During the dark days of the early 1990s, when the NFL and NFC East in particular, were dominated by Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and the last great Dallas Cowboys dynasty, the Eagles were always the little brother, trying desperately to land a body shot or two on big bro.
Those Buddy Ryan-Rich Kotite-Ray Rhodes teams managed to get their swings in from time to time, but every year, when the dust settled, the Cowboys always emerged on top, the perennial division champion and Super Bowl contender with their collective feet on the necks of the scrappy, talented, yet not-talented-enough Birds, year-in and year-out.
It was frustrating knowing that your 10-6 record was nowhere near as good as their 13-3 record, and that every year, you’d be playing in the wild card round, on the road, in Dallas for any potential playoff game. Even though they lost some games to the Eagles, control of the division was never in doubt for the Cowboys.
Right now, the Eagles are the big brothers.
For the majority of yesterday’s thrilling 28-23 win over the Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field, the Cowboys played nearly mistake-free football. Dak Prescott, as he always is at the Linc, was on fire, no one could stop Cee Dee Lamb, and it looked for all the world like the Cowboys were going to sneak out of Philadelphia with a victory.
Of course, right now, the Eagles are the cream of the NFL, a team full of winners who may not always play a clean game of football but, literally eight times out of nine this season (and last season), find a way to win. At 8-1, they tower over the 5-3 Cowboys, who saw their chances of winning the division severely damaged by last night’s loss, and right now, these Eagles are those early ‘90s Cowboys teams (without a Super Bowl victory still, to be sure), while Dallas is the spunky little brother, trying to punch up at their big bro.
Yesterday, they almost landed a solid punch to the jaw, but failed to connect in a game that will go down as one for the ages in this storied rivalry. Here is where I would put yesterday’s thriller among Eagles-Cowboys regular season games (that the Eagles won) in recent history.
1. The 4th and 1 Game
It’s funny to think that, in today’s NFL, Barry Switzer would be applauded for going for it on 4th and 1 from their own 29-yard line with the game tied 17-17 and two minutes left. You KNOW Nick Sirianni is going for it there, because he’s already done it in that exact same situation multiple times! We will forever lambast Switzer for that decision, but all true geniuses are ahead of their time, aren’t they?
Of course, you have to get the yard, and the true idiocy was running the same exact play two plays in a row and not getting it. It’s risk-reward, and in this case, Dallas didn’t have an automatic Brotherly Shove to get them the first down. After the Eagles kicked the go-ahead field goal, Dallas did get the ball back with 1:30 left and no timeouts, trailing by only three, and moved the ball to midfield but were thwarted by two insane Bobby Taylor PBUs as the clock wound down. It was the most thrilling ending to any Eagles-Cowboys game ever played in Philadelphia in my lifetime.
2. The James Willis INT Game
In the last great moment of the Rhodes Era, the Eagles went into Dallas and played their guts out, holding a 24-21 lead with time winding down, but the Cowboys were on the Eagles’ doorstep. With the ball at the five, it looked like Dallas was at least going to send the game into overtime, but Troy Aikman wanted the win and, hit as he threw, tossed a mind-boggling interception to linebacker James Willis, who ran upfield and lateraled the ball to Troy Vincent, who then ran it all the way back for a game-clinching touchdown.
3. The T.O. Returns Game
After the tumultuous 2005 season, the sit-ups in the driveway, the sniping at Donovan McNabb, the contract squabbles with the front office and everything else, Terrell Owens returned to Philadelphia for an early October match-up at a ridiculously fired-up Linc in ‘06. And the game did not disappoint. After falling in an early 14-0 hole, Dallas fought back, but the Birds led 31-24 late in the 4th quarter. Drew Bledsoe and a 50+ yard pass interference penalty gave the Cowboys a 1st-and-goal from the Eagles’ 6-yard line (sound familiar?) with 38 seconds remaining, and it felt like the Eagles were going to blow it.
Needing a touchdown to tie, Bledsoe, on 2nd down, threw the ball directly into the arms of Lito Sheppard, who raced 102 yards the other way for a game-clinching score and a 38-24 Eagles victory.
