May 26, 2024

How ‘dirtiest game in NFL history’ made Eagles-Cowboys the greatest rivalry in football

The Cowboys’ kicker was knocked senseless during a blowout loss to the Eagles, uncertain which NFL sideline was his and vowing to “deck” the culprit behind the shocking physical violence.

And that’s just the start of the beginning of the most bitter rivalry in the NFL, which will resume in primetime on Monday when the NFL-best Eagles travel to Dallas to face the Cowboys.

Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown, Jason Kelce, Nick Sirianni, Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, Micah Parsons and Jerry Jones are the names that dominate now.

But the core of the nasty Eagles vs Cowboys rivalry comes down to two words: Bounty Bowl.

Factor in that there were two Bounty Bowls during the 1989 season and it’s easy to understand why Eagles-Cowboys means so much to two very different NFL fanbases more than 30 years later.

It was old-school Philly coach Buddy Ryan against the flashy and splashy Jimmy Johnson.

There were attacks by and accusations from the warring teams that make the New Orleans Saints’ 2009 Bountygate scandal pale in comparison.

“Having bounties on opposing players is not the way it’s supposed to be done,” said Johnson, during a tense postgame press conference after a 27-0 shutout defeat to the Eagles at Texas Stadium on November 23, 1989.

“We were told last night by a coach — and it’s confirmed by two different players — there’s a $200 bounty on Luis Zendejas, a $500 bounty on Troy Aikman,” Johnson said. “That takes away from the integrity of the game.”

‘I confirm there was a bounty’

The foundation for the Bounty Bowls was established by the 1987 NFL players’ strike and accusations that one side of the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry was blatantly running up the score.

After Jones bought America’s Team for $140 million and abruptly ended the Tom Landry-era, the Cowboys entered a full rebuild that featured Herschel Walker being traded in a franchise-changing blockbuster and Johnson taking over as head coach after leading The University of Miami to college championship glory.

That allowed Philadelphia to humiliate Dallas on the field twice a year.

And that’s when the Bounty Bowls appeared.

The Cowboys suffered through a 1-15 season in 1989, as Aikman adjusted to the intensity of the NFL in real time and Dallas was consistently embarrassed.

Zendejas, the Cowboys’ kicker, had previously played for Philadelphia.

The 5ft 9in kicker became a symbol for the hatred between the teams and fanbases, with the Eagles placing a bounty on taking him down during a game.

While Johnson said at the time it was a $200 bounty, Philly linebacker Seth Joyner later revealed the bounty was worth much more.

“I will confirm that there was a bounty on Luis Zendejas and it wasn’t $200, it was for $10,000!” Joyner said.

‘He got knocked out’

On Thanksgiving in 1989, Zendejas crumpled to the turf following a Dallas kickoff.

He stumbled, walked the wrong way and had to be helped off the field.

“I think he got knocked out,” announcer John Madden said. “He’s going to the wrong sideline. He’s groggy.

“He’s either going over there because he doesn’t know where he is or he’s going over to argue with someone.”

Madden added: “The Eagles sent someone after Zendejas.”

In Bounty Bowl I, Aikman was attacked in the end zone after a play was blown dead, while a Cowboys player squared up and reared back before throwing a punch during a fight between the teams.

In a fiery press conference that would have dominated the sports world for an entire year nowadays, Johnson hit back at the Eagles and verbally attacked Ryan.

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