Return Game: Birds, 'Boys, and Bad Blood, presented by NovaCare Rehabilitation, is the sweeping story of the Eagles and Cowboys Rivalry. The Birds and 'Boys take their rivalry into the new millennium and celebrate kicking off the Y2K season with a clash. It's Texas in early September and the Eagles are prepared for anything Dallas has for them including a thermometer that needs to be checked twice to make sure it's accurate!
In 2004, Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens had found a partnership that seemed to work on the field. With a strong offense and a powerful defense, the Birds flew all the way to the Super Bowl.
By 2005, that momentum was sputtering and T.O.'s future in Philly was left in doubt.
ROB ELLIS: Hi there, it's Rob Ellis. I've been dying to do a long run-up to the 2000 season. But first, let's back up to the final moments of 1999. Remember when everyone was partying like it was 1999? Because it was. And some of those same partiers were super panicked about the calendar ticking from 1999 to 2000 and frying all the computers around the world? President Bill Clinton had a Y2K "czar." Even the National Football League was worried.
DERRICK GUNN: They were so worried, each team was asked to designate a Y2K liaison to address the situation. The NFL also told each franchise to check all the components essential to staging a game. The list included stadium services and vending. There were even concerns that turnstiles would freeze up.
ROB ELLIS: The worry was so real that at one point, the NFL was ready to schedule the January end-of-the-season games between teams located near each other in case the Y2K bug disrupted travel. The new millennium dawned with no real problems for the NFL. On January 2, 2000 at 1 PM, the first kickoffs of the new century went exactly as they always have. Welcome to a new century and a new decade of Return Game: Birds, 'Boys, and Bad Blood, presented by NovaCare Rehabilitation.
DERRICK GUNN: I love this period in Eagles history! This is the decade when I really got into the rivalry!
ROB ELLIS: Derrick Gunn and I are here to lead you through the Eagles' rebuilding years and take you down to Dallas and check in on their performance.
HERE COMES BIG RED
DERRICK GUNN: Remember the 'Boys had been pretty dominant through the early-to-mid '90s. But by '99, they lost some big stars to injury and retirement. Plus, they cycled through a fair number of coaches. In 1999, the Cowboys finished second in the NFC East. The Eagles brought up the rear with a 5-11 record. But that's OK. They were in yet another rebuilding phase. The end of the century brought revitalization in the form of Andy Reid.
ROB ELLIS: Reid came to Philly from the Packers. It was his first head coaching gig in the NFL.
BRIAN WESTBROOK: They called him Big Red for a reason. He had red hair at the time, and he had a red mustache. He was like a gentle giant moving around. You see him walking around because, like me, he had bad knees. He's one of those guys that you always just want to get up to and just give him a hug, a good greeting because he is a strong, mentally strong, but just a great caring type of dude. He was one of those coaches that everyone absolutely loved.
ROB ELLIS: That was Brian Westbrook. Westbrook and his still-good knees wouldn't join the team a couple years later but his description of Coach Reid is just too good not to use. In 1999, the Eagles had the number two overall draft pick, which is pretty big. So Coach Reid had a tough call to make, running back or quarterback? Some fans wanted running back Ricky Williams. And choosing a quarterback wasn't straightforward. There were several highly touted QBs expected to be top picks. Reid and the Eagles chose Donovan McNabb, which would turn out to be the right call.
JEREMIAH TROTTER: They drafted Donovan that year second overall. He didn't play early on. I remember Andy coming into the meetings and just telling us to listen, guys just continue to play well, I'm going to right the ship on offense. We're gonna get this team turned around, and we bought in. We went into the game knowing that we had to get at least two or three turnovers and possibly score on defense to give ourselves a chance to win. And Andy righted the ship on offense and once Donovan started to flourish in his position. We started to turn things around.
DERRICK GUNN: Jeremiah Trotter was a linebacker during Coach Reid's first season.
JEREMIAH TROTTER: The defense was playing really good that year. We led the league in turnovers and now Andy was starting to build the offense.
DERRICK GUNN: Kristi Scales, a sideline reporter for the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network, says their team was in a coaching transition, too, starting with their head coach.
KRISTI SCALES: In 2000, Chan Gailey was fired and Dave Campo, who had been the Cowboys' defensive coordinator, was promoted.
