This is Dallas week in the Delaware Valley as the hated Cowboys roll into town to play the Eagles. As far as the fans are concerned, this is by far the Eagles’ biggest and most intense rivalry and, not surprisingly since they play each other twice a year every year, this series has had some noteworthy games — and not always for what happened on the field.
So here’s one man’s opinion of the top 10 games in Eagles-Cowboys history, taken with a decided Eagles slant, meaning these are all Eagles victories (hey, if you want the other perspective, got to Town Square Texas). This is a subjective list, of course, and your list might be different. But it’s hard to argue with these memorable games:
10 — Sept. 23, 1974: The Cowboys were very good and the Eagles were very bad, but that didn’t matter in this game for one very important reason. The Cowboys appeared to be driving for a game-clinching TD when Eagles DB Joe Lavender scooped up a fumble on the Eagles 4-yard line and returned it down the sideline 96 yards for a touchdown to give the home team a rare 13-10 victory – the Eagles would then lose their next nine straight to the Cowboys.
9 — Nov. 12, 1979: The Eagles won 31-21 and this was the game that broke the losing streak that started after Lavender’s fumble return for a TD. The Eagles had also lost 21 of their last 23 to Dallas and it was also the first time Dick Vermeil beat the Cowboys. And to make it all the sweeter, he did it at Dallas, thanks in part to a 59-yard field goal by Tony Franklin, still the longest in team history.
8 and 7 — Nov. 15, 2004 or Oct. 6, 2006: Take your pick, because these two victories had one thing in common – in both, CB Lito Sheppard returned an interception more than 100 yards for a touchdown. The first was 101 yards, the big play in a 49-21 victory, and the second was 102 yards – the longest interception return in Eagles history – which sparked a 38-24 victory.
6 — Sept. 15, 1991: The Cowboys were rebuilding under new coach Jimmy Johnson and rookie QB Troy Aikman when the Eagles traveled deep into the heart of Texas. The Eagles pounded the Cowboys, literally and figuratively. The won 24-0 and Aikman was sacked 11 times, including 4½ by DE Clyde Simmons. Those are still the Eagles’ single-game records for an individual and team.
5 — Dec. 18, 1988: This was an easy “W’’ as the Eagles rolled to a 23-7 victory, but it was noteworthy because they went into the game – the final one of the regular season – facing four possible scenarios. One had them losing and not making the playoffs, another had them winning and still not making the playoffs, the third had them winning and making the playoffs and the fourth, and most unlikely, had them winning and not only making the playoffs, but also winning NFC East. And that’s what happened, as the Eagles won and the sad-sack Saints rallied to win and the Jets scored a last-minute TD to beat the Giants and give the Eagles their first division title since 1980. Helping the Eagles win was Luis Zendejas’ three field goals, which is noteworthy because of what happened the following year.
4 — Nov. 23, 1989: This game became known as “The Bounty Bowl’’ as the feud between Eagles coach Buddy Ryan and Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson really heated up during this nationally-televised game on Thanksgiving Day. Luis Zendejas, now kicking for the Cowboys, was knocked silly by Eagles LB Jessie Small during a kickoff return and he accused Ryan of putting a $200 bounty on him, meaning anybody who knocked him out of the game would get a little extra cash from the head coach. Johnson was incensed and during his post-game press conference said “I have absolutely no respect for the way they played the game. I would have said something to Buddy, but he wouldn’t stand on the field long enough. He put his big, fat rear end into the dressing room.” To which Ryan replied the next day: “I resent that. I’ve been on a diet, lost a couple of pounds. I thought I was looking good.”
3 — Oct. 23, 1988: Talk to a player from this team and just say “fourth-and-1” and see them smile. This might not have been the greatest defensive stand in Eagles’ history, but it’s got to be close. It was also the last game Tom Landry ever coached in Philly. The Eagles led 24-23 late in the fourth quarter and the Cowboys faced as fourth-and-1 near midfield. The Eagles stacked up All-Pro RB Emmitt Smith for no gain to set off a wild celebration, but the officials put a damper on that when they said that Dallas had called a timeout right before the snap. The Eagles were irate as the Cowboys lined up to try it again, and once again Smith – a future Hall-of-Famer – got the ball behind one of the league’s best o-lines. But once again the Eagles stopped him for no gain, and this time it counted.
2 — Oct. 25, 1987: This one became known as the kneel-down game, but it was more of a rub-your-face-in-it game. NFL players had been on strike and the Eagles’ scab team traveled to Texas to play a Cowboys team that was loaded with veterans who had crossed the picket line, including Delaware icon Randy White. The Cowboys won easily, as expected, but what steamed Buddy Ryan was when Landry put his starters back in the game late in the fourth quarter when the Eagles were driving for a meaningless TD in a 41-22 loss. Well, just two weeks later, the Cowboys came to the Vet and this time Ryan had his real team on the field. They were leading 30-20 in the closing seconds when QB Randall Cunningham went down on one knee, apparently to run out the clock. Instead, Cunningham jumped up and threw a pass to the end zone and the Cowboys were flagged for interference to set up a 1-yard TD run on the last play of the game. Ryan, who always ran off the field right after the final gun, trotted up the tunnel leading to the Eagles’ locker room. He saw a couple of reporters standing there and shouted “Bleep ‘em!” before ducking into the locker room.
1 — Jan. 11, 1981: You probably guessed this one, because not only is it the Eagles’ greatest play against the Cowboys, it’s one of the greatest plays in the history of the franchise. It came in the 1980 NFC Championship Game at the Vet and it proved to be the high point of the Dick Vermeil era. RB Wilbert Montgomery took a handoff from QB Ron Jaworski and dashed through a big hole on his way to a 42-yard TD and a 7-0 lead, the key play in the Eagles’ 20-7 victory. Eagles fans still get chills whenever this play pops up on highlights shows.