Philadelphia Eagles Rivalry: The Dallas Cowboys
Eagles vs. Cowboys: The Most Acrimonious Rivalry in the NFL
There are countless rivalries in sports, but none are as bitter as the rivalry between the Eagles and the Cowboys. I know this because I am a lifelong fan of the Eagles. I have been going to games my entire life, and I have had season tickets since graduating from college in 1991. That gives me an up-close and personal view of the reason that this is such a bitter rivalry: Cowboys fans.
I can't even tell you that Cowboys fans from Dallas are the worst because I have literally never met an actual Cowboys fan from Dallas, Texas. Therein lies the problem. Cowboys fans are just a bunch of people who decided that they would be Cowboys fans—at a time when the Cowboys were good.
While Philadelphia fans have a bad reputation for many things, none have ever been accused of being disingenuous. Eagles fans can smell a fake fan a mile away. Those fans are usually wearing a Cowboys jersey and talking about the 1970s or '90s.
Every Eagles fan knows the number one cheer at Eagles games is, "Dallas sucks." It's all about civic pride, and every Eagles fan's second favorite team is whoever is playing the Cowboys that day.
Other Rivals Don't Compare
Oh sure, Philadelphia fans don't like their other division rivals, Washington and New York. Heck, any Philly sports fan doesn't like anything about New York. Even though the Steelers are in the same state as the Eagles, they are also in the other conference, so the teams hardly ever play. You can't generate a good rivalry unless you play that team on a regular basis.
Eagles fans have certain feelings about the Patriots after they stole a Super Bowl from the Eagles during the height of their "Spygate" era. But it's just not the same as the rivalry with the Cowboys.
It all started in 1960, when the Cowboys joined the NFL as an expansion team. The Eagles won the NFL championship in 1960, but that's not exactly relevant here. A little-known fact about this season is that the Cowboys and Eagles only played once because the Cowboys were originally in the NFL West division. Luckily for this rivalry, the Cowboys moved to the East division in 1961, when the Vikings joined the NFL. That was the beginning of the teams playing each other twice a year.
The Eagles were obviously the better team early in the '60s, but by the end of the decade, the Cowboys had become a powerhouse. The Eagles held a 10–9 lead in games won during the decade, but the Cowboys lost the NFL championship games in both 1966 and '67.
The 1970s were not a kind decade to the Eagles. Meanwhile, the Cowboys became "America's Team."
The Cowboys went 17–3 against the Eagles and went to an astounding five Super Bowls. The Cowboys beat the Eagles 11 straight times between 1967 and '72 and nine straight times between 1974 and '78. This is the period I point to as the birth of the older generation of Cowboys fans that now exist. Rooting for a winner is easy, I guess. Being a Philly sports fan, I didn't know much about winning during my formative years, but I still never turned to "the Dark Side." The "America's Team" moniker really annoyed Eagles fans.
The term "America's Team" was actually the brainchild of Bob Ryan of NFL Films. He used the term for the Cowboys' 1978 season highlight film, and it stuck. Certainly, a fanbase that refers to their team as "America's Team" is easy to dislike. Eagles fans ate it up, and the rivalry only intensified.
The Cowboys were coached by Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry from their inaugural 1960 season until '88. Landry dominated the Eagles from the late 1960s through the '70s. But all that was changed when the Eagles hired Dick Vermeil, a coach from UCLA, in 1976.
Vermeil took a while to turn the Eagles into winners, but he led the team to their first Super Bowl in franchise history in 1980. Of course, a big part of this great rivalry comes from that season.
To get to the Super Bowl, the Eagles had to face the Cowboys in the 1980 NFC championship game. Until that season, the Cowboys had dominated the Eagles, winning 19 of the 23 games the two teams played from 1969 to '79. As I said before, there were a lot of losses for Eagles fans. Now things were different.
Choosing the White Jerseys
The Eagles won the NFC East and got to host the NFC championship game. As the home team, the Eagles got to choose which jerseys they wanted to wear. The Cowboys didn't like their blue jerseys, which some felt were cursed, dating back to Super Bowl V. With this in mind, the Eagles chose to wear their white jerseys, in spite of the fact that they had worn their kelly green jerseys at home all season. The Cowboys were not happy, but that was the whole point.