ROB ELLIS: The Eagles had this group of defensive players: Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent, Jeremiah Trotter, and Ike Reese. Reese says they were feeling pretty good about the new football year.
IKE REESE: We were excited to come into the season based on the way we finished in 1999. We felt like OK, we might have something. We may have some talent to at least be respectable.
DERRICK GUNN: Philadelphia played four preseason games. They only won one.
THE PICKLE JUICE GAME
ROB ELLIS: The Eagles quickly turned the page on the preseason. The games that counted for the Eagles and Cowboys started on September 3, 2000 in Texas Stadium.
IKE REESE: It's like the first day of school, right? Anything can happen. And so, playing the Dallas Cowboys in an opener is a big deal, right? We know that the game is going to be on TV. Everybody's going to see it. And so they were at the end of the run of being the Dallas Cowboys of the '90s with the triplets and everything.
DERRICK GUNN: Ike Reese just mentioned the "triplets," so that's Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin. In 1999, Irvin suffered a career-ending injury at the Vet of all places. He was tackled by Tim Hauck and went head-first into the turf. This 2000 season would be Aikman's last. And Emmitt Smith continued with Dallas until 2002. But Dallas always had a special knack for intimidating the Eagles.
IKE REESE: And so I just remember that day, being excited to have this opportunity. And we were excited to see what Donovan, our new franchise quarterback, could do. He only played in a handful of games in his rookie year, but he finished well and he was going to get his first opportunity to start the season as the starting quarterback. And I just think we got the game off to a great start.
ROB ELLIS: Reese is right. It really was an amazing game. Let's just stop right here!
DERRICK GUNN: No way, Rob. There are just too many highlights to give up now. We must press on! Let's go to Dallas!
BOBBY TAYLOR: We knew it was gonna be hot. There was a heat wave going on. There were so many people leading up to that time saying, "Well, the Cowboys, they're gonna have an advantage. They've already been practicing in the heat. The Eagles haven't been practicing in the heat. It's gonna be a shocker to them."
ROB ELLIS: That's Bobby Taylor. A Texan and one of the Eagles' starting cornerbacks. He knows Texas heat. And so does Jeremiah Trotter.
JEREMIAH TROTTER: I'm from Texas, so I know how hot it is in Texas. So I know it's gonna be scorching. And there is nothing to be 110-115 (degrees) in Texas, right? So I know it's gonna be scorching, and they're talking about the heat all week. And, you know, the trainers saying we go and drink pickle juice.
DERRICK GUNN: Did Trotter just say that trainers are going to make them drink ... pickle juice?
ROB ELLIS: He sure did. This season-opener showdown in Texas became synonymous with one thing: PICKLE JUICE.
IKE REESE: Leading up to that game, we were all concerned about staying hydrated for the game. So, our trainer, Rick Burkholder, I don't know when he came up with the idea, but they introduced it to a lot of us who had sort of a history of cramping. And I happen to be one of those players, and it was drinking pickle juice.
BOBBY TAYLOR: We actually started taking little shots of pickle juice during the week of practice.
ROB ELLIS: The Texas pickle juice council certainly hasn't done a great job of spreading the word about the benefits of the salty, green stuff.
JEREMIAH TROTTER: I've never heard of it. I mean, but, when you know it's gonna be hot, you try anything to stay hydrated?
ROB ELLIS: And did Trotter drink the pickle juice?
JEREMIAH TROTTER: Oh, without a doubt? He could have said any drink. Hey, does gasoline keep you hydrated? I'd at least tried it.
ROB ELLIS: Gameday! By high noon, it was 105 degrees. With equal parts blood and pickle juice coursing through their veins, the Eagles arrive at Texas Stadium. Kicker David Akers says there to greet them – a wall of heat.
DAVID AKERS: We went to the stadium. It was the old Dallas stadium at the time. We went out there and it was noticeably hot right off the get-go. You know, they had an opening on the top, so the heat's coming in, but there's really no wind, so you just get all trapped in there.
DERRICK GUNN: That's definitely one of the risks of an open roof.
ROB ELLIS: But remember God ... likes to watch the Cowboys melt! Or play, I mean play.
DERRICK GUNN: Kristi Scales was on the sideline that day and has some data for us.
