The memories all run together -- which is as it should be, seeing as how there are so many of them. Best as I can tell, Sunday night will be the 64th Eagles-Cowboys game that I have covered for the Daily News -- which makes me both old and privileged. Especially old.
Since 1982, I have missed only a handful of these games. Two were big ones. You know they were big ones because they have nicknames: The Kneel-Down Game, when Buddy Ryan got his revenge on the Cowboys, and the Pickle Juice Game. when Andy Reid’s first playoff run began on a stifling Opening Day.
Other than that, some stream of semi-consciousness:
It’s 1988. Texas Stadium has a couple of satellite dishes outside and the most state of the art media setup in the NFL. At each press box seat, there was a portable television that you could tune to other games taking place around the league -- unheard of back then. And so, it was with amazement that we all watched it play out on the last day of the season. At just about 4 pm in the East, the favored Giants somehow lost to the Jets while, simultaneously, the Eagles beat the Cowboys. Because of that, the Eagles shockingly won the NFC East and were going to the playoffs for the first time since 1981. A public relations guy watching one of the little TVs in the press box relayed the news down to the Eagles’ sideline by telephone -- and the celebration afterward in the locker room featured Jerome Brown yelling unprintable things and players hugging whoever was available, including sportswriters.
Two decades later, the setup at Lincoln Financial Field was much more modern and the circumstances were much more complex. It was the last day of the season and the Eagles were dead unless a three-cushion bank shot of upsets took place. Through the afternoon, that’s just what happened -- upset, upset, amazingly. The last piece of the combination was, in a win-or-die game, Eagles 44, Cowboys 6. It is the most lopsided Eagles win in the series. But times were different. That day, there weren’t a lot of hugs by the time they let the media into the locker room.
Truth be told, the Eagles-Giants rivalry has produced more enduring moments. But the games against the Cowboys still hold their own, special place because they are the greatest barometer for where the Eagles franchise is at a given moment.
I can remember being at the Vet one day in the late ‘80s when Tom Landry, the Cowboys’ aging legend, lost track of the down and distance on a crucial play late in the game. You just knew it was near the end for him. And I can remember being in Texas Stadium for a playoff game in the early ‘90s. It was the year Jerome Brown died and the Eagles carted around his locker as a memorial shrine. The Cowboys were building under Jimmy Johnson and the Eagles were barely hanging on in the years after owner Norman Braman fired Buddy Ryan. And when the Cowboys won that day, everybody knew that Reggie White was about to leave in free-agency, and the whole thing was about to be torn apart, and that the two franchises were like rockets headed in opposite directions.
The games have often been like that, microcosms of something bigger. When the fans at the Vet pelted the field with snowballs in 1989, it was the beginning of long conversation -- about fans, and fan behavior, and about how the city of Philadelphia was badly maintaining the stadium -- that led to the installation of a court room in the basement and a growing drumbeat for new stadiums.
A different time, when the stretcher arriving to tend to injured Dallas receiver Michael Irvin was cheered by the crowd, there was this other great debate about Philadelphia’s place in the pantheon of bad fan behavior. These games did that so often, asking bigger questions than a single day, raising bigger issues.
I mean, when DeSean Jackson fumbled the ball before arriving in the end zone because of a premature celebration, was a player ever so accurately caricatured by an isolated action?
And the day in rainy Texas Stadium when Eagles coach Rich Kotite, after botching the decision about whether to attempt a two-point conversion, admitted that the ink on his two-point chart got smeared, well, was an entire era ever defined any better by a single moment?
Then there’s the other stuff that stands out, smaller stuff, more personal stuff. I can remember sitting in the press box in Texas Stadium, pre-Internet, and listening as writers would call home during a blizzard and report the news in rotation: “14 inches in Wilmington”...”22 inches in Center City”...And I remember a game at the Vet where Emmitt Smith ran for more than 200 yards in the midst of a Halloween monsoon. No one cared, however. It was only a week after Joe Carter in 1993.
It’s that kind of stuff, like Cowboys president Tex Schramm kindly reacting to Buddy Ryan choking on a pork chop and spending a night in the hospital by proclaiming the upcoming game, “The Pork Chop Bowl.” And Dave Spadaro spitting on the star at midfield in Arlington. And former public relations director Jim Gallagher telling the story about walking out of Texas Stadium the night in 1979 when Tony Franklin kicked a 59-yard field goal to beat the Cowboys, walking out and kind of dancing a little jig and yelling something perhaps unkind about every past indignity that the Eagles had suffered in that stadium.
It’s that kind of stuff. I’ll close with one of my favorites. Schramm was the Cowboys’ president for decades during the whole “America’s Team” era. One day, when they were playing at the Vet, the Eagles were getting worked over by both the Cowboys and the officials -- at least that was the opinion of Stan Walters, the former Eagles tackle who was then Merrill Reese’s color commentator on the radio broadcasts.