Quick note before you begin reading: Shibe Sports at 13th and Walnut will be having a blowout sale all weekend. 30% off everything between 9-12 on Friday, and 20% off everything for the remainder of the weekend! If you’re a fan of the history of Philadelphia sports, you’ll love the store. In addition to running this site, I’m also one of the owners.
This year will mark the 7th time the Eagles have done battle on Thanksgiving Day. Before them the Yellow Jackets actually had a Thanksgiving Day rivalry. Here’s a brief synopsis of every Thanksgiving Day NFL game played involving one of the two Philly teams.
1924-The Frankford Yellow Jackets defeated the Dayton Triangles, 32-7. In the pick below player/coach Guy Chamberlin and Johnny Budd chase down the Triangles Faye Abbot.
1926– The Yellow Jackets knocked off the Packers, 20-14, in front of a packed stadium of 12,000 people. The Jackets would go to on to finish the season 14-1-2 and win the NFL championship. They’re the last team to win an NFL title and later fold. The game also marked the start of a Thanksgiving Day rivalry with the Packers that would last until 1930. Here’s a great pic of that 1926 championship team.
1927-The Packers returned the favor, winning 17-9. You can read more about the Packers-Yellow Jackets Thanksgiving rivalry here. (The games were all played in Frankford. Once November hit, the Packers would play most of their games on the road.)
1928-The Yellow Jackets edged the Packers 2-0, the only score coming on a bad snap during a botched punt attempt by the Packers.
1929– Hard to believe that the 1929 game could be lower scoring than the 1928 affair, but it was. 0-0 was the final. The Yellow Jackets got the ball down to the 2-yard line at one point, but couldn’t punch it in. The tie would be the only blemish on the Packers 12-0-1 championship season.
1930– The Yellow Jackets franchise was starting to fall apart, and the Packers were on their way to a 2nd straight NFL title. The result of this game was never in doubt. The Packers, led by QB Red Dunn, won 25-7.
A fire to their stadium right before the 1931 season forced the Yellow Jackets to scramble to find places to play. Playing outside of Frankford meant that their fans couldn’t make it to the games, and fans in other parts of town didn’t come out to support a team from Frankford. The team folded midway through the 1931 season. Two years later the lesson was learned…don’t just represent a small section of the city, represent the whole city. The Philadelphia Eagles were born. They would play on Thanksgiving far less frequently than the Frankford Yellow Jackets did.
1939– The Eagles defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, 17-14, on Thanksgiving Day. It would be the Eagles only win all season. Their young QB Davey O’Brien led the way with 208 yards passing.
1940– The Steelers (having changed their name from the Pirates) got their revenge, knocking off the Eagles 7-0. The Birds would finish the season 1-10. Of course, these two teams would join forces a few years later.
1968– The Eagles would finally play on Thanksgiving 28 years later. Once again they were one of the worst teams in the league, heading into their Thanksgiving Day tilt with an 0-11 record. A torrential downpour over the previous 36-hours turned the field into a swamp. The Eagles won the game 12-0 on four Sam Hall field goals, a rare bright spot in a disastrous season, one best remembered for the “Santa game”.
1989– This one is deserving of it’s own post, which I may do later in the week. The Bounty Bowl ended with the Eagles winning 27-0, the team trying to injure Luis Zendejas, and Jimmie Johnson screaming about Buddy Ryan’s big fat rear end. Here is Jimmie Johnson talking about that game a few years ago.
2008– The Eagles entered this game against the Cardinals with some quarterback controversy. The week before Andy Reid had benched a struggling Donovan McNabb against the Ravens and played Kevin Kolb. He didn’t announce McNabb as his starter until late in the week. McNabb seemed rejuvenated, and his 4 TD passes led the Eagles to a 48-20 win. Of course, these same two teams would meet in the NFC championship game later that season, and the Cardinals would knock off the Eagles 32-25.
2014- The Eagles both came into this game 8-3, with first place in the NFC East on the line. The Eagles, led by backup QB Mark Sanchez, dominated from the outset. Tony Romo, meanwhile, floundered against the Eagles defensive line which dominated the game. The 33-10 win established the Eagles as the class of the NFC East. It also marked the high water mark for the Chip Kellie regime. At that point, the Eagles had gone 19-9 under his tutelage, and the local press was singing his praises. Then the wheels came off. The Eagles would lose to the Seahawks a week later, then fall to the Cowboys in a rematch, before finally falling to the 3-11 Redskins and being eliminated from playoff contention. Since that Cowboys win, the Eagles have gone 5-9 and now the local media is calling for Kellie’s head.
