“Cain and Abel” Renew NFL Rivalry

In the "Super Bowl era" — that is, from 1966 to the present — the Dallas Cowboys have an NFL-best winning percentage of .594, while the Philadelphia Eagles, who they will play at Lincoln Financial Field this Sunday, have logged a winning percentage of .517 over the same span.

Furthermore, Dallas has won five Super Bowl rings to Philadelphia's one.

And the Dallas domination extends to the respective teams' quarterbacks today: not only does Dak Prescott have a lifetime passer rating of 97.5 to Jalen Hurts' 91.9, but Prescott has 13 fourth-quarter comebacks (11.8% of his 110 starts) and 21 game-winning drives (19.1% of his starts), while Hurts has just three fourth-quarter comebacks (6.5% of his 46 starts) and five game-winning drives (10.9% of his starts).

Thus Hurts is more of a "front-runner" than Prescott, who is also an inch taller than Hurts and outweighs him by 15 pounds, accounting for Dak's superior arm strength — or "arm talent" as they say these days.

(All of the above stats include postseason as well as regular-season games.)

This accounts for the intense jealousy that many if not most Eagles fans have for the Cowboys — an intense jealousy that brings to mind Cain's envy of his younger brother Abel in the Bible, culminating in Cain's murdering Abel at Genesis 4:8.

And the aura surrounding Dallas as "America's Team," Texas Stadium having had a hole in the roof "so God could watch his team," and its annual runaway leadership among NFL teams in merchandise sales, a department in which the Eagles perennially rank in the "second division" as they used to say in baseball, only serves to intensify the feelings of envy.

Yet this sword does not cut both ways: ask your average Dallas fan, and chances are you will hear nowhere near the same level of hostility toward the Eagles.

But as John Greenleaf Whittier wrote in his poem Maud Muller (in a quote that is often misattributed to Tennyson), "For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: 'It might have been.'"

When the NFL consummated the merger of the NFL and AFL in 1970, the owners could not agree as to what the divisional alignment of the NFC should be (the AFC's owners had no trouble agreeing to the alignment of its three divisions — mainly because the Colts, Browns, and Steelers had agreed to switch conferences to give the NFC and the AFC 13 teams each).

A secretary ultimately pulled what would be the NFC's alignment out of a fishbowl. But what would have happened if the Falcons and the Saints (who insisted on being slotted into the same division) were to join the Giants, Philadelphia, and Washington in the NFC East (in 1967 and 1969, the Saints actually were in the same division as Philadelphia and Washington) with the Cowboys and Cardinals joining the Rams and the 49ers in the NFC West?

In that case, the entire history of several NFC teams would have taken a dramatically different course — with the Eagles having won many more division titles than the 12 they have won since the merger (Dallas has won 21 since then; and the Eagles have finished second to the Cowboys in the division 10 times since 1978).

This rivalry — such as it is — is a perfect example of the Tenth Commandment: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods."

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