PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 28: Bradie James #56 of the Dallas Cowboys sacks Donovan McNabb #5 of the Philadelphia Eagles on December 28, 2008 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Next Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys will run onto the field at Lincoln Financial in Philadelphia, showered with boos, jeers, and, depending on the weather, tightly-packed snowballs. The rabid Philly-faithful, in all likelihood nursing emotional wounds from the Phillies' impending World Series loss to the Yankees, will throw themselves into a beer-soaked frenzy long before kickoff, frenetically calling for Tony Romo's head through bites of cheesesteak.
This is an immoderately tough environment, very likely the toughest in the landscape of American sports.
But unlike years past, the enmity will be, for all intents and purposes, limited to the stands. For reasons of division-wide parity, free agency and the New York Giants, the Cowboys-Eagles rivalry has died down in intensity of recent, making Sunday's match-up in the City of Brotherly Love a battle for division supremacy and little more.
This is not to understate the significance of the game. Dallas is returning to "The Linc" for the first time since they were embarrassed, 44-6, and run out of town and the playoffs by a better-prepared Eagles team. It is also for division lead in the ultra-competitive three-team race to the finish that is the NFC East. This--not the rivalry, not the fans, and not the embarrassment of December 28, 2008--is the source of what will likely be an ultra-intense game.
There will always be some semblance of dislike among these two teams, but where has all the smack talk, the very-public hatred gone? I would argue New York. The voluble Brandon Jacobs and his Cowboy counterpart Patrick Crayton, paired with a mouthy 2007 season--during which the Giants loudly expressed their belief that Dallas was overrated, while Dallas contended that New York were a group of loud-mouthed scrubs--has ensured as much.
This is why many Dallas fans found themselves curiously exultant yesterday, as the Eagles whipped the Giants into submission, 40-17.
This is also why, when the hatred for all things black and green returns on Sunday--and it will return, inevitably--it will be greatly ephemeral, and for reasons slightly more logical than an unyielding antipathy towards one team, and the city with which they are associated.
A Dallas win means first place in the East; that it would come over those damned Eagles, well, that's just some ultimately forgettable icing on what would be a delicious mid-season cake.