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It's a strange kind of rivalry. Some say it isn't really a rivalry at all, just a case of two teams that have played a lot of games against each other. Before this season, Philadelphia and Washington had met 84 times, but so what? When did it ever mean anything? You have to go back 26 years to find a season when both of them had winning records.
Dallas-Washington, now there's something. "Nothing establishes a rivalry better than good, clean hatred, and everyone knows how much we hate the Cowboys," said Redskin Tackle Terry Hermeling. "The Giants, that's a pretty good grudge match every time we take the field. For a while we got it going with St. Louis."
"Well, you know," said Hermeling, "we always play hard against each other, but somehow it's never been the same. Maybe now...."
The smell of playoff money can create a pretty good rivalry in a hurry, and in the great desert of the NFC, Washington and Philadelphia's 6-2 records look formidable. Neither team has had a crack at 7-1 Dallas, the leader in the NFC East; even so, both look to be locks for the playoffs. The NFC's B divisions, West and Central, have only one team—Tampa Bay—with a winning record.
In preparing for the Eagles, Redskin Coach Jack Pardee resorted to an old George Allen trick to create some instant controversy. On Thursday Pardee said that the thing he was most concerned about was stopping Wilbert Montgomery, Philadelphia's fine little tailback who had killed the Redskins with 127 yards rushing in the Eagles' 27-17 win two weeks before. And the thing he was most concerned about in stopping Montgomery was the holding by the Eagles' offensive line. Holding? The Eagles? That was the first time anyone had ever heard Philadelphia identified as a holding team.
"I'm not kidding," Pardee said. "They used their hands to create a funnel for Montgomery. A defensive lineman has his elbows out, and the Philadelphia linemen create a funnel by using their hands to steer the defensive guys by their elbows. It's a very effective tactic. Montgomery doesn't need a very big seam."
When Pardee's words arrived 150 miles up 1-95 in Philadelphia, Eagle Coach Dick Vermeil broke into a fine, understated rage. Vermeil is a very positive person. When he took over the Eagles in '76, he inherited a team that hadn't had a first-or second-round draft choice in three years, a team that had had only one winning season in the previous 14.
"The first thing he told us," says Offensive Tackle Stan Walters, "was that he wasn't going to start making changes and shipping guys out just to shake things up. He said there was enough material here to win with. The next thing he told us was that we were going to work our butts off. Boy, he wasn't kidding."
The Vermeil work ethic is simple: long meetings; three-hour practices; pads on Fridays, sometimes even on Saturdays; two-a-days during the exhibition season. But by 1978 the Eagles were a playoff team, and at the start of this season Philadelphia was rated as a serious threat to the Cowboys in the NFC East. Then, after beating the Giants in their opener, the Eagles lost a Monday night game to Atlanta. Afterward, Vermeil admitted that maybe he had worked his team too hard on the practice field. The Eagles' legs were shot. But they went on a five-game win streak, and there they were tied with Dallas for first place.