IRVING, Texas A few years ago, several Dallas Cowboys spent 14 seconds chasing Donovan McNabb all over the backfield, grabbing at air and running after him in vain, only to endure the further humiliation of seeing him cap the scramble with a 60-yard completion.
That pretty much sums up the way things have gone between the Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles most of this decade.
Philadelphia won the NFC East five times in the six seasons from 2001 to '06. Dallas was back on top last season, but the Eagles still found a way to mess things up for the Cowboys.
After a 12-1 start that included a romp in Philadelphia a game best remembered for Jason Witten's long rumble after getting his helmet ripped off the Eagles visited Texas Stadium in mid-December and knocked Dallas off its stride. The Cowboys went 1-3 the rest of the way, with the added embarrassment of becoming the NFC's first No. 1 seed not to win a playoff game since the six-team format began in 1990.
This season opened with Dallas billed as a Super Bowl favorite, and sure looked like it in the opener. Now the Cowboys are heading into their home opener Monday night and it's against a Philadelphia team that looked great in its opener, too. If McNabb and the Eagles can keep it up, the guys in green might once again be Dallas' biggest obstacle.
"You want them to go away," said longtime Cowboys defensive standout Greg Ellis, chuckling slightly. "But it makes for a good game. People are going to enjoy it."
All week, there's been talk in both cities about a "rivalry renewed." Truth is, both teams have seldom been on the upswing at the same time. We'll have to wait to see if this really is one of those times.
"It's an important game this week is what it is," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "You don't know, everything else, you're dealing with a crystal ball theory, man. You don't know what's going to happen after that. So you prepare yourself to play this one and play the best you can and don't worry about all that other stuff."
He's right, of course. But he also speaks with the confidence of knowing the rematch will be at his place in the season finale. That's when things really might be tense.
This game is noteworthy because it'll be the 30th and last on a Monday night at Texas Stadium. The Cowboys are leaving the building with the hole in the roof and moving into a $1.1 billion palace in nearby Arlington next fall.
"Hopefully after this game I can say I had great memories in the last game we played at Texas Stadium," joked McNabb, as if he didn't already have that miraculous play from 2005 as a keepsake.
Terrell Owens has done his best to inject himself into the story line of this game by reviving his feud with McNabb. A bitter divorce ripped apart the club's 2005 season the Eagles' lone non-division title in that long streak and resulted in Owens being cut. He came straight to Dallas and his career hasn't missed a beat. Owens and Tony Romo have combined for 26 touchdowns since 2006, far more than any other tandem.
"I feel strong about my position and what happened in Philly," Owens said, "and I really don't feel like it was my fault."
Philadelphia is among the few teams to slow Romo since he burst onto the scene.
He's 1-2 against the Eagles, with both losses at home. Last year, his worst performance came in the 10-6 loss at Texas Stadium: 13-of-36 with no touchdowns, three interceptions and four sacks, with a career-low passer rating of 22.2.
Philadelphia is always known for exotic, relentless blitzes, and this time Romo's blockers could include fill-in starter Cory Procter at left guard and, occasionally, rookie running back Felix Jones. The Eagles also have beefed up their secondary by adding cornerback Asante Samuel.
"Any time a team wants to get after you there's going to be opportunities for big plays," Romo said, as he does before every game against the Eagles. "We'll see what their mind-set is going into the game and we'll get a feel for it early, I'm sure."
Romo will play with stitches in his chin and lingering effects of a cut on his left middle finger. At least he won't have the bruised thumb on his throwing hand that may or may not have bothered him in last December's meeting.
As for McNabb, he seems to be finally over all the injuries that have slowed him in recent years. He threw for 361 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions or sacks, in a 38-3 victory over St. Louis last week.
"Everybody is counting them out, saying they can't do this, can't do that, and there they go, 38 points," Ellis said. "That says a lot, not just for Donovan, but the whole team."