MIKE GOLIC: Philly fans didn't treat anybody really well. So Philly fans, I love them. Man, the great thing about them is even when you're playing bad, they let you know and that's OK. But man, if you're out there busting your (butt), you know, they're behind you. And they're gonna love you and hate the opponent.

ROB ELLIS: Clyde Simmons wasn't safe.

CLYDE SIMMONS: Snowballs were coming from everywhere. ... It was crazy that day.

ROB ELLIS: In fact, no one was safe.

RAY DIDINGER: I know that up in the broadcast booth. The game was being broadcast on CBS. Verne Lundquist is doing play-by-play and Terry Bradshaw was doing color. And the fans, when they tired of throwing snowballs at Jimmy Johnson, they turned around and started throwing snowballs up into the booth at Lundquist and Bradshaw. They wound up kind of under their desk calling the game with the snowballs flying and Verne famously said, "I didn't realize we're going to be broadcasting this game from Beirut," which is kind of what it looked like as a matter of fact.

ROB ELLIS: It wasn't easy to focus on the game. Players like Jerome Brown tried to appeal to the fans.

RAY DIDINGER: The officials thought that if the Eagles players actually went to the crowd and kind of said, "Hey, come on, knock it off. They're gonna start calling penalties on us because of your misbehavior. Stop it. Stop it." You know, that kind of thing. Jerome did it. A few of the other players kind of like went to the crowd. Stop, stop. Don't don't do that anymore. Didn't have much effect. The fans were going to do what they were going to do.

ROB ELLIS: Through all this, the Eagles and Cowboys managed to play 60 minutes of football. Wide receiver Cris Carter scored two touchdowns for the Eagles. The Cowboys' running back, Daryl Johnston had one.

DERRICK GUNN: The final score was 20-10, but if you ask players what happened back then, no one remembers the game. But everyone remembers the snowballs!

SETH JOYNER: I remember us, you know, beating the Cowboys pretty handily at home. I don't even really remember much about the game. But I have that memory seared into in my mind of Jimmy running off the field. And he's just being pelted with snowballs from every direction.

ROB ELLIS: Coming up in the next episode. Off the field, the Buddy Ryan era comes to an end. Could this be the end of the rivalry? A dear friend and player dies. Free agency is introduced, and it starts to shake up the league and the Birds. And Jeffrey Lurie buys the team.

DERRICK GUNN: And in the '90s on the field ...

SETH JOYNER: I didn't get the pleasure of getting one of those 11. I got a couple of hits, a couple of closies, but never had the opportunity to get one of those sacks on that day.

NATE NEWTON: We couldn't stop Clyde Simmons because he was just a hell of a pass rusher.

RAY DIDINGER: If you're the Cowboys, all you're thinking about is trying to get out of town in one piece. Really. That's how it felt. And that's how it played out.

back to top