KRISTI SCALES: So officially, the temperature was 109 degrees at kickoff. But on the field, we had one of those little thermometers similar to the kind that you put in the backyard like an outdoor thermometer, and it was hanging behind the bench. And the problem was the thermometer only went to 130. And it was hotter than that. And most of the games that the Cowboys played in the '70s and '80s were noon games and so Tex Schramm made sure that the visiting team was in the sun for those games. Well, this game kicked off a little later in the afternoon. And over on the Cowboy sideline, we were baking in the heat.
JEREMIAH TROTTER: I'm not sure who built their stadium. But for whatever reason, at game time, we were in the shade, watching those guys across the field; they're cooking, right?
AN ONSIDE KICK TO OPEN THE SEASON!?!
DAVID AKERS: For me warming up and practicing, I hit a bunch of kicks, the foot would hit the ground and kind of skim across it. And the friction with the heat of that turf would actually start to melt some of the bottom of my cleats to the point where I actually went and put it into some water to cool it off and switch cleats.
ROB ELLIS: Besides the heat, Akers had something else to think about.
IKE REESE: And we had practiced this surprise, onside kick throughout the week.
KRISTI SCALES: It was a great call and I'll quote the former Cowboy offensive coordinator and one of the great assistant coaches in NFL history, Ernie Zampese, "A great play is the one that you call that works." So, it was a great play because it worked, but it set up the Eagles in great field position and they never looked back after that."
ROB ELLIS: That call Kristi Scales is referring to is one of the reasons this game is still so memorable. It was a decision by Coach Reid and Special Teams Coordinator John Harbaugh to open the game with an onside kick. And who better to start the story than the man who made the kick, David Akers.
DAVID AKERS: You hit the top part of the ball. You drive it down. It takes one quarter revolution, and then you want it to travel 10 yards and land right at the 10-yard mark, if possible, so your guys can catch it there.
ROB ELLIS: But, as Ike Reese puts it, this type of play can be risky.
IKE REESE: So to this point, we've never run a surprise, onside kick at the beginning of the game. So when Coach Harbaugh comes up to us in the locker room and says Coach Reid is thinking about doing the surprise onside kick, just be alert, be ready. We're like, "OK, oh my, wow." I mean that's a pretty big leap of faith. To start the season off with a surprise, onside kick, if this thing doesn't go well, it's got to be like, OK, it's the same old Eagles. So me, I didn't hear him when he said it, but I didn't necessarily believe Coach Reid would call it to this point. Coach Reid really displayed a sort of a riverboat gambler's sort of mentality. But we were about to find out.
ROB ELLIS: Then the news of the play call is delivered to Akers, Reese, and Bobby Taylor.
DAVID AKERS: I mean, like five minutes before we were on the field. He's like, "Hey, we kick off, rise, onside kick left." I mean, my eyes were probably bigger than saucers, right? Then, you know, like, "Are you kidding?" I mean, you're kind of excited, obviously. Because you're like, "Oh my gosh, if we pull this off, this is gonna be awesome." But then, you know, obviously, the little bit of the anxiety comes in like, "Man, do not screw this up, kid. Don't mess this one up."
IKE REESE: We get to the kickoff, and we're huddled up. Coach Reid walks over as he typically does before the kickoff. And sometimes he'll give us a little bit of a pep talk, tell us to go down there and get a big hit or what have you. He comes over. And he says, "All right. We're gonna run a surprise onside kick. Let's run it here. What do you think?" And I was the only one who said, "Uh, oh no, coach, we probably shouldn't do this right now." Right? And he said, and I can't say the exact words. He said, "Quit being a bleep bleep and just go cover the kick. We're running it." So everybody got fired up, right? We're doing it. We're gonna run it. So I'm like, all right, here we go. Let's go through it. I'm gonna do my part, do my job. And hopefully, this works out.
BOBBY TAYLOR: David Akers was our kicker at the time. And I mean, he kicked the perfect ball,
ROB ELLIS: It seems all the time on the practice field, running this play paid off. Reese's fears of the onside kick not working as planned drifted away like a perfectly kicked football.
IKE REESE: It was honestly relatively easy to recover the kick because Dallas did exactly what we thought they were going to do, which was they don't typically watch the ball get kick before they start to retreat to go block. They leave early. And that's what they did. So as David was approaching the ball, they were already taking off. And that made it easier for us to recover the kick because we were anticipating that they wouldn't be ready for it or they wouldn't be thinking about it.
