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Memory Lane: Eagles sour Cowboys 41-14 with pickle juice in 2000 opener

The Dallas Cowboys found out the hard way in 2000 why they should avoid having their season opener in Texas during an early September afternoon.
Credit: AP Photo/Donna McWilliam
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman looks down field for a receiver as he scrambles away from a Philadelphia Eagles defender at Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas, Sunday, Sept. 3, 2000.

DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys entered the 2000 season clinging to their glory years, but the Philadelphia Eagles finally slammed the window shut, and may have caught a few fingers in the process.

On Sept. 3, 2000, the Eagles trounced the Cowboys 41-14 in the hottest home game in Cowboys history. How did the visiting Eagles, clad in dark green, avoid succumbing to the North Texas heat?

Pickle juice.

One of the reasons Dallas didn't host late afternoon home games in Week 1 was because Texas Stadium was a hot box with a hole in the roof. The temperature on the artificial turf at the time of kickoff was 109 degrees, making it one of the hottest games in NFL history and a record high for Sept. 3 at DFW Airport.

Eagles athletic trainer Rick Burkholder offered to his players that they drink pickle juice before the game to stay fresh as it was better than water at retaining electrolytes and staving off cramps.

There was nothing the Cowboys could do to stave off the onslaught. 

Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid, who led the Eagles to a 5-11 record the year prior, including a series split with the Cowboys, shook the balance of the NFC East with an onside kick to start the game. The Eagles recovered and mounted a nine-play, 58-yard drive capped off with quarterback Donovan McNabb hitting tight end Jeff Thomason for a 1-yard touchdown.

The Philadelphia defense sacked quarterback Troy Aikman twice on the ensuing drive, and the game seemed to settle down with both sides trading punts. It wasn't until eight seconds left in the first quarter, when running back Duce Staley scored a 1-yard touchdown, that the Eagles started flying away from the Cowboys.

On the third play of the second quarter, linebacker Jeremiah Trotter picked off Aikman and returned the takeaway for a 27-yard touchdown. On the following drive, Hugh Douglas and James Darling knocked Aikman out of the game with a 10-yard sack, and former Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham replaced Aikman.

Midway through the second quarter, kicker David Akers booted a 33-yard field goal to give Philadelphia a 24-0 lead. Cowboys kicker Tim Seder added field goals from 34 and 38 out to make the halftime score manageable at 24-6. 

However, the NFL wasn't anywhere near as pass-oriented as it is today. Even if it were, the Cowboys couldn't stop the Eagles offense, which chipped away at Dallas’ saline-deprived resolve with an Akers 37-yard field goal midway through the third quarter.

The Eagles added two more touchdowns, with McNabb rushing for a 3-yard score and backup running back Brian Mitchell rushing from six yards out. Until Cunningham connected with receiver Joey Galloway with 6:49 to go in the game, the Eagles were embarrassing the Cowboys 41-6.

To add injury to insult, Galloway tore his ACL in the last 3:30 of a meaningless, hopeless contest. 

Normally, it is bad enough to lose your No. 1 receiver for the year in the first game of the season. It is akin to a Biblical curse to have given up two first-round picks for that receiver and your star quarterback only saw a few series with him for the whole season.

Fun fact: the "Pickle Juice Game" was also Dave Campo's first career game as the Cowboys' head coach.

“When I took the job, I knew we were in trouble,” Campo told WFAA in September 2016. “But I thought we could work our way through it. That's what a coach does. He looks at the positive, not the negative.”

Campo had a super buffet spread of negativity to work through as Dallas finished 5-11. Aikman retired, Galloway recovered, but Dallas was doomed to repeat 5-11 seasons until Campo's departure at the end of 2002.

The Eagles finished 11-5, but lost in the divisional round to the eventual NFC champion New York Giants. Nonetheless, it was the start of a modern successful era of Eagles football that arguably has never ended. 

Philadelphia played in four straight NFC Championship Games from 2001-04 with a Super Bowl berth at the end of the 2004 season. They added another conference title game appearance in 2008, and the winning never seemed to stop even after they fired Andy Reid. In 2017, Doug Pederson, a Reid disciple, led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl win in club history.

Whether it is the "Bounty Bowl" from 1989 or sundry playoff showdowns, the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry is always contentious yet fascinating, and the entry for 2000 has a splash of pickle juice.

What memories do you have of the new millennium Cowboys from back in 2000? Share ‘em with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.

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