Eagles running back Wilbert Montgomery took a hand-off on their second play from scrimmage and scored a 42-yard touchdown. The Eagles never looked back, and the 1980s were quite different for this rivalry.
1986: Buddy Ryan Changes Everything
The 1980s weren't great for the Eagles overall, but they did tie the Cowboys 10–10 during the decade, so things had at least evened out. Then, in 1986, everything changed.
When Buddy Ryan became the head coach of the Eagles, after winning the Super Bowl as the defensive coordinator of the Bears, he immediately knew what to do. Love him or hate him, Ryan knew how to fan the flames of a rivalry into an inferno. He knew the fans didn't like the Cowboys, so he was going to play that up as much as he could.
During the 1987 season, the NFL players went on strike, and the owners actually decided to play games that counted with replacement players. It was a dark time for the NFL and their fans. Several big-name Cowboys players crossed the picket lines during the strike, and the Cowboys humiliated an Eagles team of replacement players 41–22. An enraged Ryan accused Landry of running up the score. This was something of a controversy because nobody ever dared to criticize Landry. Ryan didn't care, and he had a plan.
When the teams met later that season, Ryan got his revenge. With the clock winding down and the Eagles up by 10, Ryan had quarterback Randall Cunningham fake a kneel down and throw a long pass into the end zone. The resulting pass interference call put the ball at the one-yard line, and the Eagles scored a touchdown on the next play to make the final score 37–20. Landry was not happy, but Ryan didn't care.
This made him a cult hero to Eagles fans. Ryan was more than happy to embarrass the Cowboys for his team and the fans.
1989 and the Bounty Bowls
By the time the 1989 season rolled around, Landry had retired and was replaced by Jimmy Johnson. The two games that season came to be known as the Bounty Bowls because of Johnson's accusations that Ryan had placed bounties on several Cowboys players, including quarterback Troy Aikman and kicker Luis Zendejas. It seemed pretty obvious that Johnson was right when Eagles linebacker Jesse Small went after Zendejas. Again, the fans loved it and loved Ryan for doing such a thing to the rival Cowboys.
The rivalry was really solidified in the 1980s due to Ryan. Unfortunately, Ryan never won a playoff game for the Eagles, but he won over the fans by showing them he understood the Cowboys rivalry just as much as they did.
Apparently, the Cowboys franchise likes odd-numbered decades, because just like in the 1970s, the Cowboys owned the Eagles and the NFL in the '90s. The Cowboys held a 14–8 edge against the Eagles in the 1990s, including the playoffs, and won three more Super Bowls. The Cowboys even beat the Eagles twice in the playoffs during the decade. This did not sit well with Eagles fans; it made them hate the Cowboys even more.
All you need to know about how the rivalry went for the Eagles during the 1990s is that their head coaches from 1991 through '98 were Rich Kotite and Ray Rhodes. Oh, the humanity!
The High Point: Dec. 10, 1995
Honestly, the only highlight of the 1990s for Eagles fans, when it came to the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry, was a game in 1995. Yes, the Cowboys won the Super Bowl that season, but Jimmy Johnson was gone after he couldn't get along with owner Jerry Jones. Barry Switzer was the new Dallas head coach, and he was not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. Ryan had also worn out his welcome in Philadelphia by this time, and Eagles coach Rhodes wasn't exactly headed for the Hall of Fame himself. But it was Switzer who gave Eagles fans one of the greatest moments in Philly sports history.
I was there in the old Veterans Stadium on Dec. 10, 1995. The game was tied 17–17 late in the fourth quarter. The Eagles had just broken up a pass on third-and-one, and everyone assumed that the Cowboys would be punting. Instead, Switzer elected to go for it on fourth-and-one from his own 29-yard line. Yes, he had the best offensive line in the NFL at the time, and he had one of the greatest running backs in the history of the NFL in Emmitt Smith, but this was crazy.
