September 3, 2010

2000: Duce Staley – and Pickle Juice – Help Eagles Defeat Cowboys

It was a hot day at Texas Stadium for the season-opening game between the host Dallas Cowboys and visiting Philadelphia Eagles on September 3, 2000. The temperature at game time was 109 degrees, with readings on the artificial surface of 150.

Second-year Head Coach Andy Reid pulled the Eagles off the field early from pre-game warmups. Trainer Rick Burkholder also had the players drink pickle juice, a practice the club had begun during training camp as a means to combat both dehydration and cramping.

Reid took an aggressive approach once play began. Dallas having won the toss, the Eagles took them by surprise by executing an onsides kick that they successfully recovered (WR Dameane Douglas made the play for Philadelphia). The offense proceeded to drive 58 yards in eight plays, ending with QB Donovan McNabb tossing a one-yard TD pass to TE Jeff Thomason.

Philadelphia’s defense sacked star QB Troy Aikman three times during the first Dallas possession; rookie DT Corey Simon recorded one in his first regular season play. Before the first quarter ended, the Eagles took a 14-0 lead when a pass interference penalty put the ball on the Dallas one yard line and RB Duce Staley plowed into the end zone. Two minutes later, and now into the second quarter, LB Jeremiah Trotter intercepted an Aikman pass and returned it 27 yards for another Eagles TD and a 21-0 tally.

Aikman was sacked a fourth time and took a total of six hits by the Eagles defense before leaving the game during the second quarter with a concussion, to be replaced by former Philadelphia QB Randall Cunningham. The Eagles scored once more, on a 33-yard field goal by David Akers, before the Cowboys got on the board with field goals of 34 and 38 yards by Tim Seder, both following interceptions. The score at halftime stood at 24-6.

Philadelphia’s offense took control once again in the third quarter, with a time-consuming 14-play drive that covered 61 yards and culminated in another Akers field goal, this one from 37 yards. After the Cowboys went three-and-out, the Eagles put together another long possession of 72 yards in nine plays, with McNabb running the last three yards for a touchdown.

The Eagles scored once more in the fourth quarter as Staley ran 60 yards to set up a six-yard TD run by RB Brian Mitchell. Dallas scored a touchdown on a four-yard pass from Cunningham to WR Joey Galloway, which was followed by a successful two-point conversion, but the outcome had long since been decided. The final score was 41-14, making it the worst opening-day defeat for the Cowboys since 1963.

Staley (pictured at top) was the star for the Eagles, gaining 201 yards rushing on 26 carries (just missing the franchise single-game rushing record by four yards) with one TD and also leading the club with four pass receptions for another 61 yards and a total of 262 yards from scrimmage. Overall, the team accumulated 306 yards on the ground, its highest single-game total since 1951.

Donovan McNabb passed for 130 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions while completing 16 of 28 throws; he also ran for 29 yards on five carries with a TD.

It was a hard day for Dallas across the board. Troy Aikman failed to complete any passes and threw the one interception that was returned for a score before leaving the contest. Randall Cunningham was successful on 13 of 26 passes for 135 yards with one touchdown and one picked off. The Cowboys, playing catch-up from the beginning, only ran the ball 13 times for 67 yards – RB Emmitt Smith had just 29 yards on 7 carries while WR Raghib “Rocket” Ismael led the team with 33 yards on two rushes. Joey Galloway was the top receiver with four catches for 62 yards and the late touchdown, but suffered a knee injury late in the game that knocked him out of action for the remainder of the season.

The opening win over the Cowboys didn’t generate immediate momentum for the Eagles, who lost their next two games, but, coming off of three straight losing seasons, they improved to 11-5, placed second in the NFC East, and secured a wild card spot in the postseason. Philadelphia defeated Tampa Bay in the first round but lost to the Giants in the Divisional playoff.

Dallas, going in the opposite direction, went 5-11 to place fourth in the division. After making it to the playoffs in eight of the previous nine years and winning three championships, the Cowboys would not make it back to the postseason (or have a winning record) again until 2003.

Duce Staley, who was coming off back-to-back thousand-yard rushing seasons in 1998 and ’99, was lost for the year due to a foot injury in Week 5 and gained just 344 yards on the ground in 2000. The running game suffered without him (he still ended up with the highest yardage total of any running back on the team), but the second-year quarterback McNabb emerged to account for 76 percent of the team’s offense, rushing for 629 yards and passing for 3365.