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Philadelphia Eagles

Return Game Season 2 | Episode 1 | The Hit That Started It All

The Hit that Started It All
May 24, 2021

Return Game: Birds, 'Boys, and Bad Blood, presented by NovaCare Rehabilitation, is the sweeping story of the Eagles and Cowboys rivalry. The 1960s saw the Philadelphia Eagles experience a stretch of highs and lows. They opened the decade as World Champions, but by the end of the decade, the team was struggling to post a winning record.

That indifference ended and the bad blood began all in one fateful game at the Cotton Bowl in December 1967. Hear the story of the play that started it all – the spark from which this rivalry was born.


ROB ELLIS: Eagles fans say it really was the hit that started it all.

GARY PETTIGREW: The first thing you saw was Timmy getting up off the ground with blood streaming out of his mouth and his helmet off.

ROB ELLIS: It was December 1967. The Philadelphia Eagles had landed at the Cotton Bowl to take on the Dallas Cowboys. The weather was just about football perfect, 44 degrees with light wind. The Eagles had been playing better than they had in years. In an earlier matchup that season, Philadelphia beat Dallas 21-14. So the Birds were feeling confident.

RON MEDVED: Dallas was always the number one game on the schedule in terms of competition. The losses were so painful. And the wins were so sweet. It just sort of naturally became a super, super rivalry for me.

DERRICK GUNN: But Dallas being Dallas was not going to let the Eagles take them down at home. For the Cowboys, it was time to bring it ... and bring it they did.

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

DERRICK GUNN: And I am Derrick Gunn.

ROB ELLIS: We are here to take you behind the scenes of this volatile contest between the Birds and the 'Boys. It's a rivalry that has lasted for over five decades. With no signs of letting up!

ROB ELLIS: For the Eagles, the 1960s were filled with a few ups and a few downs. But the decade started with a huge up. Eagles historian Ray Didinger starts there.


RAY DIDINGER: Well, the 1960 team was a sort of a genie-in-a-bottle kind of team. They weren't the best team in football. The players themselves will even tell you that. But it was one of those years where everything kind of broke their way. Their best players had great seasons all at once. They got a few lucky breaks; they will admit that. But they just got on a roll and just built confidence and built momentum and rolled right through the season.

DERRICK GUNN: One of the teams the Eagles had to roll right over was a new team out of Dallas. Lamar Hunt was the guy at the center of the story. Joe Horrigan, the retired Pro Football Hall of Fame executive director, takes it from here.

JOE HORRIGAN: In 1960, Lamar Hunt was actually trying to get a franchise in the National Football League. Twenty-seven-year-old oil-rich billionaire, but he couldn't find room. There was no room in the house. George Halas didn't want to expand, and he was kind of in charge of the expansion committee.

ROB ELLIS: If that name George Hallas rings a bell, it's because he is the legendary founder and owner of the Chicago Bears. Hunt thought, OK, NFL. If you aren't going to let me have a team, I'll show you.

DERRICK GUNN: Hunt was raised in Texas, so he knew that Texas and Texans love football. But it was mostly high school and college. But they didn't have a pro team, so Lamar Hunt wanted his franchise to be in Dallas.

JOE HORRIGAN: He decided that he would form his own league. It was called the American Football League. Now we know it is the American Football Conference. and reached out to a couple of others that had similar failures of trying to expand franchises.

DERRICK GUNN: And one of those guys was Bud Adams, the man who would become the owner of the Houston Oilers.

JOE HORRIGAN: The National Football League, when they realized that Lamar Hunt is going to actually form this new league and might make a go of it, they started saying, "Well, what can we do to stop it?"

ROB ELLIS: Turns out George Halas had a plan. He approached Bud and Lamar with an offer. Would they be willing to kill their idea of a new league for franchises of their own in the NFL? It was what they had wanted all along. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

DERRICK GUNN: Bud and Lamar said, "No, thank you." They had given their word. Halas did not like this, so the NFL decided to try something else.

JOE HORRIGAN: The NFL then stole one of the AFL franchise pledges Max Winters, who was going to have the Minneapolis, Minnesota franchise, and offered him an opportunity to join the NFL in '61 if he would bail out of the AFL, which he did.

DERRICK GUNN: But Halas and the NFL were not ready to give up on their plans to derail Hunt and the AFL.

JOE HORRIGAN: They gave Clint Murchison a franchise for Dallas.

ROB ELLIS: Murchinson was rich on his dad's money. And when he got this offer to have a franchise in Dallas, he jumped on it.

JOE HORRIGAN: That's really how Dallas got there, as an expansion team in '60 to thwart the efforts of the American Football League to have a franchise in that city.

DERRICK GUNN: Murchison had his team, but the newly minted Cowboys didn't have a place to play.

