The Eagles' rivalry with the Dallas Cowboys is a big deal for fans in Philadelphia. It is much, much less so for the players who will actually line up Sunday night in Jerry Jones' gaudy monument to Jerry Jones.

Michael Vick talked about the rivalry in the locker room Wednesday. But Vick took a handful of Wildcat snaps in the Eagles' two season-ending losses in Texas last year. In his previous NFL incarnation, that storied Falcons-Panthers rivalry was about as bitter as it got.

Vick was a kid when the Cowboys blasted the Eagles, 34-10, in a playoff game after the 1992 season. Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy weren't born when Tom Landry's picket-line-crossing varmints embarrassed Buddy Ryan's replacement squad during the 1987 strike. Only six Eagles, including Vick, were alive when Wilbert Montgomery blasted through that hole in the 1980 NFC championship game at the Vet - and one of them, Sav Rocca, was in Australia at the time.

It is the fans who wear the old scars and bear the old grudges in this rivalry. Eagles fans came to hate the Cowboys during that period between 1967 and '78 when Dallas won 21 of 23 meetings between the two teams. Worse, the woebegone Eagles took those beatings at the hands of the prim Landry and too-good-to-be-true Roger Staubach, among others. The whole "America's Team" conceit and the softcore cheerleader porn - it made fans here seethe in a way the gritty rivals in New York and Washington never could.

The rivalry has always been more about the uniforms than the cast of players who wear them for brief periods at a time. That is truer all the time, as free agency turns players into itinerant workers.

When you say rivalry to Asante Samuel, you think his first reaction is Cowboys? It's more likely Colts because of his time with the Patriots. And it's most likely Deion Sanders because Samuel, like a lot of players, sees himself as an independent contractor rather than a part of something bigger.

In one of the stranger developments of a season full of them, the Eagles are awaiting Samuel's return to the lineup as if he were some combination of Brian Dawkins and Seth Joyner. After seeing this defense strafed in Samuel's absence, his dislike of contact and occasional bad gambles seem like endearing quirks.

Stranger still, the Eagles are 8-4, tied with the Giants in their division and part of a complicated NFC playoff puzzle. The Eagles know they need to win at least three of their four remaining games. They may even need to win all four to reach the playoffs.

So it is perfectly fitting, to those of us with elephantine recall, that the Eagles face the Cowboys twice in these final four weeks.

Forget all about the 1-7 start that got head coach Wade Phillips fired. It doesn't even matter that much that the Cowboys are 3-1 - and one fumble away from being 4-0 - under interim head coach Jason Garrett. What matters is that these are the Cowboys, and they have a long history of precipitating on the Eagles' planned parades. The Eagles have lost three playoff games at Dallas. All were humiliating and one-sided. All marked the end of Eagles eras.

After the 1992 season, Reggie White and Keith Byars played their final games as Eagles in Texas Stadium: Cowboys 34, Eagles 10.

After the 1995 season, Randall Cunningham played his final game as an Eagle in the same place: Cowboys 30, Eagles 11.

After the 2009 season, Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook made their final appearances as Eagles in Casa Jerry: Cowboys 34, Eagles 14.

That last one ranks as the second most painful Eagles loss in the history of the rivalry, for several reasons: because it ended a season and an era, because it was preceded by a 24-0 drubbing just six days earlier on the same field, and because, until going 0-3 last year, Andy Reid had a dominating record against the Cowboys.

The worst? That '92 loss, because it ruined the last chance for the White/Cunningham Eagles to realize their enormous potential and actually win something. And because it launched the Cowboys to a three-championship run.

That is one final bitter reality of this rivalry for Eagles fans. When the Cowboys have dominated, they've won Lombardi trophies. When the Eagles had good runs under Dick Vermeil, Buddy Ryan, and Reid, they won nothing.

The Eagles won't be seeing the Cowboys in the playoffs this year. But they will have to beat them at least once and possibly twice to get to the postseason themselves.

The only painful history most of them know is what happened in the two debacles that ended last season. Come to think of it, that should be plenty.