Hype, hope are gripping Philadelphia Eagles, Cowboys battle tonight

October 05, 1992|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- Hysteria has swept through this city like an epidemic. No matter where you go in Philadelphia, they are dreaming about their beloved Eagles. No matter who you talk to, they are scheming about the Super Bowl.

In only the first week of October, the giddy air of expectation will reach a crescendo when the unbeaten Eagles (3-0) tangle with the unbeaten Dallas Cowboys (3-0) tonight at 9 o'clock before a sellout Veterans Stadium crowd of more than 65,000 and a Monday Night Football audience.

For two weeks -- ever since the Eagles flogged the Denver Broncos, 30-0, in Week 3 -- the Philadelphia media have trumpeted tonight's game in something eerily close to Super Bowl hype. A local newspaper launched a countdown to the game with a series on the 10 best matchups in the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry. A local radio station launched a war against anything connected with Dallas or Texas, including street signs, license plates and city hall in Dallas, Pa.

Super Bowl hype? All-sports radio station WIP was scheduled to air a 15-hour, pregame show beginning this morning at 6 o'clock from the steps of the Spectrum, across Broad Street from the Vet.

If it is too much, too soon, the Eagles will pretend not to notice.

Asked if there was too much buildup for the fourth game of the season, Eagles coach Rich Kotite said, "No, I don't think so. It's how you approach it. It's Game 4. It's a big game. I don't think there's too much hype."

In a city that boasts hockey's Eric Lindros and basketball's Doug Moe among its newest sporting residents, the vast majority of DTC talk-show calls deal with the Eagles. The calls range from Herschel Walker's second life as an NFL running back to Norman Braman's fiscal policies as the Eagles' owner. Almost all the questions focus on the Super Bowl.

There is, perhaps, a more pertinent question than whether the Eagles are coming together for a Super Bowl run, though. It is the question of whether they are coming apart at the seams, an accident waiting to happen in the free-for-all that free agency might become.

Plagued by another round of bitter labor-management disputes, the Eagles have had to deal with two major off-the-field issues since they hammered Denver:

* All-Pro defensive end Reggie White, in the final year of his contract, filed a landmark lawsuit against the NFL seeking free agency for hundreds of players whose contracts will expire after this season.

* All-Pro tight end Keith Jackson bolted to the Miami Dolphins after he was declared an unrestricted free agent by a federal judge.

White's move effectively took the Eagles back to the days of former coach Buddy Ryan, who divided loyalties with management and stood with his players. Jackson's action may trigger an exodus of unhappy Eagles when free agency finally hits the NFL.

White said last week that "free agency could be the worst thing that happens to this team in the future," and suggested this season could possibly be a last hurrah. He was quick to criticize the Eagles' decision not to out-bid the Dolphins for Jackson, a three-time Pro Bowl player.

"I don't understand it," White said. "You would think they would make some moves and get things done earlier, but sometimes this team is so business minded, it can be ignorant in some situations. They could have had Keith Jackson [signed] two years ago. Before my situation came up, they could have had me. You look at me and Fred [wide receiver Fred Barnett] and some of the other guys on this team who are going to be free agents and there has been absolutely no effort to get us signed. That happens too often with this team.

"We want to win for ourselves and for the coaches. But we know that if we do go to the Super Bowl, it will be in spite of management."

White, Barnett and fullback Keith Byars are the most prominent of 27 Eagles whose contracts are up after this season. In any reasonable scheme of free agency -- after four years of service, after six years -- the Eagles figure to have a high number of veteran players who would become eligible to leave.

Jackson was the first to go, after four seasons fraught with contract disputes. He accepted a reported four-year, $6 million contract from Miami over a three-year, $3.8 million offer from the Eagles. Either offer would have made him the highest-paid tight end in the league.

"Just as we have a job to do on the field, the people upstairs [in management] have a job to do," Barnett said. "Maybe they felt they couldn't go further in the budget. They may have reached the end."

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