Remember, in 2015, when the Philadelphia Eagles, fresh off a bye week, entered Jerry Jones’ billion-dollar glass house, looking to avenge an early-season loss, build much-needed momentum and do it all at the expense of the host Dallas Cowboys?
It was instant-classic material, and that was before anyone knew the game would go into overtime and ultimately end with a walk-off touchdown by — clenches teeth -- every Birds fan’s favorite wide receiver, Jordan Matthews (more on him later).
It was peak Eagles vs. Cowboys, a rivalry that began in 1960 and has featured a combined eight title-winning teams. (Yes, there were championships before Super Bowls. Yes, they count. And if you cannot understand that, let’s chat afterward.) It was yet another highly anticipated bout in a longstanding on-field feud between high-profile, big-market NFC East contenders.
Except Matt Cassel was the Cowboys quarterback.
Nothing against Cassel, who, at 35, is still on an NFL roster and has parlayed short-lived New England Patriots success into five other jobs. But his substitute presence as the face of “America’s Team” (by the way, did we vote on that?) was virtually a repeat of something already seen five years earlier: The unforgettable Jon Kitna-in-Dallas era.
Now, Cowboys fans can point their blue foam fingers right back at Philadelphia if we’re talking 2015, when Sam Bradford, more knee rehabilitation propaganda than hot NFL name at that point, turned in both his first and last season as the Eagles signal-caller. But Dallas’ recent run-ins with less-than-stellar regulars at the most important position in all of football leads me to this resounding — and, for some of you at first glance, obscene — suggestion: We all, deep down, actually love Dak Prescott.
Let me explain. When you think vintage Eagles-Cowboys, or even recent classics in the rivalry, do you think of fights with Cassel and the 4-12 ‘Boys? Or Kitna and the 6-10 ‘Boys that got Wade Phillips canned?
Maybe you do, but I don’t, and I’d venture to say most of you agree with me. Take the discussion to the nation’s capital — er, Landover, Maryland — and you’ll find a similar situation. Do your fondest memories of Philly vs. Washington showdowns feature the glory D.C. days of Rex Grossman, John Beck and Jason Campbell?
No. The highlights, the moments, that most cemented themselves in personal Eagles history are the ones where vengeance and true victory were hard to come by. The ones with guys like Tony Romo, who did enough to keep Philly in the game and the City of Brotherly Love roaring against him but, ultimately, proved to be a pesky and regularly productive source of frustration for the better part of a decade.
Now, no one knows if Prescott, Romo’s unusually poised successor, will actually be the franchise icon he’s now fully considered in D-Town. But as much as we in the Eagles community might hope or believe the Birds’ own young superstar, Carson Wentz, will prove superior over the course of a career, we also more than likely, knowingly or not, hope that Prescott will thrive. Not as, say, a perennial headache for the Eagles or a yearly NFC East champion, but rather as someone who can do his part to rekindle the thrill of all that is incomparable to NFL rivalries — the Romo vs. Donovan McNabb clashes, the mid-2000s playoff battles, the real good, sometimes annoying but always exhilarating do-or-die finishes.
Debate his value and how much he benefited from an All-Pro offensive line as a rookie. But love him or hate him, please know that, at some level, we all love him a little. Until, of course, he’s repeatedly responsible for keeping a Lombardi from Philadelphia.
If you didn’t cringe enough already or stop reading altogether, here are five other Eagles thoughts as the 2017 season rapidly approaches:
- I think, no matter how much we’ve seen of Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and LeGarrette Blount this spring and summer (and BGN’s fearless leader can speak to this even more), it’s going to be different — and special — to see the Eagles’ big additions on the field, in live action, during an actual game. Put it all back into the most basic terms: The Eagles, with a young quarterback as poised and promising as could be, now have proven veteran talent to help. Get ready for early-season hype. And a real-life playoff push.
- I think people need to stop fretting over the Eagles’ ground game like the running backfield is still barren of talent. Sure, we need to see some play-calling stability there, but how on Earth can we not be at least mildly pleased with a likely rotation of Blount, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey?
- I think we’ve all been subjected to some sad Eagles wide receiver play as of late, to the point that expectations for even No. 2 WRs have been severely watered down. But I also think Eagles fans tend to be on the harsh side with the ones that are actually good. When DeSean Jackson was here, he was “too small” or “too invisible.” When Jeremy Maclin was here, he was “good, not great,” or “not clutch.” I know Jordan Matthews isn’t a pure starter like D-Jack or J-Mac was, but I also think, even if he’s destined for a reserve role, he deserves credit for his production.
- I think, as many do at this time in the summer, the Eagles have as fair a shot as anyone in the division to make big improvements from their 2016 campaign. Realistically, 9-7 or 10-6 sounds like a reasonable ceiling for a team still in decent transition. But Washington should take a step back, Dallas will be hard pressed to replicate its 13-3 year, and even if the Giants’ enviable roster still looks good, the Eagles should, at the very least, be serious Wild Card contenders.
- I think people have been trying to find new ways to describe the porousness of Eagles secondaries for years on end. Is it me, or does Reuben Frank come up with a new statistic showing how bad Birds corners are each season? For the defense’s sake, Jim Schwartz’s re-upped defensive line had better keep the pedal to the metal.