And so the Eagles head to Detroit for only their 7th Thanksgiving Day game in 82 years. The same number that the Yellow Jackets played over a 7-year stretch. Let’s hope the Eagles improve upon their 5-1 Thanksgiving Day record.
Pat Gillick is a hero in this town because they won a title under his watch. But it is certainly worth noting that the vast majority of that team was signed by Ed Wade. The only major players on that team brought in by Gillick were Jamie Moyer, Jayson Werth, and Brad Lidge (well, unless you count Matt Stairs as a major part of that team). In 2006, he traded Bobby Abreu for a bag of baseballs. Furthermore, Gillick nearly derailed the team in 2007 when he made one of the worst trades in Phillies history, one that still carries repercussions today.
As the Phils headed into the 2007 season, their front office and fans were dogged by the frustration a team feels when it keeps coming tantalizingly close to the post-season. In 2006, they missed it by three games. In 2005, they missed it by one. So they knew they were close, and thought that a front line pitcher would get them over the top. Enter the vastly overrated Freddie Garcia, coming off a season in which he had won 17 games, but had a bloated ERA of 4.53 (To show how worthless wins are to gauge a pitcher, last year Cliff Lee had 6 wins and a 3.16 ERA). Nonetheless, the Phils thought he could be the staff ace they needed to get them over the hump, and so they decided that he was worth two blue chippers, Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez. Garcia was signed to a one year, $10 million contract, then went out on the field and completely bombed, going 1-5 with a 5.90 ERA. Of course, the numbers were so bad because he was hiding a shoulder injury from the team. After giving up 6 runs and recording 4 outs in a loss to Kansas City in June, he was sent to the DL. He never pitched for the Phillies again.
Now, a Freddie Garcia for Gavin Floyd trade would have been bad enough. Floyd was no superstar, but the numbers he put up from 2008-2010 would have made him a fine back of the rotation pitcher. But it was the other pitcher that makes Gillick look
like a dope, and has to make you wonder if the Phillies would have felt the need to spend so lavishly on starting pitchers at the expense of the bullpen and hitting the past few years. Gio Gonzalez is a full fledged stud, and unlike current Phils pitchers is both young and signed to an incredibly generous deal for the Nationals (5 years, $42 million.) He has been essentially unhittable since 2010, putting up numbers very similar to Cliff Lee’s for about a third of the price, and Gio was #3 in NL Cy Young voting last year. The only scratch on his record is his connection to Biogenesis, which could result in a lengthy suspension in the near future.
It is worth noting that the White Sox blew it just as bad as the Phils did with Gonzalez…after receiving him so generously from Philadelphia, they turned around and traded him to Oakland for Nick Swisher, who lasted one year in Chicago and batted .219.
In 2001, the Ravens got ready to play the Ravens in a preseason tilt. The teams got to the stadium, got dressed, and then nothing happened. The team had to cancel a preseason game because the already terrible Vet turf was even worse than usual, and the Ravens refused to play on it. Thus set off a series of unfortunate events, and a condemnation of the field from Joe Banner.
Some disappointed fans, among the estimated 45,000 in attendance, smashed will-call windows and other areas outside the 30-year-old stadium. Six people were arrested for unruly behavior, and that was just one problem.
The press elevator then got stuck between the first and second level while a news conference took place. There were no injuries, but 18 people waited 41 minutes to be let out….
…”It was completely unanimous from everybody’s perspective,” Eagles president Joe Banner said. “The field is not suitable to playing.
“We’re disappointed. We’ve been going through this for years. It’s not acceptable. The conditions this team is forced to play in is absolutely unacceptable and an embarrassment to the city of Philadelphia.”
In fact, the Eagles were hoping that the Vet was going to be nicer in 2001 than it was the year before. It was the first facility to ever get Nextturf installed. Unfortunately, therein lied the problem. Since it was rather new, the people installing it didn’t realize that it was tough to fit it properly over the segments of the field that were also used for baseball, and that’s why they had to cancel the game. Before the Nextturf, the field had been even worse. This from a 2000 article in the Orlando Sentinel.
No official body count has been kept regarding the injury toll that the infamous turf at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium has taken on NFL players over the years.
Perhaps the most tragic victim was Chicago Bears wide receiver Wendell Davis. In 1993, Davis leaped to catch a pass and landed awkwardly on the hard surface. Davis ruptured tendons in both knees on the play.
