Dallas Week was still like a miniplayoff game here. Back then, some Eagles fans still were known to say that they didn't care what else the Birds did as long as they beat Dallas.
It's not like that anymore.
Between the 2001 and 2004 seasons, when the Eagles won four consecutive NFC East titles and reached four consecutive NFC Championship Games, they went 7-1 against the Cowboys.
Priorities changed during that time for Eagles fans. With the Eagles coming so tantalizingly close to that elusive Lombardi Trophy, anger once reserved for Dallas got channeled into frustration with the Birds falling short so many times under so many circumstances. As championship expectations and disappointments grew, just beating Dallas no longer was good enough to satiate a starving fan base.
I mean, really, how does sweeping Dallas in 2002 ease the pain of losing the NFC Championship Game to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the last NFL game played at Veterans Stadium?
Beating Dallas twice in 2004 doesn't fill the void of losing the Super Bowl to New England, either.
Through much of the Eagles' history with Dallas, envy was the driving emotion that fueled Philadelphia's passion. The Cowboys were America's team. They had the glitz, and yes, the trophies.
During the rebuilding eras of Dick Vermeil and Buddy Ryan, beating Dallas was viewed as a huge step toward greater glory. And for a while, when Andy Reid was first resurrecting the Eagles from another fall into the ashes at the start of the century, the same logic applied. But let's be honest, it didn't take Eagles fans long to realize that Dallas really wasn't very good. During the time when the Eagles were absolutely ruling the NFC East, the Cowboys went 26-38 with one playoff appearance.
In the early 2000s, there was not much for the Eagles to gain by beating Dallas. For a rare moment in the history of the rivalry, Eagles fans realized the Cowboys were actually chasing their team. Philadelphia soon learned that it became harder to sustain a good hatred for a team you were consistently dominating.
And with the NFC championship frustrations, Eagles fans discovered it was hard to enjoy kicking a guy when he's down if you don't end up with the big prize.
These days, if you want to get an Eagles fan stoked up, say, "Joe Banner or Jeffrey Lurie" instead of "Jerry Jones."
So the irony is that one of the greatest runs of Eagles dominance over the Cowboys sucked much of the over-the-top intensity out of the rivalry. By 2006, Dallas had almost become just another game on the schedule.
Eagles fans still loathe Dallas, but simply beating the Cowboys just doesn't seem to resonate the way it did when I first came to Philadelphia.
And that brings us back to now.
For a game this early in the season, Sunday night's matchup between the Eagles and Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field has some unusually high stakes. It's not an understatement to say that the Eagles' season could be riding on what they do against the Cowboys.
The victory at Washington stopped the hemorrhaging from that awful four-game losing streak that resulted in a 1-4 start. Still, if the Eagles have any thoughts of pulling off one of the greatest in-season turnarounds in NFL history and making it to the playoffs, they have to beat Dallas. Despite their 2-4 record, the Eagles come out of the bye week just 1 1/2 games behind Chicago, Tampa Bay and Atlanta for the second wild-card spot in the NFC. The New York Giants lead the NFC East with a 4-2 record, but they look shaky at best, as do the Redskins (3-3) and Dallas (3-3).
Winning the division still seems like the Eagles' best path into the playoffs. If the Eagles beat Dallas, they get to continue on their path to recovery. But if they lose, and end up missing the playoffs, nobody can tell me that beating the Cowboys on Christmas Eve is going to make anyone in Philadelphia feel any better.
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