The hit that started the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry

LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 4: Linebacker Lee Roy Jordan #55 of the Dallas Cowboys looks to the sideline against the Los Angeles Rams in the 1975 NFC Championship Game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on January 4, 1976 in Los Angeles, California. The Cowboys defeated the Rams 37-7. (AP Photo/NFL Photos)
LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 4: Linebacker Lee Roy Jordan #55 of the Dallas Cowboys looks to the sideline against the Los Angeles Rams in the 1975 NFC Championship Game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on January 4, 1976 in Los Angeles, California. The Cowboys defeated the Rams 37-7. (AP Photo/NFL Photos) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: December 30, 2013

From his office in his Dallas lumber company, Lee Roy Jordan pleaded ignorance of his standing as perhaps the most infamous villain in Philadelphia football history.

On Dec. 10, 1967, Jordan delivered an elbow and forearm to the face of Eagles running back Timmy Brown, a hit naked and vicious and unforgettable for the man who suffered it - or for anyone who witnessed it. Newspaper reports at the time said it cost Brown four teeth. Brown said recently that the actual number was nine.

"It was," he said, "the dirtiest blow I ever had."

Yet more than 46 years after he ignited a hatred of the Dallas Cowboys that burns in the Philadelphia area to this day, Jordan insisted that his tackle of Brown had been a hard and clean football play, nothing more, nothing less.

"You ask any player who played against me if I was a dirty player, and you'll find out I was not," Jordan, who played linebacker for the Cowboys for 14 seasons, said in a phone interview Friday. "I've never been a player who tried to put anybody out of the game or injure anybody. That never entered my mind. I didn't play that way and would never play that way."

That's not how the story is told up here.

"I wasn't really conscious of that," he said. "But I would not doubt that."

The Eagles will play the Cowboys on Sunday night with the NFC East title at stake, and for many Philadelphia sports fans, the prospect of the Eagles' winning a division championship and preventing the Cowboys from reaching the playoffs promises as much satisfaction as a Super Bowl berth would. No opponent inspires the same visceral dislike that Dallas does, and the genesis of the Cowboys' status as the Eagles' bĂȘte-noir can be traced to that single moment, when Jordan shattered the veneer of civility between the two teams in the same instant he shattered Brown's jaw.

"That," Brown said in a phone interview, "started the rivalry."

It's no wonder it developed. On the one hand is Dallas: a land of oil barons and wealth and an NFL team that has won five Super Bowls, the scent of superiority always in the air. On the other is Philadelphia: a place that prizes grit and effort and blue-collar sensibilities, a place whose NFL team has never won a Super Bowl, a place with an inferiority complex inherent in its sports (and arguably in its civic) culture. Yes, Jordan's hit on Brown initiated a process that likely would have developed naturally, but it did initiate it.

Brown was one of the Eagles' best skill-position players at the time; over his 10-year career in the NFL, he led the league in kickoff-return yardage twice and scored 64 touchdowns as a rusher, receiver, and returner. In 1966, he had returned two kickoffs for touchdowns to help the Eagles beat the Cowboys, 24-23. After that game, Brown said, he heard from teammates and other players that the Cowboys "had a bounty out on me. They were making sure I didn't do it again."

Jordan denied Friday that the Cowboys had done any such thing. "Tell Timmy there was no bounty on him," he said.

Nevertheless, with the Cowboys on their way to a 38-17 victory over the Eagles at the Cotton Bowl the following season, Brown looped out of the backfield on a pass route. Quarterback Norm Snead overthrew him. At 6-foot-1 and 221 pounds, patrolling the middle of the field, Jordan was two inches taller and 23 pounds heavier than Brown, and he straightened his arm and dropped Brown to the ground with a clothesline tackle. How late the hit was depends on which player you ask about it.

"It numbed me," Brown said. "I was in shock, I suppose. I wasn't ready for any kind of a real blow."

"Both of us were up in the air. I think I remember it that way," Jordan said. "The ball was in the air, and both of us were going for the ball. Whatever reflexes I had, it ended up affecting him."

The Eagles finished 6-7-1 in 1967, the first of 11 straight seasons for them without a winning record. The Cowboys won two Super Bowls, reached two more, and won 74 percent of their regular-season games over the same period - the resentment over Jordan's hit and Dallas' rise into a dynasty building here as time passed.

"Our fathers told us about Lee Roy Jordan knocking out Timmy Brown's teeth," said Merrill Reese, the Eagles' play-by-play voice since 1977. "Everybody resented the fact that the Cowboys became 'America's Team.' They were the glamour franchise, and for years and years and years, throughout the '60s and '70s, they battered this team characteristically and constantly."

Now 76 and living in Palm Springs, Calif., Brown said he has never spoken with Jordan about the hit, and he didn't sound eager to.

"He knew what he was doing," Brown said.

A member of the Cowboys' Ring of Honor, a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Jordan has owned Lee Roy Jordan Lumber Co. for 35 years, and even at 72 he gets to Cowboys games often. He plans to be at AT&T Stadium in Arlington for Sunday's.

He had lost four teeth on another play during his career, and there was nothing dirty about that incident, he said, just as there was nothing dirty about what he did to Brown. It was all just part of football, and besides, it was a long time ago.

"Tell Timmy I've got four teeth I'll exchange with him if he wants to," Jordan said before he hung up. "Mine are removable."


BY THE NUMBERS

62-47

Cowboys' record against the Eagles

3

Cowboys' win streak against the Eagles

7-3

Cowboys' record over last 10 games against the Eagles

2-3

Eagles' record at AT&T Stadium


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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