Twice in my childhood the Philadelphia Eagles had a thrilling upset victory in the first round of the NFL playoffs, and twice they were absolutely obliterated the next weekend by the Dallas Cowboys. I remember them both so well. At least I think I do.
The first time was 1992. Rich Kotite was in his first year as coach of the Eagles. We didn’t know yet. It was years before he went for a two-point conversion after misreading the two-point chart because it was wet. He won his first four games as Eagles head coach, including a 31–7 shellacking of the Cowboys on Monday Night Football. The Eagles didn’t even play all that well and they won in a rout! Maybe this would be the Eagles’ year. I was 9.
The Cowboys ended up winning the division, as they usually did when I was a kid. But the Eagles made the playoffs too, and won their first playoff game of my life when they rallied to beat the Saints. (It was their first road playoff win since 1949, if you’re wondering about the history of the Philadelphia Eagles.) All my favorite players did things! Fred Barnett had an incredible catch in the end zone over two defenders. Seth Joyner had a game-changing interception. Eric Allen returned a pick to clinch it. The Eagles even got a safety! I remember dancing around the house with my mom. Of course, the Cowboys beat up on the Eagles 34–10 in the divisional round. Dallas won the Super Bowl. OK.
In 1995 the Eagles had a new coach, Ray Rhodes, and again they were an underdog in the wild card round. This time I went to the game. It was incredible! The Eagles beat the Lions 58–37 and it was not that close. (It was 51–7, seven minutes into the third quarter.) The Eagles had a Hail Mary. Ricky Watters scored a touchdown and did a lap of the stadium in celebration. The win over the Lions is one of my favorite sports memories, maybe even better than the Super Bowl. (I was 12 for this one.) Leaving the stadium, I was positive this was the team that would win it all. And then Cowboys again trounced the Eagles in the divisional round and went on to win the Super Bowl.
This childhood heartbreak instilled in me a lifelong hatred of the Dallas Cowboys. As an adult, I haven’t had many more Cowboys-related contusions. Since the 2000 season, Dallas is 178–163 in the regular season. They have a winning record, but are not dominant for long stretches. My Eagles are 196–143–2 over the same stretch. They also have won just three playoff games in that time, all in the wild card round. The Cowboys will always hold a special place of hatred in my heart. But they don’t hurt me like they used to. It still comes up from time to time. If Sean Jones catches that interception, do the Eagles beat the Cowboys in the 2009 playoffs? Probably not! But a guy can daydream.
But already this season I can feel the Cowboys hatred bubbling up from deep inside my soul. The Cowboys are good! They are 3–1 and lost to the defending champs on a field goal with two seconds left. What makes it worse is they are good on offense, with a bunch of young players who look good. Dak Prescott has returned from injury and is one of the top quarterbacks in the league. CeeDee Lamb is going to be a star. They have Ezekiel Elliott. They destroyed the Eagles in a game I was stupidly hyped for. Yes, the Cowboys were 13–3 in Prescott’s rookie year. They went 10–6 and won a playoff game in 2018. They were decent in 2019 despite going 8–8. This year seems different. Prescott already has 13 touchdown passes. The NFC East is bad; they’re going to roll through it. And they’re starting to get attention: Even Saturday Night Live is mocking them, as I learned from this Fort Worth Star-Telegram headline: “Why did ‘SNL’ poke fun at Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott?”
It might be the early-to-mid 1990s all over again. Even 1990s-style drop shoulder hoodies are back in fashion! Though I would rather the Cowboys be bad—and would rather have modern-cut hooded sweatshirts—when they are good, it isn’t the worst. The Cowboys were good in the 1970s and the 1990s, and they are on national TV a lot. They have a lot of fans. It is fun to joke around with your Cowboys fan friends about how they’re gonna lose in the playoffs again. It is enjoyable to make fun of whichever doofus wearing a foam 10-gallon hat they show on TV. It is great when Mike McCarthy inevitably makes some coaching blunder that costs them a game. The long gap since the Cowboys last sustained period of success makes it even more fun to hate.
And there is so much to hate about the Dallas Cowboys. You don’t even have to be all that mean about it. Their stadium is reportedly a nice enough place to watch a game, but it’s also really ugly. I hate how it’s designed to make it look like God is watching through the windows. I hate the stupid simple star logo. I hate how they’re always on TV. I hate how the Cowboys have ruined silver and blue, an attractive color combination I can now never wear. I hate how the Cowboys’ legendary quarterbacks always become star color commentators, so we can never escape them. I hate how I find these color commentators, and even old Cowboys-turned-analysts I used to hate like Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders, all pretty entertaining. I hate half-shirts.
And, yet … I kind of enjoy this hatred. I always have a rooting interest in a game they’re in. The Cowboys are good. Maybe they’ll actually win more than one playoff game this year. Even if they do, it might be a blast booing them along the way.