Philadelphia can talk trash with best, but Eagles in Super Bowl isn't garbage


PHILADELPHIA -- The 15-hour pre-game show on the loca all-sports radio station seemed excessive for Week 4, but Philadelphia smells blood. The Eagles are the team to beat in the NFL. Who cares if garbage is piling up all over the city due to a municipal workers' strike?

The manic fans can just save their refuse and dump it on the next visiting team at Veterans Stadium. They unloaded a decade of frustration on the Dallas Cowboys last night, and their beloved Eagles responded with a typically bone-jarring 31-7 victory.

Every year one NFL team seems preordained for a final breakthrough, and the Eagles certainly have that look. Never mind that they haven't won a playoff game since 1981. They left the Cowboys dazed in the battle of the unbeatens, and that might only be the start.

This is a team that lost one of its best defensive players (the late Jerome Brown) and one of its best offensive players (free agent Keith Jackson) yet suddenly looks complete. The defense is allowing 6.8 points per game. The offense now includes a healthy Randall Cunningham, and oh yes, Herschel Walker.

The Eagles finished 10-6 without Cunningham in coach Rich Kotite's first season, so the rest of the NFL should have seen this coming. Except with Philadelphia, you're always getting blind-sided. The defense is that imposing, that reckless, that fierce.

"[Eagles defensive coordinator] Bud Carson made the statement they're one of the greatest defenses of all time," Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman said after his long night in the City of Brotherly Love. "I share those sentiments."

Cunningham completed eight of his nine passes, Walker rushed for 61 of his 89 yards and the Eagles outscored the Cowboys 21-0 in the second half, but the victory still belonged to the defense. Philadelphia's first three touchdowns resulted from turnovers.

Dallas is a rising team, a formidable team, a team capable of reversing last night's outcome in the Nov. 1 rematch at Texas Stadium. But you never would have guessed the Cowboys had gone nine quarters without a turnover, or that they had the NFL's second-highest scoring offense.

The Eagles opened in an emotional frenzy, fizzled in the second quarter, then regrouped for the kill. Lest they grow overconfident -- a common affliction for this group even in the post-Buddy Ryan era -- they can simply recall that last night's game was a war before it disintegrated into a rout.

Yes, they led 10-7 at halftime, but it easily could have been 10-10 -- if only Aikman had thrown an incompletion instead of the first of his three interceptions on a third-down play at the Philadelphia 2-yard line early in the second quarter.

That, obviously, was the turning point. Kotite claimed afterward that the Eagles actually played with "far greater" intensity in the second half. That's a frightening thought, considering two fights broke out in the first 10 minutes of the game.

Cunningham completed only three of 10 passes and threw his first interception of the year in the first half, but no matter. Walker took over in the second half, rushing for two touchdowns against the team that traces its revival to the day it traded him for -- what was it, 45 draft picks?

The Eagles will miss Jackson, their All-Pro tight end, but now they have got Walker to complement the versatile Keith Byars. The offensive line is improving, and Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams are dangerous wide receivers. As Cunningham said, "The load isn't on me anymore."

So, who will stop this team? Just this week, Washington couldn't hold a 17-0 lead against Phoenix, the New York Giants couldn't beat the 0-4 Los Angeles Raiders and San Francisco couldn't win at home against the Los Angeles Rams.

Those are the last three Super Bowl champions. Buffalo, coming off back-to-back AFC titles, didn't look especially invincible Sunday losing at home to Miami. Kansas City, another reputed AFC power, suffered its second loss at Denver.

The Eagles are due for a letdown, and it would not be surprising to see them lose at Kansas City next week or Washington the week after. But they're so hungry, it's difficult to imagine them losing their focus. The Redskins are the latest proof of how difficult it is to achieve long-term dominance in the NFL. Teams expend such emotional energy in a Super Bowl season, it's only natural they become complacent the year after. The inevitable contract disputes don't help.

The Eagles annually lead the league in holdouts, but their running battles with owner Norman Braman serve as a unifying force. Nearly every player wants to stick it to management. Not surprisingly, Reggie White is leading the NFL players' fight for free agency with his class-action suit against the league.

As if the prospect of their last stand isn't motivation enough, the Eagles also draw strength from the memory of Brown. No team welcomes tragedy, but just as Detroit rallied around Mike Utley last season, the Eagles grew closer after their All-Pro defensive tackle was killed in an automobile accident last June.

Factor in all the elements -- the intense hunger, the immense talent, the inferior opposition -- and a familiar picture emerges. That's why Eagles fans are in such a frenzy. They can smell it a mile away. No, not the garbage. A Super Bowl.

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