The self-service Sunoco station down the street from the NovaCare practice facility is a foreboding establishment. It commands a windswept corner that feeds into two interstates, a barren intersection where anything can happen, especially after dark.

Brandon Graham, the Eagles' rookie defensive end, gets gas there. He was pumping away in a bitter wind Tuesday evening when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw an unfamiliar man approaching him from behind.

The first-rounder played it cool. Anything could happen.

The unexpected happened.

"This dude came from out of nowhere," Graham said, "and just sat there and talked to me for 30 minutes about how serious this game was. How he's been a fan since yea high, and how I'd just gotten here, and I didn't understand it."

He was 50-ish fellow, Graham said, wearing khakis, filling up his SUV, a middle-class devotee full of bitterness that stewed for 11 months. Like many Eagles fans, this guy had been miserable since the Cowboys manhandled the visiting Eagles on consecutive weeks, in the season finale, then in the wild-card playoff game, completing a three-game season sweep.

So, Graham reached into his own car, grabbed a warm coat and, for a half-hour, he listened to the pleas:

"You've got to beat those Cowboys. You don't know what we went through last year. I couldn't take it. I don't want to take it again."

Graham, a Michigan product, knows rivalry. He played for the maize and blue against Ohio State, but was dumbfounded that similar passion existed in the NFL.

"It's just like those games," Graham marveled.

Graham understands that NFL rivalries might be different for players than for fans; that this Eagles group might despise, say, the Giants more than the Cowboys.

He also understands that, for Eagles fans, the Cowboys are enemy No. 1.

He now better understands that his Q rating among the most faithful is as high as Michael Vick or DeSean Jackson.

Still, he longed to escape.

"The gas was pumping so slow," Graham said.

Graham's good nature would not allow him to rudely detach himself.

He promised his fellow gasser he would try his best.

By the time they finished, Graham said, the two pumpers were equally excited about Sunday's game.