RAY DIDINGER: They didn't have a stadium, really. So they had to play at the Cotton Bowl at that time, which was a college facility. And it was your typical expansion team. They stocked it with cast-off players from the other teams. And so naturally, the team that came into the league as the Dallas Cowboys that year was just basically a team of everybody else's leftovers.

ROB ELLIS: Not the auspicious start you may have thought for a franchise that would become known as America's Team!

DERRICK GUNN: The future rivals played their first game against each other in September 1960 at the Cotton Bowl. It was only the brand-new Cowboys' second game.

RAY DIDINGER: The Eagles go down to Dallas to play these expansion Cowboys. And the Eagles go down there and they have a terrible struggle with this expansion team. The Eagles just barely hung on and won it by two points.

DERRICK GUNN: The expansion team lost that game to the established Philadelphia team, 27-25. The Cowboys finished their inaugural season losing all their games, except one – and that was a tie – with the New York Giants.

ROB ELLIS: That year, the Eagles finished the season as champions.

ROB ELLIS: The fans would need to hold on to that championship feeling, because it would be a long time before the Eagles would win something this big again.

QB Sonny Jurgensen threw for five touchdowns in this 1961 win over the Cowboys. (AP PHOTO/SAM MYERS)


DERRICK GUNN: After starting up with a rag-tag team, the Cowboys drafted their first player in 1961. Bob Lilly was a defensive tackle drafted out of Texas Christian University. From the moment Dallas got the draft pick, they were on a roll. In '61 and '62, the teams traded wins and losses with neither team getting the upper hand. But in 1963 ...

DERRICK GUNN: On November 17, 1963, Philadelphia played Dallas at the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Eagles, 27-20.

ROB ELLIS: This was the last game the Cowboys played before the world changed forever.

ED BOUCHETTE: Well, I'm going to point one thing to you, the assassination of JFK in Dallas. Got a lot of people angry at the Cowboys in Dallas.

ROB ELLIS: Ed Bouchette is a senior writer at The Athletic.

DERRICK GUNN: John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Friday, November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. The Cowboys were at practice and Coach Tom Landry broke the news to the team after they had finished. Dallas was scheduled to play Cleveland that weekend. There was a lot of uncertainty. Would teams even play? The NFL decided to move ahead with the games. So Dallas flew to Cleveland. The plane ride was very quiet. The Cowboys were on high alert. Tom Landry reportedly told his players, "Don't go to a restaurant and say you're with the Dallas Cowboys. Don't go in large groups. Try to stay inconspicuous."

ROB ELLIS: On gameday, everyone watched Jack Ruby shoot and kill Lee Harvey Oswald.

DERRICK GUNN: The Cowboys were in the locker room when someone burst in and said, "They just killed the man who killed Kennedy." Stunned players looked around at each other, saying: "I told you we shouldn't be playing here today."

ED BOUCHETTE: The players were (getting) death threats and everything else.

DERRICK GUNN: Running out onto the field, the team was greeted by loud boos and a few, "Dallas, go homes!" The announcers were told to just use Cowboys. No one wanted to say Dallas. The Cowboys lost to the Browns that day, 27-17.

ROB ELLIS: The country was grieving and all the anger for the assassination of this popular president was focused on Dallas. It became the most hated city in America for decades.

DERRICK GUNN: And a lot of people think that is why all the teams hate the Cowboys.


ROB ELLIS: Between 1963 and 1965, both teams were up and down. Gary Pettigrew signed on for the 1966 season out of Stanford University. Pettigrew had offers from the NFL and AFL. But it wasn't money that sealed the deal and got him to the Eagles.

GARY PETTIGREW: I added the car to the deal. And they did it and it was a 427 fastback blue Corvette. It was great. They delivered it to a Palo Alto Chevrolet dealership a month or two later. And I don't know if you've ever been in a 427 or ever driven one of those old Corvettes, but I got in it, was in the middle of the service bay where the cockpit's really slick, and they gave me the keys, got in, started it, and let out the clutch. And I didn't even put my foot on the gas or burn rubber down the middle of the service bay in a Chevy dealership, so I had to hit the brakes pretty fast. That was my opening experience to a 427 Corvette.

ROB ELLIS: He drove his new Corvette from California to Hershey, Pennsylvania. Back in the '60s, the team had their preseason training there.

GARY PETTIGREW: And there's also a big Hershey Chocolate Factory so every morning we wake up you could smell the chocolate because they were cleaning out the kiln, so it's really funny.

ROB ELLIS: And there he met Ron Medved.

RON MEDVED: I was an offensive player in college; I was a running back. And they drafted me as a potential defensive back. So anyway, I just was lucky and grateful to have an opportunity. I'm glad the Eagles picked me.

ROB ELLIS: When Gary and Ron joined the team, Dallas was becoming more and more of a threat.

RON MEDVED: They were always the rival. And you know, I think that they had such a talented team and they were building a talented team and I just remember that our games were supercompetitive, especially in the beginning. But they were exciting games and they had exciting players.

