PHILADELPHIA - A few years ago, Joe Cirrinicione's Christmas decorations included a snowman clad in Eagles gear perched on the front lawn of his Lower Township home.
Dr. Jim Rochford, one of his good friends, snuck over one night and altered the display.
"I got some spray paint and painted 'New York Giants' all over the snowman," Rochford said with a laugh. "I even took off the Eagles hat and put a Giants hat on it. Man, was he ticked."
Cirrinicione, superintendent of Lower Township Schools, is an avid Birds fan who takes a trip to training camp at Lehigh University each summer. Rochford, a Lower Township dentist, is a Big Blue diehard. They will get together tonight to watch their favorite teams square off at Giants Stadium.
If the Giants win, Cirrinicione must swallow defeat by taking a drink from a Giants mug.
"We keep it at the bar in his house," Rochford said. "He absolutely hates to even touch it, let alone drink from it."
It has been a while since Cirrinicione has had to take a sip. The Eagles enter tonight's showdown having won the last three meetings. A victory would give the Eagles a fourth straight win over their NFC East rivals for the first time since they swept the season series in 2003 and 2004.
That's the way the Eagles-Giants rivalry usually goes. The teams have split their regular-season series just four times since 1985: in 2002, 2006 and last season. The Giants won six in a row over the Eagles from 1985-87 and then reeled off a nine-game winning streak from 1997-2001. The Eagles had a five-game winning streak in the series in 1990-92 and won four straight in 1995-96.
The Eagles are currently the hotter team, but players are expecting an intense, physical game.
"Every time we play them, it's a battle," Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said. "One game is always different than the next. Sure, we beat them last time, but this is a whole different ballgame."
Each of the Eagles' previous three wins had its own theme featuring different heroes.
The Eagles dominated their first matchup earlier this season, earning a 40-17 victory at Lincoln Financial Field on Nov. 1. The 23-point margin of victory was the Eagles' largest against the Giants in 14 years. It marked the first time the Eagles had scored at least 40 points against them since 1992. They did it with big plays by running back LeSean McCoy (66-yard touchdown run), wide receiver DeSean Jackson (54-yard TD reception) and fullback Leonard Weaver (41-yard TD run).
"Those young guys (for the Eagles) have done an outstanding job," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said in a phone interview. "Jackson certainly left his mark even as a rookie a year ago and continues to do so. (Eagles rookie wide receiver Jeremy) Maclin and McCoy have also done outstanding jobs.
"I think they have certainly come in and accepted the challenge and the responsibility, and they're talented guys."
The Eagles earned one of their biggest wins in the 76-year history of the rivalry in the playoffs last season. The Eagles' eliminated the defending Super Bowl champs with a 23-11 upset at Giants Stadium on Jan. 11. They became the first sixth-seeded NFC team to knock off a No. 1 seed since the 12-team playoff format was established in 1990.
That game was won by the Eagles' defense. The unit held Giants quarterback Eli Manning and company without a touchdown. Cornerback Asante Samuel and safety Quintin Mikell each had interceptions.
Tonight, the Eagles return to the scene of some miracles.
In 2003, Eagles running back Brian Westbrook provided what has become known as "Miracle of the Meadowlands III" by scoring on an 84-yard punt return with 1 minute, 16 seconds left in regulation to give the Eagles a 14-10 victory.
The first miracle occurred in 1978, when Eagles defensive back Herm Edwards scooped up a botched handoff between Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik and fullback Larry Csonka and ran 26 yards for a touchdown with 31 seconds left to give the Eagles a 19-17 win.
A decade later, Eagles defensive end Clyde Simmons was the savior. Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor blocked a field-goal attempt by Luis Zendejas in overtime. Simmons grabbed the carom and stormed into the end zone for a 23-17 win.
This will be the Eagles' last regular-season visit to Giants Stadium. The Giants have a new arena, built just a few hundred yards away, scheduled to open in 2010.
"We've had some great games up there," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "I'm not going to be sad to see some parts of it change. Hopefully, they move the seat of the guy that when I come out of the tunnel always talks to me about how many salad bars I need to visit."
Tonight's contest likely will have its share of thrills and memories, considering the stakes. The Eagles (8-4) can maintain at least a share of first place in the NFC East. The Giants (7-5) are just one game behind.
It also will determine whether Cirrinicione has to drink out of Rochford's mug.
"He's had some bragging rights for the last couple of years now," Rochford said. "But whenever he starts bragging too much, I just remind him that the Giants have won three Super Bowls."
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