The most familiar foes are always the most hated. As a fortunate fan of a team in the toughest division in sports, I know firsthand. When the Redskins, Cowboys, or Eagles are up next on the schedule, I'm a little more amped up than usual. And if the game happens to be in January? It's ON.
Even though I'd be just as excited about a Cowboys-Giants matchup if Dallas hadn't shown their its colors (yellow and more yellow, if you're curious) by calling in sick for Week 17, I'm pretty sure the Philadelphia Eagles are the team I most love to hate. Since the Giants' return to relevance after the Dallas-dominated 1990s, Philly is the team we've had in our way the most often.
Two of the greatest football moments I can remember came against the Eagles: Jason Sehorn making a ridiculous juggling interception and touchdown return in the 2000 playoffs, and the magnificent regular season finale in 2002 featuring Tiki Barber rushing for 200 yards (and only fumbling four times! What a champ! More on him later on in this column), and David Akers whiffing on a 35-yard field goal to force overtime and allowing the Giants to clinch a playoff berth a few minutes later.
And just as often come the heartbreaking losses: In 2001 the Eagles clinched the East at Veterans Stadium by erasing a 7-point lead with four minutes to go in the fourth quarter—a comeback which lofted McNabb onto the platform of elite (read: playoff-worthy) quarterbacks. And in 2006 a woefully distracted 8-8 Giants team came back from two touchdowns behind in the fourth quarter of the Wild Card round in the playoffs, only to watch their injury-riddled, exhausted defense surrender enough yards to give up a game-winning field goal.
After that kick went through I remember watching Tiki Barber smile his biggest, most winning TV smile and hug the Eagles players farewell and congratulations. He couldn't even bother to pretend to be disappointed. I will never forgive him for it. The Giants—his Giants—had just lost to the Eagles in the playoffs! What the hell was he smiling about?
Not to mention his two-month-long retirement party was the thing distracting the team in the first place. Some teammate, that guy. Fitting, really, the Giants won it all last year without him. Some athletes aren't meant to be champions.
Okay. I'm done. Damn, I needed to get that off my chest.
My favorite part of the Giants-Eagles rivalry is how evenly matched the two teams are at their best. And even as I hate the Eagles, I can't help but respect them. I thank the football gods every day for giving us a Jim Johnson disciple to coach our defense. And they're absolutely the scariest team in this particular NFC playoff field.
Can I predict a Giants victory? Not with any certainty. Even though I'd rather have Tom Coughlin in the driver's seat than Andy Reid any day, and even though the Giants are rested and probably healthier now than any time in the last two months, I can't say with any certainty how this one is going to play out.
All I know is, it's guaranteed to be epic. Get pumped: NFC East rivalry games never disappoint.
Except if Tony Romo catches a cold.