Before I began writing The New Eagles Encyclopedia, I went back and re-read the original version of The Eagles Encyclopedia which was published in 2005. I wanted to see if there was anything missing from the first book, anything that should be added to the new edition.
Obviously, I had to add the events of the past nine years, update the records section and rewrite the profiles of Andy Reid, Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens, among others, to reflect the final chapter of their Eagles careers. I had to write in the arrival of Chip Kelly and emergence of LeSean McCoy, Nick Foles and Jeremy Maclin.
But I also decided the new book needed a chapter devoted to the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry. The original book was full of Cowboys stuff, of course. There were accounts of the 1980 NFC Championship Game as well as the game in which the Eagles sacked Troy Aikman 11 times, the 104-yard interception return by James Willis and Troy Vincent, Tony Franklin's 59-yard field goal, the Pickle Juice game, all that stuff. Those memorable moments were sprinkled throughout the first book.
But I felt the new book needed one chapter that pulled it all together and talked about why the Cowboys stir such unique emotion in this city. You would think the Giants and Washington would be the Eagles' natural rivals for reasons of geography (they are our I-95 neighbors) and history (the Eagles have been playing them since 1933). But the Cowboys are the team that, year in and year out, most inflames the Philly fan base.
So I devoted one whole chapter in The New Eagles Encyclopedia to that subject. It is particularly timely now with the 2014 NFC East race narrowed to the Eagles and Cowboys with the big showdown coming up Sunday. It will be prime time with the whole country watching and Lincoln Financial Field will be rocking. The Cowboys are unbeaten (6-0) on the road this season, but that won't count for a lot this week. Coming to Philly is different. Any Cowboy will tell you that.
On the night before the NFC Championship Game in January of 1981, I was a guest on a TV show that was beamed back to Dallas. I was on a panel with Cowboys president Tex Schramm, Eagles general manager Jim Murray and Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson. At one point, the host Verne Lundquist raised the subject of the Philly fans and how they could be a factor in the game. Pearson said, yes, the Philly fans were tough but the Cowboys faced hostile fans in other cities, too.
"Well, Drew," Lundquist said, "you might want to see this."
They rolled an NFL Films interview with some Eagles fans at the previous week's game. It was a group of young guys all looking ahead to the matchup with the Cowboys. One guy pointed at the camera and said, "Dallas, we hate you, we hate you. We want you here at the Vet." His friends picked up the chant, "At the Vet! At the Vet!"
Pearson's eyes widened as he watched the film.
"Wow," he said, "they really do hate us, don't they?"
Hate is an ugly word and I really don't think it applies here. But there is no question what most Eagles fans feel for the Cowboys is different - very different - from what they feel for other teams. It is more bitter and more personal. It comes from a deeper, darker place. You can feel it every time these teams play and when it is a big game - and Sunday's game certainly qualifies - the emotion increases tenfold.
How did it start? The Cowboys joined the NFL as an expansion team in 1960 and for the first few years, they weren't even competitive. The Eagles dominated the series until 1966 when the Cowboys started to put things together. That year, the Cowboys blew out the Eagles 56-7 and they still were throwing the ball in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys amassed 652 total yards, the most damage ever inflicted on an Eagles defense.
Four weeks later, the Eagles won the rematch 24-23 at Franklin Field without scoring an offensive touchdown. The Eagles scored all three touchdowns on kick returns - two kickoff returns by Timmy Brown, one punt return by Aaron Martin - and the Cowboys flew back to Dallas muttering. When the teams met again the following season, Dallas linebacker Lee Roy Jordan clotheslined Brown and broke his jaw. The Eagles seethed over what they felt was a cheap shot. I really think that was where the series became a blood feud.
It only increased on the Eagles side as the '60s rolled into the '70s and the Cowboys tightened their grip on the NFC East. The Cowboys ruled the division and did it with a swaggering arrogance that irritated fans in other cities, especially here in Philadelphia where the Eagles were locked in the basement. In one stretch, the Cowboys beat the Eagles 21 of 23 games and most of them weren't even close. Dallas became this Darth Vader team that twice every season crushed the hopes of the Philly fans and left them in ruins.
Dick Vermeil was able to build a team that could compete with and finally unseat Dallas. Buddy Ryan owned the Cowboys, beating them seven straight times and laughing all the way (which Eagles fans loved). Ray Rhodes had the big "4th-and-1" stop on Emmitt Smith. Andy Reid beat the Cowboys nine out of 10 in the run up to the Super Bowl.
Now it is Chip Kelly's turn to beat the Cowboys in a game that almost certainly will decide the NFC East. It is a big game in Dallas, of course, but it is a bigger game in Philadelphia. It always is.
An award-winning writer and producer, Ray Didinger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. He has also won six Emmy Awards for his work as a writer and producer at NFL Films. The five-time Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year is a writer and analyst for Comcast SportsNet. Didinger will provide Eagles fans a unique historical perspective on the team throughout the season for PhiladelphiaEagles.com. You can read all of his Eagles History columns here. He is also the author of The New Eagles Encyclopedia, the perfect gift for any Eagles fan this holiday season. Meet Ray this Sunday at the Pro Shop at Lincoln Financial Field from 3:30-4:30 PM and 5:30-5:50 PM.