- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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You might not need my permission, or my urging. You might already be there -- as excited as you've been about a professional football game in a very long time. And if that's the case, good. You should be. Sunday night's game at FedEx Field for the NFC East title has everything any of you could possibly want. And while some of you will end your night deeply disappointed in the result while others celebrate a playoff appearance you couldn't possibly have imagined two months ago, these next 53 hours are your time to feel like kids on Christmas Eve. Get excited.
Regardless of which team you root for, think about how far you've come to get to this point. It started on the day before free agency, when the NFL took a huge chunk of salary-cap money away from each of these two teams and redistributed it among the others for what to this day continues to look like no good reason. The owner who most vocally championed and reveled in that punishment for your teams' spending during a season that featured no official spending rules was John Mara, the owner of the division-rival and Super Bowl champion New York Giants. His team can't win the NFC East. Yours can. His team needs a minor miracle Sunday just to get into the playoffs. Your team has control of its own destiny. If you want to cackle in glee about that particular irony, that's your right. Get satisfaction.
If the Cowboys are your team, you were 3-5 on Election Day, losers of two straight heartbreakers to the Giants and Falcons and wondering when anything was ever going to change. Defensive starters were dropping like flies, DeMarco Murray was out with a foot injury that refused to heal and Tony Romo was throwing interceptions around as though they were "I Voted" stickers. You were two-and-a-half games out of first place behind the team that took the division from you last December, and you wanted everybody gone. If you want to look back over the last seven games and wonder what made Romo stop throwing picks or marvel at the way Jason Garrett has managed the second half or tell everyone it's about time Dez Bryant turned into one of the best receivers in the league, go ahead. Get amazed.
If you are a Redskins fan, you were 3-6 heading into the bye week. Your coach, Mike Shanahan, was defending comments he made after a miserable loss to Carolina about using the rest of this season for evaluations. You were pleased, obviously, with the brilliance of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, and of the belief that the future looked bright. But you were still staring at a second half of the season that was going to feel too sadly familiar -- watching from the sideline while the teams you hate fought it out for the division title. If you want to slap your friends on the back and shout, "Did you ever think we'd win six in a row after the bye and be in first place in Week 17?", be my guest. Get proud.
Whichever of these teams is your favorite, you have to be happy that this rivalry means something again. Cowboys-Redskins is one of the most historically intense rivalries the NFL has. Popular wisdom holds that the reason the Cowboys were kept in the NFC East when the divisions realigned, in spite of good geographic reasons to move them elsewhere, was to preserve the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry by allowing them to continue playing each other twice a year. So if this week gives you reason to think about Tom Landry and Joe Gibbs and Jimmy Johnson and John Riggins and Michael Irvin and Darrell Green and Troy Aikman and Joe Theismann ... good. It's time to hate again -- time to remember why that star bugs you so much, time to get outwardly indignant about a politically incorrect team nickname that wouldn't bother you otherwise. Get trash-talking.
Get jacked. Get geeked. Get fired up. This is a big, big game, folks -- the kind of game that justifies every kind of the silly, overblown enthusiasm sports fans can muster. If you're a Redskins fan or a Cowboys fan, Sunday is your night. And the days leading up to it are for getting excited.