ROB ELLIS: So when did Akers realize the play had been a success?
DAVID AKERS: As soon as I saw Dameane Douglas fall on the ball, and he was really wide open. I mean, the ball could have bounced around a little bit, and we probably still would have gotten it. They cleared out right away. ... It worked out, though. I was excited for it. That's for sure.
DERRICK GUNN: And in the stands? Groans from over 62,000 sweaty fans.
DAVID AKERS: Well, Dallas fans like us about as much as Eagles fans like them, obviously. And they weren't happy, but you know, it's the first kickoff. Things will probably settle in. But ultimately, it was one of those things where the gas pedal was implemented all the way down at the first kickoff, and it just didn't let up at all the rest of the game.
ROB ELLIS: The opening play fired up the Birds and they kept the pressure on Dallas. With just eight seconds left on the clock, Duce Staley scored a touchdown. Philadelphia capped off the first quarter with a 14-0 lead.
JEREMIAH TROTTER: I was just dropping in zone. I was matching number three (receiver). And I was reading Troy's (Aikman) eyes, and his eyes took me to where he was throwing a ball. And I broke in front of the ball. Next thing I know, I was running up the sideline.
DERRICK GUNN: Jeremiah Trotter, the laughing linebacker from Hooks, Texas, started the second quarter with a big play.
JEREMIAH TROTTER: I'm out there playing against some of my childhood heroes, Troy Aikman and those guys. My job on this particular play was to match the number three wide receiver, so you count from outside-in 123. He was split out a little bit. When he started his route up the field, after I checked for run, I started to work towards him. Obviously, Troy Aikman's eyes were looking at the way also. That brought me closer to him. And when he threw the ball, I just broke in front of it, picked it off, and ran, I think, maybe 20 yards for a touchdown. I was excited. I was very it was my first pick-six in the NFL. And obviously, I got one against a Hall of Famer and one of my childhood heroes. It meant a lot and then to add to it, it helped us go put up another seven points on the Dallas Cowboys.
DERRICK GUNN: All Dallas could do in the first half – nail two field goals. The teams dashed off the field to their respective locker rooms to cool down and regroup. The scoreboard read 24-6.
ROB ELLIS: Akers added a field goal in the third quarter. Those three points were the only ones for both teams. The score after three quarters was Eagles 27, Cowboys 6. The fourth quarter got underway. Two minutes in, Donovan McNabb scored! He was having a very good start to the season opener, his first as a full-time starter. It looked like Coach Reid's rebuilding strategy was taking hold.
DERRICK GUNN: Then the Eagles score again! It was Brian Mitchell! Mitchell played for Washington before joining the Birds. He pops up again in a future episode. But he was playing for the Eagles in 2000 and scored a 6-yard touchdown! Dallas just couldn't catch a break until the 'Boys were finally able to get one touchdown.
ROB ELLIS: Throughout the game, the heat was intense. Over on the Philadelphia sidelines, guys hid under towels and tried to stay cool. Oh, and if you were wondering, the pickle juice was still flowing.
IKE REESE: They were pouring the pickle juice into the Gatorade cups. They had it available for us as if it was cups of Gatorade. I think it was Vlasic that may have provided us with the amount of pickle juice we needed.
DERRICK GUNN: It really seemed to be effective. The Eagles were crushing the Cowboys.
DUCE GETS LOOSE
ROB ELLIS: Here's a number for you – 201. If you are a die-hard Eagles fan, chances are you know exactly what I am talking about. This is the number of rushing yards racked up by running back Duce Staley during that sweltering season opener.
BRAD SHAM: I remember Duce as a player. He was just as tough as nails. He was like, as they say down here, tougher than five miles of bad road. You just didn't want to mess with Duce.
DERRICK GUNN: That was Brad Sham, the Voice of the Cowboys. And that day, from the opening kick, Dallas couldn't stop the Eagles or Duce Staley.
KRISTI SCALES: The pickle juice game was the Duce Staley game where he went over 200 yards and averaged like over 7 yards per carry. The Cowboys couldn't stop them. But you know that the onside kick to open the game that the Eagles got to give them the momentum. It was all downhill after that. And it was downhill running for Duce Staley, who had the greatest game of his career. Unfortunately, from a Cowboy perspective, it's at the expense of the Cowboys' defense.