Bucs secondary coach Herman Edwards played nine seasons (1977-85) with the Eagles and never missed a game. He considers himself fortunate.
“It’s like this,” Edwards said, banging his foot on Tampa Bay’s concrete locker-room floor. “Only green.”
Actually, it’s worse these days. Stadium maintenance personnel erred last week in failing to cover the field in the days before Philadelphia closed the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals. When an ice storm froze the field, workers treated it with calcium chloride solutions normally used to de-ice roads. The treatment left an oily residue that made the field even more slippery.
“It was on the players’ shoes, on their bodies, on their hands,” Reid said. “They couldn’t lick their fingers unless they wanted to taste that stuff. Plus, it was water resistant.”
It is somewhat amusing that some Philadelphia sports fans could never understand why the Eagles never built a winning sports franchise, at the same time they played at the most despicable stadium in sports history, as if the two weren’t interrelated. As for the Wendell Davis injury, SI wrote about it in 1993. Pretty gruesome.
Chicago bear wide receiver Wendell Davis looked over his shoulder into the blue sky above Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium on Oct. 10 and saw the football spiraling toward him. Davis, in full gallop, had Eagle cornerback Mark McMillian right with him, and the pass was a bit under-thrown. Davis figured he would have to stop, turn and outjump McMillian for the ball.
At the precise moment that Davis planted his feet to jump for the ball, his turf shoes dug into the AstroTurf and held solid, as though they were nailed to the carpet. Davis felt something snap simultaneously in both knees, and he flopped to the artificial turf as if he’d been shot. He began screaming in pain. He tried to move his legs but couldn’t. When the trainers and team doctor reached him and straightened both legs, Davis looked down to see why it felt as if someone were stabbing him in both knees with knives.
“I saw the doctor trying to find my kneecaps,” Davis said last week from his hospital bed in Chicago. “They found my kneecaps up in my thighs.”
It’s so interesting to me that while it is considered common knowledge today that artificial turf is horrific in terms of injury, less than 20 years ago, people were saying that the evidence was far from conclusive (from the same article).
Says Greg Grillone, the stadium director at Veterans Stadium, “It’s not practical to have a grass field. I haven’t seen evidence that AstroTurf is responsible for injuries. But with all the injuries this year, it does make you scratch your head.”
There is simply no question that the green concrete at the Vet was a tangible cause of increased injury, making Grillone sound like Bob Dole refusing to acknowledge the health risks of tobacco smoke. But even as fewer and fewer pro teams play on it, it is still a very lively business, and there have been incredible advancements in making it safer and more “realistic”. In fact, with giant chunks of sod flying up in the air whenever the Bears play a home game, there are plenty of folks in Chicago clamoring for artificial turf. It would eliminate the sod problem. There are no chunks of grass, it’s obviously much easier to maintain in harsh winters, and there are some studies that the newer stuff causes fewer injuries. The Packers actually play on a turf field, though you wouldn’t know it to look at it. There is, technically, no more “frozen tundra at Lambeau Field”. So while thankfully the green concrete is no longer en vogue, it is interesting to note that artificial turf is poised to make a comeback.
Abreu is a really interesting case study in Philadelphia. He was quite similar to Donovan McNabb: grossly underrated in Philly, slightly overrated nationally. Abreu’s biggest sin was his laissez faire attitude in a city that simply doesn’t accept that. It’s fine for fans to be upset about the attitude, but to ignore his skill and contributions to the Phillies while he was here is to be so blinded by irrationality that you simply miss the big picture.
Bobby Abreu is on the fence for the Hall of Fame. That’s not because he’s overrated, it’s because he’s an elite player. His numbers with the Phillies are simply staggering, and he is undoubtedly one of the greatest players to ever wear a Phillies uniform (Phillies Nation has him ranked 10th all time).
- Bobby Abreu has the 4th most doubles in Phillies history (348), behind Mike Schmidt, Jimmy Rollins, and Big Ed Delahanty. Pretty heady company.
- Abreu has the 9th most homers in Phillies history (195) with 7 more than number 10 on the list, Chase Utley.
- He has the 9th most RBIs in Phillies history (814).
- He has the 9th most runs scored in Phillies history (891).
- Of the 3 guys with a higher OBP than Abreu in Phillies history (Abreu’s is .416), none has played since 1911. The highest OBP on the Phillies last year was .355, by Victorino. And keep in mind, .416 wasn’t Abreu’s high. That was his career average on the Phils.
