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Throwback to Thanksgiving 1989: the first ‘bounty bowl’

As we get ready for a Thanksgiving football feast, let’s go back to a 1989 Thanksgiving clash between the Eagles and Cowboys.



The Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys have had an intense rivalry for over 50 years, with the Cowboys on the winning end for most of the first 30 years. By the late 1980s, the Cowboys were rebuilding the franchise with new ownership, coaching and front office personnel. The Eagles were enjoying a resurgence under coach Buddy Ryan.

In 1989 the Eagles were feeling pretty chippy as they visited the woeful Cowboys for a nationally televised Thanksgiving game. The officiating crew was lead by referee Gene Barth. Joining him were umpire Ed Coukart, head linesman Ron Phares, line judge Ray Dodez, field judge Bruce Maurer, side judge Gerald Austin and field judge Dick Dolack.

Things got off to a rough start as both teams hit hard and letting the other team know all about it. Still in the first quarter, things boiled over and the fight was on.

Britt Hager tackled Troy Aikman late. But Hager stayed in the game. Mike Pitts threw a punch in the middle of the pile, earning him the early shower. Another side scuffle featured the late Jerome Brown and the Cowboys Kevin Gogan. A Phildelphia columnist later wrote that Gogan looked like Redd Foxx’s Fred Sanford character in getting ready to box Brown. The NFL fined 10 Cowboys and seven Eagles for the dust-up.

But that was just the start. The Saints bounty scandal of 2009-2011 is not the first bounty controversy in the history of the NFL. After the game, new Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson claimed Buddy Ryan and the Eagles placed bounties on certain Cowboys players. The NFL did not find evidence that the Eagles placed bounties on the Cowboys.

I’m sure Barth and his crew enjoyed a well-earned Thanksgiving meal after the game (and after they wrote all of the special reports to the league).

Ryan was fired by the Eagles after the 1990 season and the Eagles soon fell off the mountain. And the Cowboys rebuilt to a 1990s dynasty.

But for one Thanksgiving in 1989, the Eagles were determined to kick the Cowboys to the curb and Barth’s crew had to keep a lid on the tinderbox. 

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"