ROB ELLIS: Timmy Brown joined the Eagles in 1960 and he was still a key player in 1967. Pettigrew and Medved remember their teammate.


RON MEDVED: He was a beautiful athlete. I mean, he was very elusive. He was very versatile. He could run. He could catch. He was great on, you know, special teams, kickoff returns. I had many opportunities to block for him on special teams.

ROB ELLIS: Off the field, Pettigrew remembers a fun-loving Brown.

GARY PETTIGREW: He had a great apartment. He used to give a lot of parties. And one party, I remember a particular one where Wilt Chamberlain was there because he was playing for Philadelphia. I can't believe the first time I saw him how tall he was – just amazing. I mean, well over seven feet. It was something. But Timmy has to have great parties and his girlfriends were usually from New York, so I could meet his girlfriends.

DERRICK GUNN: It was gameday, a Sunday, December 10, 1967. The weather was just about perfect – 44 degrees with light wind. The Eagles had beaten Dallas at home earlier in the season. But this time, the Birds were on Texas turf. Timmy Brown, Gary Pettigrew, and Ron Medved were suited up and ready to play.

RON MEDVED: It was a nice stadium. It wasn't huge. It was sort of old-fashioned in the sense that it didn't have upper decks and it wasn't built out that way. It was, you know, a true oval type of stadium.

GARY PETTIGREW: Texas is unique now, whether you realize this, but football is still kind of like a religion down there. Everybody knows about it. Everybody tries to get into the games. Everybody knows the players and their names and numbers. And wherever we went, you know, the day or so before to play the game, you were the enemy.

GARY PETTIGREW: Well, the first thing you saw was Timmy getting up off the ground with blood streaming out of his mouth and his helmet off.

"That's when it got nasty. Up until then, it was just a football game and the Cowboys were just another team on the schedule. But when Lee Roy Jordan took out Timmy Brown with an obvious attempt to injure kind of play, then it became a real blood rivalry, and it just kind of grew from there." Ray Didinger

DERRICK GUNN: Lee Roy Jordan played football for the University of Alabama. Jordan was drafted to Dallas in 1963. He was the first rookie linebacker in franchise history to start a season opener and he was small for a linebacker.

GARY PETTIGREW: Lee Roy Jordan was a good football player, but he was also a little rough and stuff like that.

RAY DIDINGER: Lee Roy hit him late with an elbow in the face on a pass play, and broke Timmy's jaw and knocked down a bunch of his teeth and gave him a concussion. And it was a real cheap shot. Everybody knew it was a cheap shot.

DERRICK GUNN: Jordan said in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2013: "You ask any player who played against me if I was a dirty player, and you'll find out I was not. I've never been a player who tried to put anybody out of the game or injure anybody. That never entered my mind. I didn't play that way and would never play that way."

ROB ELLIS: In that same article, Timmy Brown said: "It was the dirtiest blow I had ever had." Rumors swirled after the game that there was a bounty on Brown. The hit was payback for a game against Dallas the year before. Pettigrew said he wouldn't be surprised if that had been the case.

GARY PETTIGREW: But I don't want to say anything negative about Lee Roy ... Timmy was just in the wrong place at the wrong time on that play. And he was exposed and he got hit. And that was the result.

DERRICK GUNN: Jordan always denied the payback rumors.

ROB ELLIS: Brown has said that was the moment the rivalry between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys started. And to Ray Didinger, it really was the hit that changed everything.

RAY DIDINGER: That's when the series I thought kind of got personal. And that's when it got nasty. Up until then, it was just a football game and the Cowboys were just another team on the schedule. But when Lee Roy Jordan took out Timmy Brown with an obvious attempt to injure kind of play, then it became a real blood rivalry, and it just kind of grew from there.

ROB ELLIS: Timmy Brown played for the Eagles until the end of that season. He had one year with the Baltimore Colts.

DERRICK GUNN: After football, Brown became an actor. He was in the movie M*A*S*H. This was his first role – ever. He was also a regular in the first season of M*A*S*H, the TV show.

ROB ELLIS: As the 1960s wound down, one thing was certain – the rivalry was here to stay.

MIKE EVANS: It was a rivalry then, prior to me getting there, and it just increased dramatically while I was there.

MARK NORDQUIST: The Cowboys, as a group, were as arrogant as you could find. And we were all inspired because they were so arrogant that we just look forward to sticking it in their ear.

BILL BRADLEY: There was a lot, a lot of bad blood between the two teams. And it became probably our stiffest rivalry. And in particular, for all of us guys that were from Texas on that team.

DERRICK GUNN: On the next episode, the '70s and early '80s. Dallas wins a Super Bowl ... and then another. They take down any team in their way – including the Eagles.

ROB ELLIS: And then a young coach from California arrives in Philadelphia and slaps a bull's-eye on the back of all the Cowboys.

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