As expected, the Cowboys ran off-tackle left with Smith, but the Eagles stuffed him at the line and were ready to take possession. The only problem was that right before the snap, the officials blew the whistle for the two-minute warning. Surely now, with time to think, Switzer would punt. Nope. The Cowboys lined up to go for it on fourth-and-one a second time and ran the same exact play with Smith. And for the second time in a row, the Eagles stuffed Smith.
I would like to take a moment to say that I have never been anywhere that was ever as loud as the Vet was when the Eagles stopped Smith the second time. It was surreal. Seeing the reaction of the Cowboys fans in attendance only made it sweeter.
The Low Point: Tommy Hutton
The low point in this rivalry during the 1990s for Eagles fans (you know, besides the three Cowboys Super Bowls) can be summed up in two words: Tommy Hutton. I can't go into detail. It's just too painful. Eagles fans understand. If you're reading this and you're not an Eagles fan, just Google it.
Sacking the Cowboys
It was universally accepted that the Cowboys had the best offensive line in the NFL throughout their run of three Super Bowls in the 1990s, but they didn't start the decade with that distinction. During Week 3 of the 1991 season, the Eagles shut out the Cowboys 24–0. They set a franchise record by sacking Dallas quarterback Aikman 11 times. In those days, the Eagles defensive line included Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Mike Golic and Jerome Brown, so they gave plenty of quarterbacks nightmares.
The domination during this game was so thorough that the Cowboys failed to score after getting a turnover on the Eagles 11-yard line. The Eagles defense had three of their sacks and forced a fumble right after the turnover, and Aikman was free to retreat to the safety of the Dallas bench. It's just a shame that the game was in Dallas.
The Controversial 1999 Game: Irvin's Injury
The last thing I will mention about this rivalry in the 1990s is something that is still controversial to this day. That would be the game played on Oct. 10, 1999, at the Vet. You may remember this as the game where Michael Irvin was injured, and Eagles fans cheered. Most people will tell you that this proves that Eagles fans are nothing but low-class hooligans. Well, I was there, and I cheered when Irvin didn't get up. And I'm not the least bit ashamed of that fact.
You see, Irvin wasn't exactly a choirboy during his playing days. He also made a career out of pushing off every time a ball was thrown his way, and the refs never flagged him for it. That doesn't mean he deserved to be seriously injured, though. It just meant that he was the number one villain on the Cowboys during the 1990s.
I then heard a radio interview that Irvin did with a Philly sports talk radio station in October, where Irvin discussed that game. To my surprise, Irvin didn't hold any ill will towards Eagles fans for what happened that day. He actually liked it. He said he knew that the fans just wanted their team to win, and with him being out of the game, it would be easier for the Eagles to win. He said that he loves the passion of the Eagles fans.
Things turned in the 2000s when the Eagles hired Andy Reid to be their head coach in 1999. It turns out that he was a horrible game day coach who couldn't make in-game adjustments or manage the clock to save his life. He also came up small in the biggest games. Anyway, the beginning of Reid's tenure in Philly was great. Part of that was due to the fact that the best thing Reid ever did was hire Jim Johnson as his defensive coordinator.
The Eagles actually had a 13–6 record against the Cowboys during the 2000s. You may also remember that the Eagles went to only their second Super Bowl in franchise history.
There were many things that helped keep this fierce rivalry going during the decade.
The Pickle Juice Game
In September 2000, the Eagles beat the Cowboys 41–14 at Texas Stadium in what would become known as the "Pickle Juice" game. Apparently, the Eagles believed that drinking pickle juice would help the players deal with the temperatures that reached over 110 degrees on the field that day. The actual science behind it has since been debunked, but it worked for the Eagles that day.
Both franchises opened new stadiums during the decade. The Eagles opened Lincoln Financial Field in 2003 and the Cowboys opened AT&T Stadium in 2009. But far more significant to the rivalry is what happened in 2002 when the NFL realigned divisions.
There was a thought that the Cowboys should be moved to either the NFC South or NFC West to be more geographically aligned with their division. But Dallas owner Jones used his considerable clout in NFL circles to make sure that his team would not lose the rivalries his team had with the other NFC East teams. I couldn't imagine not playing the Cowboys twice a year.
