Folks, it’s Dallas week.
There are people who will tell you that the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers have the biggest rivalry in football, some will say it’s the Broncos vs. the Raiders, and others the Packers vs. the Bears.
Heck, there are some Eagles fans who will tell you our biggest rival in the New York Giants, and there are certainly some Cowboys fans who probably feel Washington is their biggest rival. But they’re all wrong.
It’s Eagles vs. Cowboys or go home.
So in celebration of Dallas Week, here are my five favorite Eagles vs. Cowboys games of all time. I did not include the 1980 NFC Championship Game, as I was only 4 years old when that game was played. These are all games that I remember vividly as supremely satisfying moments in this storied rivalry.
1987 - Buddy Runs It Up
This rivalry wasn’t much of a rivalry at the beginning. From 1960 through October 11 of 1987, Dallas had a 36-18 record against the Eagles. At one point, the Cowboys had won 21 of 23 against the Birds in the late 1960s-early ‘70s, but under Buddy Ryan, the tide began to turn.
In 1987, NFL players went on strike and, for three games, scab players played in place of the real players for most teams. Toward the end of the strike, however, some players had crossed the picket lines, although none of them were on the Eagles. Ryan, in his second year as head coach, urged his players to stick together through the strike, so when the “scab” Eagles went to Dallas for an early October match-up, it was a game that supposed to be decided by the replacement players.
However, prominent veterans like Tony Dorsett and Randy White had crossed the picket lines and, under the guidance of head coach Tom Landry, Dallas played some of their star players against the clearly overwhelmed Eagles, running gadget plays along the way, in a 41-22 rout.
Two weeks later, with the regular players back on the field, the Eagles outplayed the Cowboys and held a 30-20 lead as the seconds ticked away. It looked like Randall Cunningham was simply going to take a knee and run out the clock, but instead, he popped up threw a pass into the end zone intended for wide receiver Mike Quick.
Quick was interfered with on the play and, with two seconds remaining, Keith Byars rumbled into the end zone for a “rub-it-in” touchdown to make the final 37-20.
That game earned Buddy Ryan legendary status in Philadelphia forever, simply because he spat in the eye of Tom Landry and signaled to Eagles fans everywhere that the Eagles weren’t going to be pushed around, and that he hated the Cowboys just as much as you.
1995 - 4th and 1
Before his tenure as Eagles head coach imploded, Ray Rhodes had his good moments, and most of them came against the Cowboys.
In his rookie season, the 1995 Eagles were 8-5 heading into their Week 15 matchup against Dallas, who entered the game at 10-3. The Birds were not nearly as talented as the Cowboys, but they did have one thing going for them on this day — Barry Switzer.
The bumbling idiot who actually managed to luck himself into a Super Bowl title that season with the Cowboys gave this game away at an ice-cold Veterans Stadium. Dallas led 17-6 at halftime but the Eagles had scored 11 unanswered points in the second half to tie the game 17-17 as the clock ticked toward the two-minute warning.
The Cowboys faced a 4th and 1 at their own 29. Yes, they had Emmitt Smith, but clearly the play here is to punt the ball away. Even Doug Pederson, who loves to go for it on 4th and 1 more than any coach in NFL history, would have punted this ball away. If you don’t convert, you lose. It was that simple.
But, Switzer had Smith and his offensive line and so he figured he’d go for it anyway. They ran Smith off left tackle, but the Eagles front got penetration into the backfield and tackled Smith for a loss, giving the Eagles the ball deep in Dallas territory!
But not so fast. Just as the play was starting, officials blew it dead as the clock hit the two-minute warning. Clearly, Switzer would re-think his decision and punt the ball away, right?
Arrogance is an ugly sin, kids. Not only did Switzer decide to go for it again, much to the shock and incredulousness of John Madden, he ran THE SAME DARN PLAY. The Eagles, of course, stopped him again, and this time, the officials couldn’t take it away.
The Eagles would kick a field goal and go on win 20-17. The two teams would meet again in the Divisional Round of the playoffs a few weeks later, where the Cowboys would get the last laugh, bludgeoning the Eagles to death in Dallas 30-11.
2000 - The Pickle Juice Game
In Andy Reid’s second season as head coach, the Eagles were seen as a team on the rise, and would get an early test in the opening week of the season by traveling to Dallas to take on the Cowboys, who had gone 8-8 the previous season and lost a wild card game to the Vikings.
