The Giants-Eagles rivalry never had to mature for Brian Dawkins. In all of Dawkins' 13 years, this has always been the game. The Big One.
The distance between the two cities is close, but the scores, Dawkins said, are typically closer. Now, the Eagles and the Giants have been trading division titles for the second half of the decade. And Sunday, they'll play their most meaningful game since January of 2001, when they also met in the NFC Divisional playoffs.
When these two teams meet, throw the records out the window. Nowadays, it's the Eagles' biggest rivalry, without question, Dawkins said.
"It was never a 'turn into' thing; it's always been that way for me. I've always respected this team; we'll always respect this team," Dawkins said. "It's always been a physical battle with this team. Every once in a game it's been a blowout, but, for the most part, it's usually some grind-out, close, defensive battle with this team. Since I've been here, this has been, to me, my biggest rivalry game."
On paper, he's right. And really, it probably shouldn't even be close with someone else.
Yeah, there's Dallas. And hating everything Dallas and everything it stands for has been a time-honored tradition in Philadelphia. And in contrast, the rivalry with New York, as Dawkins suggested, is built more of veneration than vitriol. But perhaps it's time to trade up.
After all, why are the Cowboys hated so much in the first place? Part of it is certainly the personalities on the team, past and present, but it'd be hard to argue the biggest slice of the pie – or five slices – is Dallas' winning history. Five Lombardi trophies. And, each, to Philadelphians, is uglier and more despicable than the last.
But Dallas hasn't claimed one of those trophies since the 1996 season. And Super Bowl XXX, to this date, is the franchise's penultimate playoff win. That's why the Giants mean so much more at this juncture.
Ignore for a second that the Giants play less than two hours away up the New Jersey Turnpike. Just take a look at their last decade of success, in comparison with the other NFC East franchises. Since the 2000 NFL season, the Giants have won three division titles, six playoff games, two conference titles and Super Bowl XLII. The Eagles have five division titles, nine playoff victories and a conference title. Even the Redskins have a playoff win, in 2006.
But the Cowboys have struck out, other than a hot-minute division title in 2007 that the Giants spoiled en route to their world championship, currently under defense. The Cowboys' last playoff win came on Dec. 28, 1996, a wild card blowout of the Vikings. In the postseason since the 2000 season, the Cowboys are 0-3.
That's why this Giants' matchup means so much to the Eagles – it's their third playoff pairing of the decade, with the teams having split the previous two – a Giants win in the 2000 season and an Eagle victory in 2006. And the Eagles need to win to continue on, and they probably need a Super Bowl title to establish themselves as the dominant NFC team of the decade. What better way to do that than by taking down the champs, a bitter rival?
"I don't need anything else added to the fact that this is the New York Giants. We have played them enough and I've played them enough in my career to know what type of game this usually is," Dawkins said. "So, I don't need anything else to be added to it for me to be up and hyped for this game."
It's a rivalry that's grabbed the attention of everyone in the locker room. To some of the younger guys, what does Dallas even mean at this point? The Giants are the champions. They should be in the crosshairs.
And they are.
"Whoever is in our (division), man ... it's big," said rookie receiver DeSean Jackson, who knows something about rivalries.
As a student at Cal-Berkeley, Jackson played in three "Big Games," the name for the Golden Bears' rivalry with hated Stanford. That rivalry, which might have produced the most famous play in college football history, has played 111 installments. "The Big Game" is surely a fitting title.
"But," Jackson said, "it doesn't get any bigger than this."