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Breaking Away
Austin Murphy
November 11, 1996
The Eagles ran roughshod over the Cowboys to open a two-game lead on Dallas and put the fire back in an old rivalry
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November 11, 1996

Breaking Away

The Eagles ran roughshod over the Cowboys to open a two-game lead on Dallas and put the fire back in an old rivalry

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"He said 'Good hit' or something," Lett glumly confirmed.

During the week, Philadelphia coach Ray Rhodes had spoken appreciatively of the defensive wrinkles the Cowboys have added this season. "They're crossing inside linebackers, blitzing different guys—they've gotten more exotic," he said, choosing an adjective that is applied less frequently to the Dallas players than it is to the dancers whose company some of them prefer.

Detmer and Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman each threw 33 passes; Detmer completed 19, two fewer than Aikman, who threw two costly interceptions. Detmer was neither picked off nor sacked. He audibled frequently and intelligently, and he threw the ball away when he had to. After one such dump, Detmer found himself on the ground with Woodson, of whom he asked a simple favor: "Don't hit me in the chin today, O.K.?"

Woodson smiled; it may have been the only civil exchange between these NFC East rivals. When Williams and Fuller weren't trying to maim each other, Eagles second-year cornerback Bobby Taylor was fighting his self-described "quiet war" with Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin. Taylor, at 6'3" and 216 pounds, is a giant by cornerback standards. Philadelphia drafted him expressly to shut down Irvin, who is almost as tall (6'2") and equally as physical. In the first half the grand plan worked to perfection: The Playmaker, as Irvin is known, made no plays. As Dallas's straits became increasingly dire, Aikman grew more determined to involve Irvin in the offense. It worked. Irvin's seven catches (for 89 yards) all came in the second half.

On the other side of the field, Eagles corner Troy Vincent dueled furiously with Deion Sanders, whom he all but erased. Sanders caught just two balls all day, and early in the second half his frustration boiled over: Seeing no flags after being flung to the ground by Vincent, Prime Time came up swinging. The resulting exchange of blows was brief, spirited and, on the whole, less embarrassing than Sanders's laughable slap fight with Andre Rison two years ago.

While the other Philadelphia players boarded team buses after the game, Vincent leaned against a wall outside the stadium, fingering a cut on his lower lip. "Bloody lip, bloody knuckles, turf burns," he said. "That's what I came here for."

Vincent, who signed with the Eagles last March after spending the first four years of his career with the Miami Dolphins, had craved the showdown with Sanders. At 26, Vincent is talented and impatient to play in his first Pro Bowl. He is the rare corner who can provide smothering coverage and punishing run support, and he was widely coveted when he became a free agent after last season. The reasons he chose Philadelphia are the same reasons the Eagles, unlike the Cowboys, are a team on the rise.

After practice last Friday, Vincent smiled at the recollection of his first sit-down meeting with Rhodes. "Ray kicked his feet up on his desk and started talking like I'd known him for years," Vincent said. "I enjoyed that. He wasn't trying to paint a pretty picture, sell me any dreams. He said, 'Look, I'm trying to build a championship team here, and players like you can help me.' "

Last season, his first as an NFL head coach, Rhodes coaxed 11 wins out of a banged-up team of average talent. He is shrewd, tough, fair and, when he cares to be, very funny. His players like him, as they do owner Jeff Lurie, who isn't afraid to open his wallet and who's forever inviting them to his place for barbecues. The word is out: Philly's a good place to work. Ricky Watters, who became an Eagle last season, rushed for 116 yards against Dallas. Fryar, like Vincent a former Dolphin, caught nine passes for 120 yards and a touchdown.

With 1:16 left in the game, it appeared that those statistics had been amassed in vain. Irvin had just made a beautiful catch of a 19-yard pass from Aikman; Taylor had pushed him out-of-bounds at the three. The worst Dallas could do was a chip-shot field goal to force overtime, right?

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