Philadelphia Eagles News

THE Rivalry, And What It Means

The players hear you. The ritual goes something like this: Player joins Eagles, and the fans get on social media and welcome him with the addendum, "Um, and don't forget. We HATE the Cowboys, so make sure you beat them."

"It was right away for me," said safety/special teams ace Chris Maragos, who signed with the Eagles as a unrestricted free agent in March. "The first thing they said was, 'Welcome, great that you're an Eagle. Just make sure you beat the Cowboys.' You kind of start to understand the nuances of the rivalry and just how big it is immediately. Then you take into account how historical this division is and how Eagles-Cowboys games always seem to have something special going on, and the fact that this year we're both 8-3, yeah, we know it's big. And we know how the fans feel about it."

These teams began the rivalry in 1960 as the Eagles, in the year they won the NFC Championship, beat Dallas 27-25, picking off Dallas quarterback Eddie LeBaron five times and scoring the win on the road at the Cotton Bowl over a Cowboys team that finished the season 0-11-1.

This became a nasty rivalry, historians believe, in 1967 when Cowboys linebacker Lee Roy Jordan threw an elbow at Philadelphia's Timmy Brown, breaking Brown's jaw and knocking out four of his teeth. The knockouts continued through the years -- Mel Thom KO'd Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach, Dennis Thurman took out Eagles wide receiver Harold Carmichael, Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan ordered a hit on Dallas placekicker Luis Zendejas, Eagles fans serenaded Dallas head coach Jimmy Johnson with snowballs -- and the rivalry became heated.

Everyone has a story about Dallas. Play-by-play voice Merrill Reese says it started for him when Brown took the cheap shot from Jordan, and it's only gotten better in the 47 years since.

"It's special for the teams, for the fans and for me, of course," Reese said. "I love every Eagles game, but there's something different when the Eagles and Cowboys play. It is a different emotional level, a different pitch. We get to do this twice in 17 days, so I'm really looking forward to the fun."

Football is an emotional game. Players are at a fevered level each week, but there are games when it just seems the adrenaline pushes beyond code red. This is one of those weeks.

"I played in a lot of rivalry games at Florida, in the SEC, so I'm used to these kinds of games, but as soon as I came to Philly all of the fans, everywhere I went, told me, 'Hey, beat Dallas, beat Dallas' and we hadn't even played our first game," wide receiver Riley Cooper said.

"For sure there's some added energy in the building this week. It's like a Monday night game or a Sunday night game. We're playing on Thanksgiving and it's against Dallas and everybody is pretty pumped up about that."

Cornerback Brandon Boykin clinched the NFC East title for the Eagles in 2013 when he intercepted a Kyle Orton pass in the closing minute of the game in Arlington, TX. It was a glorious end to a spectacular game, and the victory pushed the Eagles into the postseason for the first time since the 2010 season.

Boykin knew long before just how huge this rivalry was, and his big play is one that fans will not forget.

"It doesn't come any bigger for Eagles fans and, really, for the team," he said. "We know what's at stake. The fact that it's Dallas, on Thanksgiving, and we're both playing for first place in the division makes it even more of an event for the fans. I know the fans are going crazy."

Social media provides a direct line for fans to make their voices heard, and the singular message players have heard since Day 1 of their time with the Eagles is "BEAT DALLAS."

Loud and clear.

"It's the preseason and people will say, 'Good luck this year, and beat Dallas.'" guard Evan Mathis said. "Things like that. Multiple times. Many times."

The Eagles really do believe in the "one-game season" approach that you've heard them talk about since head coach Chip Kelly arrived. Their focus has been admirable, as evidenced by the team's turnaround from 3-5 at the midway point of 2013 to 10-6 and a division title then to 8-3 now. Winning 15 of 19 games in the regular season requires great concentration and preparation, and the Eagles haven't overlooked games. They've been a really consistent team with their effort and performance.

But they admit it: There is something a little bit more special in the air this week.

"A division game, on Thanksgiving and we've got a lot at stake," linebacker Mychal Kendricks said. "It's going to be a lot of fun. I think everybody is excited about this game. We're always excited, don't get me wrong, but it's Dallas and for us, for the fans, that's the rivalry team. Let's get it on."

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