PHILADELPHIA -- It remains one of the most vivid memories from nearly three decades of covering the Philadelphia Eagles.
Reggie White, exhausted and bitterly disappointed, sitting in the visiting locker room of the old Texas Stadium. A week earlier, he had led the Eagles to their only playoff victory in his eight seasons with the team. White and his teammates had dedicated the season to Jerome Brown, who was killed just six months earlier. They had come to Dallas expecting to dispatch the Cowboys, a team they had dominated for the previous few seasons.
Instead, they had gotten blasted off the field, 34-10, by what turned out to be a dynasty in the making: Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin.
It was White’s last game as an Eagle. Three years later, Randall Cunningham played his last game as an Eagle in another blowout playoff loss in the same stadium. A generation later, in a new stadium, Donovan McNabb’s run as the Eagles’ franchise quarterback ended in a blowout playoff loss to the Cowboys.
You see the pattern. These big games between the Eagles and Cowboys are often about eras beginning and eras ending. It’s just usually the Eagles who are on the down side of the equation.
Not this time. Sunday night’s virtual playoff game could decide more than the NFC East title. It could also establish Chip Kelly’s Eagles as the rising power in the division.
It could spell the end of Jason Garrett’s tenure as Cowboys head coach, forcing owner Jerry Jones to find a coach to compete with the innovative Kelly.
There is a good chance there will be change in Washington, too. A few months ago, Robert Griffin III was seen as the brightest young star in the NFC East, a quarterback who could dominate the division the way Aikman and McNabb used to.
Now? The smart money may be on Griffin to regain his form – but that will likely mean learning a new offense under a new coaching staff. Meanwhile, the guy drafted 86 spots after Griffin in 2012, Nick Foles, has the chance to establish himself as the top guy by beating the Cowboys.
One game will not make the Eagles a dynasty. That isn’t the point. But you build dynasties one game, one season at a time. You have to start somewhere. In 1992, when those Cowboys soared past White and the Eagles on the way to their first Super Bowl title together, Aikman and Irvin were 26. Smith was 23.
The last time the Eagles were in an ascendant position, during Andy Reid’s second and third seasons, the rest of the division wasn’t a factor. The Eagles’ defining playoff wins were against Chicago and Atlanta, not the rival Cowboys and Giants.
For Eagles fans, it’s hard to imagine a more satisfying scenario than watching their team take a step toward excellence on the backs of the Cowboys. The reverse would be that much harder to take -- even though they've seen it many times before.