When the Philadelphia Eagles drafted me in 1998, I was welcomed into a new family, sort of like a marriage. And when you're married, you inherit certain traits or characteristics of your new family. It didn't take long to learn that Eagles fans really, really dislike Dallas. You feel that in the community. You feel that when they call into the radio shows.
Now, Dallas Week isn't just important for the fans. I learned from the veterans just how significant this game was. In my rookie year, things were just different leading up to the first game against the Cowboys. There was more energy in the locker room. The veterans carried themselves differently. The coaches were a little bit more on edge, pushing us just a little harder. You could feel the sense of urgency. It was like preparing for a playoff game.
Every now and then, you'd hear someone in the building say, "Hey, it's Dallas week, baby!" It's the same when the playoffs come around and the players might say, "Hey, it's playoff time! It's win or go home." It's got sort of that same feel. You heard some of those same things during Dallas Week.
I grew up in Texas and went to Stephen F. Austin University, a little more than a three-hour drive from AT&T Stadium, so it was extra special for me to beat Dallas because all of my family is from Texas. The majority of them are still Dallas fans. They wanted me to play well, but for the Cowboys to win. I always knew that when we played Dallas, my family back home would see it on TV, even if it wasn't a national game, so I wanted to put on a show.
I've played in a lot of memorable Eagles-Cowboys games over the years. The first one that comes to mind is the Pickle Juice Game to open the 2000 season. That was one of the hottest games that I ever played in. I remember sitting on the sideline. We were in the shade and the Cowboys were sitting in the sun. I turned to one of my teammates and said, "Man, who designed this stadium? This isn't home-field advantage for those guys." There was a lot of hype surrounding the game. Everybody was talking about the heat during the course of the week. Pickle juice? When coach tells you that it's going to be over 100 degrees on the field, he could tell you to drink gasoline to keep you hydrated and you'd at least think about it.
That game was huge for a number of reasons. We were one of the worst teams in my rookie season, just two years earlier. We were a young team just trying to build something. We had a lot of good players on defense, who were starting to come into their own. We had two of the best corners in the league in Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, a Hall of Fame safety in Brian Dawkins, as well as Pro Bowl players like Hugh Douglas and myself. We had a really good head coach in Andy Reid and my favorite Jim Johnson, who is one of the greatest defensive minds that the NFL has ever seen. We had all of the right pieces in place. We had the coaches in place. Our foundation with the players was in place. We understood how important that game was.
Coach Reid had the guts to open the season with an onside kick. I don't think fans understand how bold of a move that was – on the road, against the Cowboys. Once we got the ball, Duce Staley ran wild to the tune of 201 rushing yards. We were fortunate enough on defense to force three-and-outs early and put the Cowboys' defense right back on the field. Once they got gassed, it was all downhill from there.
It was a different situation when we went down to Dallas to face the Cowboys on a Monday night in 2004. We were just coming off a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and I got the call from linebackers coach Steve Spagnuolo that I would be returning to the starting lineup. When I rejoined the Eagles after two years in Washington, I played on special teams while Mark Simoneau was the middle linebacker. It was one of the most humbling things that I've ever had to go through. I woke up every day, prayed, trusted God, and just kept working hard. Sometimes all you can do is put your nose to the ground and continue to go to work.
That win was extra special for me. It was an opportunity to go out and show everyone that I still had it. I could still play the game and play it at a high level. I really wanted to go out there and be a difference-maker. We held Eddie George to 39 rushing yards and won the game 49-21 on the way to the Super Bowl.
Dallas is also where my NFL career ended following our loss in the 2009 playoffs. There's no bitterness. At some point, everyone's career is going to come to a close. Professional athletes very seldom decide to walk away from the game on their own terms. When you leave everything on the field, there's nothing you can hang your head about.
I still bleed green through and through to this day. In the past, I used to get emotional, yelling at the TV while watching games. I had to emotionally detach myself for my health. I root for the Eagles every weekend and I'll be watching Sunday night, hoping to see an Eagles victory.