The NFC Beast Division

Cowboys 3-0, Giants 3-0, Redskins 2-1, Eagles 2-1.

Now close your eyes and tell me you don't see Bill Parcells and his scowl, or Jimmy Johnson and his hair, or Joe Gibbs and his pinched displeasure, or Buddy Ryan with that kelly green cap pulled down low over his eyes. What used to be, well, it has returned. The NFC East is back.

For people who grew into their football maturity back when, it is as if the planets are again in their proper alignment. That everybody in the division won Super Bowls back then except for the Eagles does not diminish the fondness with which we all hold those times. For year after year after year, to be a spectator at the NFC East  circus -- Randall Cunningham, Lawrence Taylor, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, the Hogs in Washington -- was to be a witness to the greatest show in the NFL.

It meant something, the very term: NFC East football. It meant bludgeoning more than anything. It meant miserably cold days at Giants Stadium when Phil Simms would stand solid, LT would create mayhem, and a little guy named Dave Meggett would kill you out of nowhere. It meant the tiny press box at RFK Stadium, where their answer to every public relations problem was to shove in a few more folding chairs, where senators and cabinet officials crammed into owner Jack Kent Cooke's box to witness the closest thing the NFL had to a college team: marching band, ridiculous fans, a stadium that would literally shake after John Riggins plowed in for another score. And it meant the annual trip to Texas Stadium, the airing of the annual grievance, the hatching of the annual controversy, and these great seismic shifts as Johnson built his dynasty.

Just living in a town within the division gave you a certain cachet when you talked to people around the country. Because you watched the best, people assumed that you knew what you were talking about; dangerous but true. It spoiled you. You just assumed, as if it was a birthright, that you were going to see something special when you circled the eight division games on the schedule. Yes, eight. You will note that there has been no mention until now of the dearly departed Arizona Cardinals, who were usually the division's punching bag and who occasionally aspired to the role of pebble in the division's shoe. But never higher.

The rest of the games, though, promised memories -- promised and delivered.  And in the end, if your team won the division, you knew that a serious playoff run was a fair expectation. Surviving the hell that was the NFC East became the league standard for the term "battle-tested." Everyone in the league knew it, too.

And now it looks like the division is back. Whoever comes out of the NFC East alive is going to be hell come playoff time.