Dominant Eagles, Floundering Cowboys
On the field, the Eagles were dominating the NFC East while the Cowboys were floundering during the 2000s. The Eagles won the division five times in six years from 2001 to '06. They advanced to the NFC championship game five times during the decade and the Super Bowl once. (Losing four NFC championship games is why I criticize Reid.) Sadly, the Eagles and Cowboys only met in the playoffs once during the decade, with the Cowboys winning a Wild Card game. But that doesn't mean there weren't some other great moments.
Terrell (T.O.) Owens
Every football fan knows who you're talking about with these initials. Terrell Owens gets his own mention in this rivalry because he not only played for both teams but also because he's such a big personality. On Dec. 19, 2005, Cowboys safety Roy Williams tackled Owens with an illegal horse-collar tackle, breaking his leg. Everyone assumed Owens' season was over, but he managed to come back for the Super Bowl to catch nine passes for 122 yards and nearly overcome Donovan McNabb, literally choking away the game.
It all ended the next season with sit-ups in a driveway. By 2006, Owens was in Dallas, but he never really did any damage against the Eagles. As a matter of fact, Owens' last game as a Cowboy was in Week 17 of the 2008 season, when the two teams met with a playoff berth on the line. The Eagles won 44–6 and took the sixth playoff seed. They eventually lost to the Cardinals in the NFC championship game.
The 2010s was a pretty even decade in this rivalry; the Cowboys led 13–9 in matchups. Of course, the Eagles managed to win their first Super Bowl in franchise history in 2017. Unfortunately, the Cowboys weren't involved in anything related to the Eagles that season. Fortunately, former Eagles kicker David Akers reminded Cowboys fans of that at the 2018 NFL Draft in Dallas, along with a few other fun facts.
Unfortunately, the decade didn't start off well for the Eagles, as Reid finally got fired, and there was the whole Chip Kelly debacle.
In 2010, the Eagles and Cowboys met in Week 17 with the NFC East title on the line. The Cowboys shut out the Eagles 24–0 to take the division title. The Eagles still made the playoffs as a Wild Card, but they lost to the Cowboys the next week 34–14. That playoff game was notable because it was the last game McNabb played for the Eagles. The Eagles got a bit of revenge in 2013 when they beat the Cowboys in Week 17 to win the division and eliminate the Cowboys from the playoffs.
A few other interesting tidbits from this decade in the rivalry:
- The Cowboys knocked Eagles quarterback Michael Vick out of a Week 10 game in 2012. Then rookie Nick Foles came in for his first NFL action and threw a touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin in the game. Foles would later become something of a god in Philadelphia sports when he delivered the first Super Bowl championship to Philadelphia. And to think, Eagles fans have the Cowboys to thank for getting Foles into his first game.
- The Eagles signed ex-Cowboy running back DeMarco Murray before the 2015 season. Murray basically stole money that season and both fanbases booed him.
- On Oct. 30, 2016, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott faced off for the first time.
- On Nov. 11, 2018, the Eagles and Cowboys got into a brawl during pre-game warmups. Yes, it seems that the players on each team disliked their rivals just as much as the fans.
Eagles vs. Cowboys Game Results by Decade
Team, Wins-Losses (including playoffs)
General Rivalry Stats and Final Thoughts
- As of the 2019 season, the rivals have played each other 122 times, including playoffs.
- The Cowboys lead the series 69–53.
- The two teams haven't met in the playoffs since 2009.
- The Cowboys hold a 3–1 advantage in the playoffs.
Well, that's a not-so-short rundown of all the major events in the bitter rivalry between the Eagles and the Cowboys. Luckily, the rivalry shows no signs of slowing down anytime in the future, so we'll have plenty more fuel for the fire.
Speaking of fires, I really can't describe the burning passion that I, and most Eagles fans, have for the rivalry with the Cowboys. Rivalries are a huge part of any sport. Every team needs a great rival. The same goes for the fans. We need somebody to root for—and against. It's just human nature.
As an Eagles fan, I believe that it is my civic duty to dislike the Cowboys, their owner, the star, "America's Team" and especially their fans. Isn't that what a real rivalry is all about?