Philadelphia Eagles squarely perched as Dallas Cowboys' top rival
01:06 AM CST on Saturday, January 9, 2010
By BARRY HORN / The Dallas Morning News [email protected]
In his 44 years with the Philadelphia Police Department, Vince DeBlasis saw plenty of his hometown's dark side.
When he retired as chief homicide inspector in 2003, he left four sons and one grandson to carry on at the police department. Here's one safety tip that he, his sons and their families have come to live by: If you live in the City of Brotherly Love, don't advertise you are Cowboys fans. It seems to bring out the worst in fellow residents. DeBlasis, who followed his sons into rooting for the Cowboys, says his young grandson was beaten up in his Catholic school because he wore a Roy Williams (the former defensive back) jersey. Daughter Lori, decked out in her Roy Williams jersey, was heckled out of a mall. Youngest son Nicky, a police sergeant, is tired of defending to fellow officers his reason for naming a daughter, "Dallas Marie."
All are keenly aware that Cowboys gear worn to Eagles home games attracts flying objects. Not even the stadium bathrooms are safe, DeBlasis, 71, confided in a telephone interview this week.
It's not that the proud DeBlasis clan is afraid to wear their silver and blue. "We're just not crazy," DeBlasis said in a thick Philly accent. "In Philadelphia, you are an outcast if you root for any team other than the Eagles. ... You are a target if you root for the Cowboys."
Such is a tale which gives life to one of sports' delicious sidebars – rivalries. The basic ingredients for a truly healthy rivalry are rabid fans, talented players on competent franchises, regularly scheduled meetings, and occasional silly stunts such as an employee of one franchise spitting on the other's field and then bragging about it. The fan factor
Once, NFC East division rival Washington was the Cowboys' No. 1 nemesis. But the Redskins have fallen on hard times, leaving the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants to fill the vacuum. But if you had to pick only one as the Cowboys' top rival these days, it would have to be the Eagles. A major factor? Their fans.
"It sure feels that way," said former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who says he has learned far more about rivalries since he retired to the Fox broadcast booth. "The Eagles have been the big kids on the block for a long time. In the 1990s, we had what they wanted. Now, they have what the Cowboys want."
Recently, that would be playoff success. Recall, the Eagles merrily knocked the Cowboys from postseason contention in the final regular-season game of the 2008 season. The final score was an embarrassing 44-6, and it was the Eagles who advanced to the playoffs and ultimately the NFC Championship Game.
Conveniently, the teams have the chance to eliminate each other again tonight when they meet in a first-round NFC playoff game at Cowboys Stadium.
"If you are talking about what happens on the field, I'd say the Giants and Eagles are equal when it comes to a rivalry with the Cowboys," former Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin said. "But when you include what happens in the stands, they hate nobody in Philadelphia like they hate the Cowboys. That makes it more personal for Cowboys fans."
Irvin has his own personal experience. The only applause he ever heard in Philadelphia came in his last NFL game when, temporarily paralyzed, he was carted off the old Veterans Stadium field to cheers early in the 1999 season.
"I was in Philadelphia for ESPN a couple of years ago, working on a set in the stadium before a Monday night game," Irvin recalled. "There were other former players on the set. No one made a peep when they spoke. When I talked, people just booed as loud as they could. I admire them. Their hearts were really into it." Coveting Cowboys
Brian Baldinger, a former offensive lineman who began his NFL career with the Cowboys in the 1980s and retired an Eagle in the 1990s, has lived in the Philadelphia area through much of his adult life.
He said Philadelphia fans consider themselves "stepchildren to the New York Yankees in baseball and stepchildren in football to the Cowboys."
"Philly fans are jealous of the Cowboys," said Baldinger, who serves as an analyst on NFL Network. "Philly fans may have wins, but they don't have the glitz and glamour that goes with the Cowboys. And now they covet the Cowboys' stadium."
But not the atmosphere in Dallas.
Baldinger was working network radio at Cowboys Stadium for last week's Cowboys victory over the Eagles that closed the regular season.
"Sitting way upstairs in a radio booth, I actually could hear Tony Romo change a play," he said. "That would never happen in Philly. The philosophy in Philadelphia is don't allow opponents to hear themselves and don't let the Cowboys think."
Brad Sham, the longtime radio voice of the Cowboys, said that from a Dallas perspective, the rivalry began heating up in the late 1980s when Eagles coach Buddy Ryan called a timeout to score a meaningless late touchdown in a game his team was already guaranteed to win.
In 1992, Jimmy Johnson's Super Bowl champion Cowboys were humiliated early in the season on Monday Night Football by the Eagles and had to come back and beat them in the playoffs. Again in 1995, Barry Switzer's Super Bowl champions had to go through the Eagles in the playoffs.
"If the Cowboys of the 1990s were honest, every single one of them would tell you they never looked forward to playing the Eagles," Sham said.
Things changed in the first decade of the new millennium when the Eagles won the NFC East title five times before sharing first place with the Cowboys this season. The Cowboys have yet to win a playoff game this century. No doubt it would be more satisfying to some fans if their reversal of fortune came against the Eagles.
The DeBlasis family certainly wouldn't mind. Fans of Philadelphia's other professional teams, they've remained steadfastly loyal to the Cowboys since oldest son Robert, now also a police sergeant, fell hard for the Cowboys while watching them on television back in 1968.
They'll gather in Philadelphia tonight, eat some hoagies in Nicholas' house, which has a room dedicated to the Cowboys, and root for their team.
"I always ask Eagles fans why they hate the Cowboys so much," Vince DeBlasis said. "They just look me in the eye, I can see their mind go blank, and they say, 'I don't know.' " "Typical Eagles fans." Philadelphia Eagles squarely perched as Dallas Cowboys' top rival | Dallas Cowboys News | Sports News | News for Dallas, Texas | Dallas Morning News