ROB ELLIS: Staley's teammates were equally impressed by his on-the-field performance. Trotter, Taylor, and Reese share their impressions of number 22's game.
JEREMIAH TROTTER: He went out there and had one of the best games ever seen him play. He carried a team just running the ball. And we really just manhandled the Dallas Cowboys up front. He had an outstanding game.
BOBBY TAYLOR: Oh, yeah, Duce was phenomenal. I mean, Duce's a dog anyway, you know what I mean, but on that particular day, he had it going – the runs, some of the screens out of the backfield catching the ball. Coach Reid was dialing him up, and he was ready. I'm not sure what the stats were, but it was one of those games for the ages.
DERRICK GUNN: By the end of the game, Duce Staley had run for 201 yards. For Brad Sham, even if it is an Eagle, credit where credit is due.
BRAD SHAM: When you run the ball 26 times for 200 yards in that kind of heat on the other team's field, then you just took their lunch money. And Duce doing that kind of defined who the Eagles were.
ROB ELLIS: The final score 41-14. The Texas thermometer read 106 degrees when the final whistle blew.
DERRICK GUNN: The Cowboys' players, coaches, and fans didn't realize the Eagles had been fueled by pickle juice until after the game when it made it into the news. The legend of the Pickle Juice Game lives on for Reese and Trotter.
IKE REESE: I don't know the science behind it. All I know is the psychological effect of it was on point, and, yeah, we embraced it. We definitely embraced it.
JEREMIAH TROTTER: Lot of people try to say it was pickle juice that had us playing the way we played. That's, that's a bit of a stretch. But, you know, in our minds, we felt like there was a game to help us turn the corner.
ROB ELLIS: All we can say is whatever helped the Eagles play so well that afternoon, we should have bottled it! The Birds wrapped the first year of the new millennium with an overall record of 11-5. They were knocked out by the New York Giants for the division title.
DONOVAN AND T.O.
ROB ELLIS: A quarterback and wide receiver partnership is one of the most important on-the-field relationships in the game. It can make or break a team.
DERRICK GUNN: Some say it's kind of like a marriage. You know, being able to read your partner's unspoken cues. Maybe even knowing what they are going to do or, in our case, where they are going to throw before they do. It can be magic to watch.
ROB ELLIS: Over the NFL's history, there have been some amazingly productive throwing and receiving partnerships. Think Joe Montana and Jerry Rice (the 49ers), Roger Staubach and Drew Pearson (the Cowboys), Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin (the Cowboys again), and even our very own Ron Jaworski and Harold Carmichael. The Eagles had an opportunity to create another iconic pairing in 2004 with the arrival of wide receiver Terrell Owens.
JEREMIAH TROTTER: It was just amazing to watch them all year, you seemed like they were a match made in heaven as far as their chemistry. Their game seemed like they complemented each other perfectly, just the way, you know, Donovan was able to keep keep the play alive with his legs. And T.O., the way he always gave 100 percent and stayed alive when he saw Donovan scrambling, he will come back. And man it was just amazing to see.
DERRICK GUNN: Ahhh, 2004. You could catch Michael Phelps swim to victory at the Olympic Games in Athens. It was the year of sequels. George W. Bush won a second term. Spider-Man 2 and Shrek 2 were released. The Eagles would return to the Super Bowl!
ROB ELLIS: Low-carb diets like the South Beach Diet were all the rage and let's not forget trucker hats and yellow Livestrong bracelets. Monday Night Football was in the Nielsen top 10! The Eagles had their new wide receiver and, as David Akers says, the Eagles had found their groove.
DAVID AKERS: I mean, we were kicking butt and taking names that year and it was just fun to watch whether you are watching running backs or you are watching, you know, T.O. and the receivers.
ROB ELLIS: Let's back up for a moment and introduce Terrell Owens. He was born in Alabama and played college ball at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He didn't just play football. Owens was on the basketball team and he ran track too. He was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 1996. It didn't take too long for T.O, as Kristi Scales puts it, to develop a reputation in Texas.
KRISTIE SCALES: Well, Cowboy fans really hated Terrell Owens and not so much because he was an Eagle, but because of what he had done as a member of the San Francisco 49ers when he celebrated touchdowns by running to the blue star at midfield. And, of course, it's the famous highlight that's one of the greatest, at least most popular in Cowboys history is when safety George Teague ran after him and actually absolutely slobber-knocked him off of the star.
