IT HAS BEEN SAID that those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Thus, as the Eagles prepare to wind their way through the swamps of New Jersey toward an NFC Divisional Playoff at the Meadowlands, we must remember the last time they made this trek at this time of year. The temperature hovered around freezing; the turf was hard; in the background, above the rim of the stadium, the Twin Towers rose into a slate-gray sky.
Hugh Douglas was there that day - the seventh of January, the year 2001 - and even now, his voice rises in agitation as he recounts its events. The pregame video clip on the giant scoreboard that showed an animated Giant squashing Rocky Balboa with his foot. The long-forgotten specialist who returned the opening kickoff for a Giants touchdown (Ron Dixon). The interception by Jason Sehorn that sealed the Eagles' fate in their first divisional playoff game - and their first road playoff game - under Andy Reid.
The Giants already had defeated the Eagles twice that season, and as Douglas walked off the field at the end of a 20-10 defeat, he found himself the newest entrant into the city's longest-running rivalry.
"I was [ticked]," said Douglas, who played defensive end for six seasons for the Eagles before sliding into a career as a media personality. "We just thought the third time was a charm. There was always some history. I remember when I first got here, there was history between the two teams, but I think losing those three straight games to the Giants, that was the turning point."
We are told that rivalries no longer exist in professional sports, that money killed them, that fame killed them, that corporate box seats that cost a month's wages killed them.
You want a rivalry? Go find Jason Avant and ask him about walking into the Horseshoe, or talk to DeSean Jackson about Stanford-Cal, or get Sheldon Brown to give you the back story on touching the Rock before a game against Clemson.
"I don't really look at the games as rivalry games as far as divisional opponents," said Avant, who experienced four Ohio State-Michigan games as a Wolverines receiver before the Eagles drafted him in the fourth round in 2006, "because all of them are rivalry games. I can't decipher which one is bigger."
Nor can Jackson, the rookie receiver.
"It's hard," Jackson said. "Whoever's in our conference, every week is big."
Did Steve Spagnuolo dislike the Giants so much that he couldn't become their defensive coordinator?
Did Carlos Emmons dislike the Giants so much that he could not be their strongside linebacker?
Did Sean Landeta dislike the Eagles so much that he could never have signed with them?
Maybe we should write the whole thing off to psychology. Maybe we should dial up an expert and let him drone on about the ways in which a smaller city's insecurities manifest themselves into the machinations of its sports teams.
The second-city syndrome, the psychologist might call it, an inferiority complex shared by millions. Philadelphians hate New Yorkers because Philadelphians aren't New Yorkers. Broad Street is a nice thoroughfare, but it ain't Broadway. Kevin Bacon is a nice actor, but he ain't Humphrey Bogart.
"Growing up in the Sonny Hill leagues, we'd always have the Philly-New York games," said 76ers assistant coach Aaron McKie, who grew up in North Philadelphia before starring at Temple and with the Sixers. "We'd always talk about New York, how it was a big city, with a little bit of this, a little bit of that. I had cousins and family from New York, so for me it was always a rivalry. In my mind, I always thought Philadelphia was bigger than New York; in reality, it's not, but whenever I'd watch the Sixers-Knicks, the Eagles-Giants, it was always a big thing."
Billy Joel never wrote "A Philly State of Mind."
The government never authorized the Center City Project.
Sinatra sang New York's theme song.
We got Elton John.
And on it goes.
"I hate New Yorkers," said Douglas, who broke in with the Jets. "They're smug. They think New York is the greatest city in the world. They talk about, 'If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.' If that's the case, then why do so many damn people live there? You know what I'm talking about?"
But as for the New Yorkers inside the blue uniforms? And the Philadelphians inside the green ones?
"I've always respected this team," free safety Brian Dawkins said.
And there it is.
Dawkins respects - respects - the Giants. It's like respecting the Soviets, or the East Germans, or the flu.
Maybe they are right.
Maybe rivalries are dead.
"Idiot Man" wasn't done talking. Just when it sounded as if he would push himself back from the table, peel off his shirt and reveal a giant tattoo of Frank Gifford on his back, he changed course.
"I'm not cushy with them," Dawkins said, "but I've always respected this team."
And then he explained.
"It's always been a physical battle with this team," he said. "Every once in a while, it's been a blowout, but, for the most part, it's usually some grind-out, close, defensive battle with this team. Since I've been here, this has been, to me, my biggest rivalry game."
Look at the numbers, and restore your faith. When it comes to New York and Philadelphia, something special is on the field.
Since the start of the 2000 baseball season and proceeding though the subsequent NFL, NBA and NHL seasons, Philadelphia teams have played 315 regular-season games against New York teams, or about one every 10 1/2 days.
The Sixers are 20-13 against the Knicks during that time span. The Flyers are 53-39-2 against the Rangers and Islanders. The Eagles are 11-9 against the Giants and Jets. The Phillies are 84-84 against the Mets and Yankees.
"It's the only place I've ever been where they actually chant . . . 'Flyers suck,' " Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher said. "I don't think we even do that here. Honestly, I think it's fun playing in New York. I always kind of enjoy it when the fans hate you."
While the hatred might not extend to the players on the ice, or in the field, or on the court, the intensity seems to. Nowhere does it seem to be stronger than on the football field and baseball diamond, where the Phillies, Eagles, Mets, Yankees, Giants and Jets have played each other to a virtual deadlock over the last eight-plus seasons.
The last 2 years, the Mets and Phillies have exchanged various verbal volleys, with the Phillies securing the last two National League East titles. This year, the rivalry was particularly testy, with the Phils taking exception to some of the antics of shortstop Jose Reyes after a midsummer home run.
"Just watch 'em," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said about the Mets in late August. "Just watch 'em. If you were a player, you're looking over in that other dugout, you'll feel a certain type of way . . . You try to find something on any team, but especially these guys."
The Eagles might not feel the same way about the Giants as Rollins feels about "these guys," but there is a realization inside the locker room that a special opponent awaits. Four of the last five meetings between the teams have been decided by less than a touchdown. The teams split their last two playoff meetings, with the home team winning both times.
In 2000, when Jason Sehorn, Ron Dixon and miserable playing conditions spelled doom for Donovan McNabb and Reid, the Giants went on to win a berth in the Super Bowl.
This time around, the Giants are the defending champions, and regardless of Sinatra and Elton and Humphrey and Bacon and the Empire State and One Liberty Place, that seems to be all the fuel the fire will need.
"They have championships and they have a storied tradition," Avant said, "and all those types of things just makes the game fun." *