John Smallwood: Another great Eagles-Cowboys game looms

Andy Reid, Donovan McNabb have a lot riding on Sunday's game at Dallas.
Andy Reid, Donovan McNabb have a lot riding on Sunday's game at Dallas.
Posted: December 29, 2009

JUST TO BE honest, Dallas Week has always produced a little more intensity and passion among Eagles fans than Cowboys backers.

Up here, a Birds victory over the hated Cowboys is the type of thing that can soothe the pain of disappointing seasons or provide the cherry on top to successful ones.

In Dallas, the folks want to beat the Eagles because they are NFC East opponents, but looking at them as the "ultimate" archrival just isn't how they view things. In Dallas, an Eagles game probably ranks third to ones against the Washington Redskins or New York Giants – unless the stakes are supremely high.

That was the case last season when the Birds whipped the 'Boys, 44-6, in a win-or-stay home regular-season finale at Lincoln Financial Field.

That will be the case on Sunday when the teams meet in the Cowboys' new stadium with the NFC East championship at stake.

Both teams already qualified for the playoffs, but the winner will secure a home game in the postseason as the division champion.

The stakes could be even higher for the Eagles.

They could earn a first-round bye with a victory, after last night's loss by the Minnesota Vikings.

The Eagles are aware of everything they are playing for.

The most fascinating thing about this matchup is that it could be just the first of consecutive meetings between the teams.

Depending on what happens around the NFL Sunday, the teams could meet again in the first round of the NFC playoffs, and, of course, whoever is the division champion will host that game.

Not surprising, Eagles coach Andy Reid downplayed the significance of anything that could happen in the playoffs, and instead focused on the task at hand.

"You just go in and you got to take care of this one," Reid said yesterday. "Whatever happens after that happens. But you got to take care of business right now."

The coach's lack of public enthusiasm aside, you have to love end-of-season scenarios such as this.

Nothing is more exciting than playing a hated rival in the last game of the season with playoff positioning at stake.

In the case of Eagles/Cowboys, it just adds a little more "oomph" to already intense emotions in Birds fans.

Last season's beat-down of the Cowboys might not have been the best moment in the brief history of Lincoln Financial Field - No. 1 has to be the 2004 NFC Championship Game victory over Atlanta - but it's definitely in the top two.

The unbelievable alignment of stars that set the stage for the game are forever etched in Eagles lore.

That fateful Sunday began with the Eagles' needing both the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to lose to inferior opponents simply for the game to have playoff meaning for them.

As fans enjoyed their pregame tailgating, the Bears lost to the Houston Texans. Then, as the Linc started filling up before kickoff, the big-screen televisions showed the pitiful Oakland Raiders' stunning upset of the Bucs in Tampa.

By the time the Eagles ran out of the tunnel for introductions, the entire stadium was intoxicated by the knowledge of what would happen if the Eagles won.

Dallas and its playoff dreams never had a chance.

With the game, 3-3, after a quarter, the Eagles blitzed the Cowboys for 24 points in the second quarter and set up the best celebration of a victory over Dallas since the NFC Championship Game after the 1980 season.

It was a glorious day for Eagles fans - one that could have been set up only by a perfect storm of results.

To be honest, this Sunday's game won't have as much edge to it.

Because both teams are already in the playoffs, the do-or-die factor isn't on the table.

Because the game is in Dallas instead of Philadelphia, South Philly won't rock the way it could.

Still, what is on the line is enough to make this one of the more memorable Dallas Weeks for Eagles fans.

"That's what's going to make this a great game," Reid said. "Both teams have something at stake.

"That's why we do this thing as coaches and players - for opportunities like this. Everybody will be fired up for it."

As far as Eagles fans are concerned, that goes without saying. *

Send e-mail to

smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/smallwood.

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