DERRICK GUNN: That notoriety followed T.O. to Philly. He signed with the Eagles as a free agent for the 2004 season. And there he met Donovan McNabb. Brian Westbrook, who joined the Birds in 2002 to be their running back, describes the early days of the McNabb-Owens union.
BRIAN WESTBROOK: 2004, I think the rapport was really, really good. Donovan was on target as far as accuracy. He had a big arm so he can throw every pass in the route tree. T.O., you know, filled the holes in our football team. Don had the ability to target T 12 to 15 times a game. As a team, we were operating at peak capacity.
ROB ELLIS: Owens helped the whole team up their game.
BRIAN WESTBROOK: T.O. took our practices to a different level. When you have a Hall of Fame talent, he has the ability to take it up a notch. When they talk about some of the best players in the league, they talk about making the guys around you better. And T.O. had the ability to make everyone around him a little bit better.
ROB ELLIS: Well, by November, the Eagles were logging a phenomenal season. They were undefeated. They headed to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers on November 7. It was not good. The offense only put up 113 yards. The final score was 27-3.
IKE REESE: We had a rough week, the week before against Pittsburgh. And it was our first loss of the season. We're sitting at seven and one after that game.
ROB ELLIS: During the losing game, cameras caught what seemed like a tense exchange between Owens and McNabb and the press pounced.
IKE REESE: Outside voices are starting to seep in. And you know, they want T.O. versus Donovan based on what cameras caught on the sideline the week before in Pittsburgh.
DERRICK GUNN: The Cowboys were playing for another new coach Bill Parcells. Their record was three and six.
A MONDAY NIGHT ROUT
ROB ELLIS: The Birds flew to Texas for a Monday Night Football game. We've talked a lot about the frenzy of Cowboys Week in Philadelphia, so it got me thinking ... does Eagles Week exist in Dallas?
KRISTI SCALES: The week leading into any Cowboys-Eagles game, I think the fans get a little more jacked up for it, but not really any of the current players. They're not aware of the history. And as a reporter, if you ask some of the current Cowboys about the rivalry or mention any of those great historical moments that really fueled the rivalry, you'll get a blank stare because those players weren't even born when that happened.
DERRICK GUNN: Oh Kristi, that's a bit disappointing to hear.
ROB ELLIS: It sure is, but I think it is safe to say that Eagles fans are more than happy to be in the driver's seat of this one! It's like there is something in the air here that keeps old and new fans alike hating on Dallas! But I am getting off-topic. We've got a game to play! Kickoff and in the first quarter, Terrell Owens scores on a 59-yard pass from McNabb. So whatever happened in Pittsburgh seemed like yesterday's news. It's now the second quarter. The Eagles score again.
DERRICK GUNN: Then the Cowboys finally get on the board. The score is 14-7 Eagles, so Dallas could still be in the fight …
ROB ELLIS: But not for long. BAM! Another seven from McNabb and Owens. And then another, this time it is McNabb to Todd Pinkston. Brian Westbrook remembers Dallas fans' reaction as the Eagles' lead grew and grew some more.
BRIAN WESTBROOK: Dallas was a tough place to play. They always had fans that showed that they hated us as much as we hated them. I expect to be booed in opposing stadiums because when you're getting booed, that means you're doing your job.
DERRICK GUNN: The Cowboys get another TD.
ROB ELLIS: Then, with 28 seconds on the clock in the first half, Westbrook scored a touchdown.
BRIAN WESTBROOK: I think the most important thing for me was to show my value on a football team with stars. I mean, we had legit stars – Hall of Famers Brian Dawkins, Terrell Owens, Donovan McNabb. We had some of the best players in the NFL on that team. And it was always important for me just to have my name mentioned among the stars that we had on that football team. And so the touchdown was a thing that I certainly wanted to be able to do and help the team win. And, you know, over the course of the season, I was able to score my fair share.
ROB ELLIS: He's just so modest!
DERRICK GUNN: He sure is. He could have really rubbed it in because at halftime, the score was 35-21.
BRIAN WESTBROOK: Because if you are up by 35, that means you went out and you executed well offensively, defensively, and special teams. And so you're excited there's a celebration, then the other component is you're saying, "OK, we can't let this up."
DERRICK GUNN: The 'Boys score first in the third quarter. Are the Eagles going to see their huge lead slip away?
