After the game Sanders was busy steering the blame for Dallas's demise away from Switzer and the defense. "You'd better not point the damn finger at the defense," he said. "You can talk about Deion, his momma, his daddy, his wife and his kids, but don't say a damn thing about the defense."
Sanders's TV commercial for pizza, which also features Jones, suddenly took on a new spin: Hey, Deion, do you want to lose to Washington at home or on the road? Both. Can your once proud team be beaten by Niner quarterback Elvis Grbac or Philly passer Rodney Peete? Both. And do the Eagles now have a better offense or defense than the Cowboys? Both.
Rhodes, in his first season with Philadelphia, has patched together a fine unit with players like free-agent end William Fuller, rookie cornerback Bobby Taylor—who batted down two passes in the final moments on Sunday before a wide-open Irvin could close in on them—and Stubbs, who was out of football a year ago after having been cut by the Cincinnati Bengals. "It all comes down to respect on that fourth-down play," said Stubbs early Sunday evening. "Twice in a row you run the same play at us. That's a total lack of respect for our defense. But earning respect is something a lot of us are used to doing over and over again around here."
On the fateful play Stubbs was shoulder-to-shoulder with linemen Ronnie Dixon and Kevin Johnson. At this time last year, Dixon was driving a 60-ton cement truck six days a week, 500 miles a day through North Carolina after being cut by the New Orleans Saints. Johnson was stacking cases of Old Grand Dad in his father's Los Angeles liquor store after the Minnesota Vikings had let him go. With the NFL plagued by underachieving, multimillion-dollar free agents, Rhodes may have found the remedy by seeking out hungry, unemployed players. Stubbs, Dixon and Johnson have combined for 84 tackles and 12 sacks this season, and after holding Dallas to 196 total yards, the Eagle defense now ranks third in the league.
Says Rhodes, "When a guy gets a second chance to play football instead of driving a truck all day or packaging booze, you'd better believe that guy will give you everything he's got."
In marked contrast to the bickering and self-doubt plaguing the Cowboys, the Eagles coalesced after a dismal 1-3 start that included a 48-17 drubbing by the Oakland Raiders. Players like Fuller, center Raleigh McKenzie and safety Mark McMillian calmly spoke to their teammates about pride and about playing up to their potential. Philadelphia proceeded to win seven of eight games before a 26-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks a week before the Dallas game.
Like his free-agent gambles, the most important decision Rhodes has made has really paid off. In Week 4 he benched quarterback Randall Cunningham in favor of Peete, who had spent five undistinguished seasons with the Detroit Lions and was a backup in Dallas last year. Though his interceptions (nine) still outnumber his touchdown passes (six), Peete is 8-2 as a starter. And tailback Ricky Watters, Philly's priciest free-agent pickup, has been paying huge dividends after a slow start, rushing for a career-high 1,186 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns—and even making an occasional block. Watters ran for 112 yards and a touchdown on Sunday and got stronger during the afternoon as Smith wore down.
"We grew up as a team today," Watters said after the game. "There were times when we had a chance to quit, to lay down. But there are a lot of guys on this team who have never beaten the Dallas Cowboys. This is what I came here for. Those fourth-down stands by our defense were something to behold. Something I will never, ever forget."
And something Dallas may find difficult to overcome.