What set this game apart was the unbelievable heat the players were forced to play in, with temperatures on the Astro Turf reaching 109 degrees, reportedly the hottest game in NFL history. In order to keep the players hydrated, Eagles trainers had them drink pickle juice leading up to the game, a disgusting-sounding bit of torture that seemed to help them play at a level no team should have been able to play at in the sweltering heat.
Reid showed the world this Eagles team would be far different than the one that went 5-11 the season before. This was Donovan McNabb’s first full season as a starting quarterback and Reid began the 2000 season with an onsides kick that caught Dallas completely off guard.
The Cowboys never recovered. Completely outclassed by a fresher Philadelphia team high on pickle juice, Duce Staley ran for 202 yards and the Eagles destroyed Dallas 41-14. It signaled the beginning of what would be the greatest run of sustained success in franchise history.
2006 - The Return of T.O.
This may have been the most highly anticipated regular season Eagles game of my lifetime. In 2004, Terrell Owens had led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl appearance in nearly a quarter century, coming back from an ugly ankle injury late in the season to make a miraculous and heroic appearance against the Patriots.
Following the Super Bowl, Owens felt his seven-year, $42 million deal that included a $10 million signing bonus didn’t match his true value to the team (he wasn’t wrong, by the way), and so he became vocal about wanting his contract restructured. After bad-mouthing the team for failing to celebrate his 100th career TD catch and making numerous comments critical of McNabb, he was suspended for the last half of the 2005 season. He would never play another snap for the Philadelphia Eagles.
The following off-season, Owens went looking for a new team and, despite disrespecting Cowboys fans by standing on the Dallas star in the middle of the field as a 49er and in the end zone star as an Eagle, T.O. signed with those very same Cowboys ahead of the 2006 regular season.
Obviously, the two Eagles vs. Cowboys games on the schedule that year became filled with even more drama than usual, and the first of those contests came in Week 5, when the Birds, at 3-1, took on the 2-1 Cowboys at the Linc. The home crowd booed T.O. mercilessly, and he seemed to revel in the attention. However, he wouldn’t stay upbeat for long.
The Eagles took a quick 10-0 lead after two early turnovers by Dallas, but the Cowboys would recover, taking a 21-17 lead into halftime.
In the second half, the Eagles defense stiffened and the Eagles took a 31-24 lead on a 40-yard touchdown pass from McNabb to Reggie Brown. But Drew Bledsoe would have a couple more chances to tie the game. In his final drive, he went the length of the field, eventually getting the ball to the Eagles’ 6-yard line before throwing an interception in the end zone to Lito Sheppard that he returned 102 yards for one of the most memorable plays in Eagles-Cowboys history.
Despite the hype, Owens would catch just three balls for 45 yards, completing one of the most satisfying moments in franchise history. The Eagles would beat the Cowboys 23-7 later in the year, with Jeff Garcia at QB, to win the NFC East.
2008 - The Silver Lining Playbook Game
It was a game chronicled in the popular film Silver Linings Playbook, and took place just weeks after the Philadelphia Phillies had beaten the Tampa Bay Rays to win the World Series. Here were the Eagles, trying to keep that winning feeling alive in their season finale against the Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field.
Philadelphia entered the final game of the season with an 8-6-1 record while the Cowboys were 9-6. It was a 4:25pm ET kickoff, and the Birds needed a couple things to go their way in the early slate of games in order to have a chance at making the playoffs.
Perhaps riding the Phillies’ mojo, they got exactly what they needed when Oakland upset Tampa Bay and Houston beat Chicago in the early games. The Raiders were 13-point underdogs against the Buccaneers. However, with Tampa Bay and Chicago both losing, this final game of the season became a winner-take-all game in which the winner would win the wild card and the loser would be sent packing.
After the two teams played a 3-3 tie in the first quarter, the Cowboys imploded and the Eagles exploded with a 24-point second quarter and a 17-point third quarter that turned this all-important Week 17 contest into an absolute party, with the Birds coming out on top, 44-6.
The Eagles would ride that momentum all the way through the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, beating the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants on the road before finally falling to the Arizona Cardinals in an unexpected NFC Championship Game.
There are many more games I could have chosen to populate this list. The 1992 Monday Night Football match-up with Herschel Walker, either of the Bounty Bowl games, the Snow Ball Game, or the 1991 game when they sacked Troy Aikman 11 times.
All are great memories, but these five are my favorite.