ROB ELLIS: Unlikely! T.O. scores again, his third trip into the end zone that game. And it's likely there were antics or a dance of some fashion. T.O. had a touchdown M.O.
BRIAN WESTBROOK: I mean, he had the flair you know, in oftentimes, why receivers are described as divas or whatever, but T.O. was one of these dudes that just worked so hard. And when he received the reward of getting into the end zone, he showed it off a little bit. To me, he deserved it. He always had great celebrations. He always was doing something fun. You know, we're a team that needed a player like that for us to continue to win.
DERRICK GUNN: Not so much if you're Dallas. And just when you thought it couldn't get any worse for Dallas ... Lito Sheppard.
BRIAN WESTBROOK: Lito had a flair for making plays at the right time. And you're talking about a guy that can get good hands for a DB. You got to be able to catch the ball to make those interceptions.
ROB ELLIS: That's right, with four minutes and 39 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Sheppard, a defensive back from Florida, intercepted a Cowboys pass.
BRIAN WESTBROOK: He had remarkable speed. He had the ability just to outrun anyone in that play in particular. He caught the ball and I think he kind of peeked like, "OK, maybe I'm gonna take a knee." And then he was like, "Oh no, I'm taking it out." And now you're just watching 26 run down the sideline.
MERRILL REESE: He intercepted a pass and raced right down the left sideline, 101 yards.
BRIAN WESTBROOK: I think he ran past a lot of different guys on that play just to get into the end zone. But it was another great play from a very good player. I love the way that he was always able to kind of capture the moment with great play.
DERRICK GUNN: And what about all those long-faced fans in the Texas Stadium stands?
MERRILL REESE: The crowd sits on its hands and gasps.
ROB ELLIS: There could even have been a few tears from the stoic Cowboys supporters. The final score was Eagles 49, Cowboys 21.
DERRICK GUNN: It was a sad day for Dallas.
BRAD SHAM: It's humiliating. It depends how the game goes. Because sometimes scores get out of hand. And so it can be close for three quarters and then one play can change an entire game and certainly a mindset of a game. But what if you've just gotten beat up all day long, and you clearly can't stop them. And the Cowboys cannot stop the Eagles that if someone scores 49 points, you can't stop them. And that's not fun. That's discouraging. That will hurt your feelings.
KRISTI SCALES: That game was so bad that Cowboys Nation has attempted to erase it from the collective memory. So, I really can't tell you much about that game other than T.O. and Donovan McNabb smoking the Cowboys the same way that T.O. smoked the Cowboys when he was with the 49ers.
ROB ELLIS: This victory reinforced the team's confidence. This momentum continued as the Birds successfully wound down their 2004 campaign.
IKE REESE: I think we still hold the record for the most points scored against Dallas in Texas Stadium. We scored 49 that night. And I think we broke the old Chicago Bears record, I think Chicago had scored 40, beating them like 44-0 in '85. And I think we broke that record by putting up 49 at night. So that was satisfying and gratifying for sure. We felt like we were the best team in the NFL. Coming into the season, we didn't feel like there was a team that can beat us. The great thing I liked about that team is that we got right back on the horse. We went right back to work. And that game reassured us that, "Yeah, we are still that team. We're not about to fall apart." And we didn't lose another meaningful game until the Super Bowl.
WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE SUPER BOWL?
ROB ELLIS: The Eagles' magical ride in the 2004 season led them to Super Bowl XXXIX. After a 24-season build-up, the Birds had another shot at the Lombardi Trophy. We all remember how that game unfolded. We came up a bit short, losing to the Patriots, 24-21. But for us, the best revenge is a Philly Special!
DERRICK GUNN: It sure is!
ROB ELLIS: After the Super Bowl, the relationship between Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens took another turn.
IKE REESE: They had some differences.
ROB ELLIS: For teammates like Ike Reese, their differences centered around a common goal.
IKE REESE: I think you had two guys there that were very strong in their beliefs about how to go about trying to win football games.
ROB ELLIS: But not being able to see eye-to-eye on how to accomplish their goals created a lot of tension. It started to reach a tipping point and neither McNabb nor Owens were ready to compromise.
IKE REESE: When there's an unwillingness to want to work through those differences, it's hard to build anything.
ROB ELLIS: And soon everything Owens and McNabb had built – or could have built – would fall apart.