WAR WITHOUT DEATH: A YEAR OF EXTREME COMPETITION IN PRO FOOTBALL'S NFC EAST | BY MARK MASKE
Everything but a Hollywood Ending
The NFC East is made up of four of the league's wealthiest and most tradition-laden franchises, and 2006 was expected to remind fans of the glory years when its teams won seven of 10 Super Bowl titles. After examining how these teams earned their money and how they spent some of that money in the offseason before the 2006 season, their ultimately unsatisfying results in 2006 can be interpreted as a referendum on how well their player-related decisions worked out. The owners were coming off a tumultuous offseason in which labor negotiations pitted the "have" franchises against the "have-nots," and they had a new commissioner, Roger Goodell, which inevitably led to some uncertainty over the future of the league. But as the 2006 season got under way, NFC East owners Daniel Snyder of the Redskins, Jerry Jones of the Cowboys, Jeffrey Lurie of the Eagles and John Mara of the Giants were confident their respective general managers and coaches had assembled teams ready to make a run at a Super Bowl title.
Sept. 10: East Rutherford, N.J.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning walked off the Giants Stadium field a few hours before kickoff on opening night. He'd finished his pre-pregame warmup, his early workout with wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne to begin to loosen up and make sure they were all properly in sync. Manning passed the goal post and was headed toward the tunnel leading under the stands to the locker rooms. He noticed the fuzzy outline of a person walking past him; he wasn't really paying attention.
Then he suddenly refocused and realized who it was.
It was Eli.
It struck Peyton then: He was playing an NFL game against his brother.
It was an NFL first, brothers starting against one another at quarterback. It had been discussed and promoted ad nauseam for months. Peyton had answered dozens, perhaps hundreds, of questions about it, but he'd given stock answers and hadn't really contemplated how it would feel to share the field with Eli.
Now he found himself surprisingly caught up in it all. He watched Eli during warmups and peeked at him during the national anthem. He thought the whole thing was neat.
"That's my little brother over there," he said to himself.
The NFL had given NBC the highly attractive "Manning Bowl" as the opening Sunday night game of the season. The NFC East had gotten off to an uneven start that afternoon. The Eagles gave a splendid performance and won at Houston. Donovan McNabb threw three touchdown passes, and Donte Stallworth had six catches for 141 yards and a touchdown. Who needed Terrell Owens?
The Cowboys had been undone by three interceptions thrown by Drew Bledsoe and had lost at Jacksonville. Owens played well in his Cowboys debut, catching six balls for 80 yards and a touchdown, but Bledsoe was indecisive and missed throws he should have made. Flozell Adams didn't play well at left tackle. Shaun Suisham kicked in place of injured kicker Mike Vanderjagt, acquired as a free agent in the offseason from Indianapolis, and sent a 36-yard field goal try off the right upright. That led Owens to launch into a screaming rant at no one in particular on the sideline.
"T.O., you're a cancer!" a Jaguars fan yelled at him as he left the field.
"Yep," Owens replied.