4. The 44-6 Game
This game was thrilling for reasons other than late drama. In a final week, win-or-go home scenario, the Eagles famously blew the doors off Tony Romo and the Cowboys 44-6, a victory that propelled them all the way to the NFC Championship Game.
5. Sunday’s 28-23 Win
When you think about the craziness that went down in those final 10 minutes last night, all the mistakes made by both teams, how the Eagles tried to give that game away to Mike McCarthy and Dak Prescott only for both to say “no thank you,” it’s remarkable the Birds escaped with the win. But, the Cowboys fell four yards short and the Eagles are now 2 1⁄2 games up on Dallas in the NFC East, resting during the bye knowing they’re one-up on their division rivals once again. That was a wild one.
6. The 2019 Wentz Redemption Game
This is an underrated game in the rivalry, as both teams entered the penultimate week of the ‘19 season tied 7-7. If the Cowboys had won, they would have clinched the NFC East and eliminated the Eagles from playoff contention, but an Eagles victory would put them in the driver’s seat, needing just a win against the lowly Giants the following week to secure the East. It remains the only truly bad game Dak Prescott has ever played in Philadelphia, and was one of Wentz’ last great moments in an Eagles uniform. Their 17-9 win wasn’t pretty, but Dak couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone from the Eagles’ 23 yard line on a 4th-and-8 with 1:21 remaining and the Eagles escaped.
Of course, their eventual playoff run was cut short thanks to Wentz’ concussion in the wild card game, but this was a tremendous late-season win as well as an incredible Dak choke job.
7. The Boykin INT Game
Why do so many of these games seem to feature the Eagles’ defense trying to protect late leads against the Cowboys’ offense? This was another, this one in 2013, in the final week of the season, and the Eagles, at 9-6, needed a win over the 8-7 Cowboys to clinch the NFC East in yet another win-or-go home game for both teams. With the Birds gripping tightly to a 24-22 lead, Kyle Orton, who got the start after back surgery knocked Romo out two days prior, and the Cowboys had the ball on their own 32 yard line with 1:49 remaining. All they needed was to get into field goal range for a chance to win, but reserve cornerback Brandon Boykin came up with the interception of his life, sealing a hard-earned Eagles victory and clinching the division title.
8. The Randall Saves the Day Game
No one seems to remember this game, but in October of 1990, the Birds rolled into Dallas with a 2-4 record to take on the 3-4 Cowboys. It was not a pairing of juggernauts, although the Birds would go on to snag a wild card as the season went along. Trailing 20-14 with under a minute left in the game, Cunningham threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Williams in the back of the end zone. Aikman drove the ball as far as the Philly 48 but couldn’t get the ‘Boys into field goal range, giving the Eagles a 21-20 win.
9. The Anthony Tony Game
Emerging from years of darkness and dominance by the Cowboys, Buddy’s Eagles started to exert themselves against Tom Landry’s boys, including this classic 1988 October match-up at the Vet that featured a Cunningham-to-Anthony Toney TD pass with four seconds left that handed the Birds a 24-23 win. The Eagles trailed 20-0 in this game and needed an expertly handled two-minute drive from Cunningham, who took the Eagles 85 yards in 16 plays with 2:11 left, converting two fourth-downs on the drive. It was an insane win and signaled what would be a multi-year dominance of the Eagles throughout the second half of the 1980s.
10. The Donovan Wins in OT Game
The most famous of the two games the Eagles played against Dallas in 2000 occurred in Week 1, the Pickle Juice Game, but the more dramatic of their victories was in November, an overtime 13-10 victory that was as ugly as the score would indicate. Ironically, Randall Cunningham was under center for the Cowboys in this one. After a McNabb interception on the opening drive of OT, Dallas responded with a fumble by fullback Robert Thomas (why they gave the ball to him rather than Emmitt Smith no one knows) giving the Eagles a second chance. After a Darnell Autry (!!!) screen pass that took the ball inside the 15, David Akers kicked a game-winning field goal and handed Philly the season sweep.