That Eagles-Giants rivalry

Posted: November 06, 2008

There is no rivalry in the NFL or any other North American professional sport that matches the intensity of the New York Yankees vs. the Boston Red Sox.

"I remember the first time I wore my Yankees hat to the mall [in Massachusetts] and people were yelling stuff at me," said Eagles fullback Dan Klecko, a devoted Yankees fan and a three-year member of the New England Patriots. "It was crazy up there. It's really something you can't understand unless you're up there."

The closest thing in the NFL these days is the Eagles vs. the New York Giants, the two teams that will meet again Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

Forget about the Redskins-Cowboys. Those teams have combined for one playoff win in the 21st century. Forget Denver-Oakland. Raiders owner Al Davis doesn't know what planet he's on - Earth to Al, come in Al -- let alone what division he's in anymore. Pittsburgh-Cleveland? That rivalry is more one-sided than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Green Bay-Chicago? Only if you enjoy icicles in your underwear, and who doesn't?

The Eagles and Giants have everything you could possibly want in a rivalry.

Proximity? The two stadiums are separated by less than 100 miles.

Two successful teams? Since 2000, the teams have combined to win seven of the eight NFC East titles while making 11 postseason and three Super Bowl appearances. The Giants, of course, won it all last season.

A real disdain? Philadelphia fans hate New York fans. New Yorkers believe there's more than a geographical reason that Philadelphia sits beneath the Big Apple on the map.

Great players? The Giants' recently retired Michael Strahan and Tiki Barber probably will end up in the Hall of Fame. Eagles safety Brian Dawkins, quarterback Donovan McNabb, and running back Brian Westbrook could be building Hall of Fame resumes.

Great games? They've played three overtime games and eight games that have been decided by six points or fewer since 2000.

All the ingredients blend perfectly for this rivalry, and the stakes will be enormous again Sunday with the 5-3 Eagles trying to prove that they are worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the 7-1 Giants.

"We've got to show them who the big dog is," Eagles defensive end Trent Cole said after practice yesterday. "This is the best show on Earth in 2008. You thought the Dallas game was big? This is bigger. This is really big."

Cole, who has six career sacks and an interception return for a touchdown in seven career games against the Giants, was clearly excited about Sunday's showdown. He understands that the defending Super Bowl champions and current NFC East leaders are a measuring stick for an Eagles team that battled a consistency problem through the first eight games.

"We're going to learn a lot from this game," Cole said. "Every game is a rivalry to me. I'm not saying this is the only big game, but this game I'm counting on winning. We're going to win. I refuse to lose. We refuse to lose. Losing is not in our vocabulary, and it won't be in our vocabulary. I don't even know why I'm saying the word losing."

As Cole spoke, veteran teammate Darren Howard eyed him, wanting no part of the verbal volleys the Eagles' Pro Bowl defensive end was tossing in the air.

"I'm very excited about this game," Cole said. "This is putting us in a position on the road to where we want to go. This is the road to the top - win the division and the Super Bowl and getting to wear that big ring we've always wanted."

Like any good rivalry, this one also has some juicy subplots: McNabb vs. Giants quarterback Eli Manning; the coaches, Tom Coughlin vs. Andy Reid; the coordinators, with Steve Spagnuolo having taken Jim Johnson's defense up the New Jersey Turnpike and used it to win a Super Bowl; and the one that interests Cole the most - defensive-line supremacy.

"That's a little thing we take personally," Cole said. "We take pride in our D line and they can take pride in their D line as well. They have a great D line, too. We want to be the ones that are noticed in this game."

Since Reid has been with the Eagles, Coughlin is the only NFC East coach who has gone against him at least four times and compiled a winning record. Reid is 4-5 against the Giants since Coughlin became their coach in 2004.

"For me, this has been my biggest rivalry since I've been with the Eagles," Dawkins said. "I know everybody can't stand Dallas and I understand that, but for me, this is the game I get up for every time."

Eagles linebacker Tank Daniels has a unique perspective on the rivalry because he spent his rookie season of 2006 in Philadelphia, moved to the Giants last season, and is back here now.

"It's just as big for them as it is for us," Daniels said. "New York hates Philly. Philly hates New York. If you're a fan of football, you know it's a big rivalry. People down South know that the Eagles and New York is a huge game."

What was it like in the Giants' locker room?

"They'd be like, 'Man, we've got the Eagles this week, let's go. You can't be messing around this week. It's time to pick it up.' It's a different animal when it's Eagles-Giants. It's a playoff game."

And that's what makes this the best rivalry in the NFL.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.

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