- Since the end of WWII, only two players have had a higher career batting averages while with the Phils, John Kruk and Richie Asburn. Abreu’s average was .303.
- He’s 7th all time in steals in Phillies history with 254.
- Abreu has the 12th most hits in Phillies history (1474).
So, who else in Phillies history is in the career top 10 of homers, RBIs, runs scored, doubles, OBP, and steals? Nobody. In fact, nobody is even close. So if you want to get mad because he didn’t charge facefirst into walls, go right ahead. But don’t ignore the fact that he is one of the 5 greatest offensive players in Phillies history. Babe Ruth was a mediocre defensive right fielder who didn’t crash into walls either. That didn’t mean that his offensive numbers should be completely discounted. Should we be mad at Mike Schmidt because he didn’t steal more bases? No, I’m not comparing Abreu to Babe Ruth or Mike Schmidt. My point is that it’s unfair to judge a player because of one weakness and completely ignore everything he contributed positively to the team.
There is also a notion that he “isn’t clutch”. But the numbers simply don’t back that up. According to baseball reference, in games that are late and close, he hits .282 with a .411 OBP (I cannot find exclusive Phils stats on this split, only full career stats). Compare that with “Captain Clutch” Derek Jeter, who with a very similar number of at-bats hits .292 with a .384 OBP . The slight edge goes to Jeter, but it’s hardly a blowout, and he’s considered to be the most “clutch” player in the game.
Abreu was one of the greatest players in Phillies history, and yet bring up his name in this town and you’ll get a rolling of the eyes and muttering about hustle because he didn’t sacrifice his body on every play. There was no doubt that Abreu hustled on the basepaths, and no doubt that he excelled in every phase of the game that didn’t have to do with crashing into walls. But this being Philly, that’s all that matters. I appreciate hustle as much as the next guy, but at a certain point talent needs to be appreciated too. Because his talents at the plate and on the basepaths are completely ignored due to his mediocre defense, Bobby Abreu is #6 on this list.
Kimmo Timonen was underrated from the start of his career. He was selected in the 10th Round (250th of 286 total picks) by the L.A. Kings in the 1993 Entry Draft. In today’s NHL, there are only 7 rounds in the draft, so it’s pretty easy to see what NHL front offices thought of Timonen. That being said, there’s a reason the Flyers haven’t missed the playoffs since Kimmo joined the team.
After playing several years in Nashville, the Flyers acquired Timonen in what now looks like one of the more lopsided trades in team history. As part of the deal that sent an aging Peter Forsberg to the Predators, the Flyers obtained a 1st round pick which they then traded back to Nashville in 2007 for Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen.
In hockey, it’s easy to underrate good defensemen. The guys you don’t notice are likely the ones who are most effective. Timonen fits that description to a tee. Night in and night out, Timonen is paired against the best offensive lines of the Flyers’ opponents and he puts in his work, quietly. Even when an HBO camera crew was following around the team for weeks prior to the Winter Classic, Timonen didn’t want any part of the spotlight and made himself an extra.
He’s not the type of player who’s going to deliver bone-crunching hits, or picks fights, or dazzle the fans with flashy play, or fire 105 mph slapshots from the point. At 5’10” and 194 lbs, he surely doesn’t stand out because of his size. But he brings his mistake-free play, both mentally and physically, to the rink every game. And I do mean every game. Although he’s built like a finesse winger, he is one of the more durable players in the league. Since joining the Flyers in 2007, he’s never missed more than 6 games in any season.
His decision making, puck movement, and positional skills are probably his greatest assets on the ice. As a Flyer, Timonen has averaged 36 assists and 41 points per year. He’s also a plus 38 over that span. This year, he hit both the 100 goal and 500 point milestones in his career. Timonen shines on the power-play. From ’06-’07 to ’07-08 (Timonen’s first year in Philly), the Flyers power-play success rate shot up from 14% to 22%.
He’s won three Barry Ashbee Awards, given to the Flyers’ most outstanding defensemen as decided by a panel of sportswriters. He’s just the third Flyer to take home that honor three times (Eric Desjardins- 7, Mark Howe- 4). Over the course of his career, he’s been selected to 5 All-Star teams (3 with the Flyers).
Just as important as his durability and play is the leadership that Kimmo brings to the Flyers. In years past, he was a locker room and on-ice leader, but with Chris Pronger’s injury this year, Timonen has had to become team spokesman. With his direct, no-nonsense approach to the Philadelphia media, his teammates know they are going to be held accountable for mistakes or lack of effort. For example: When he was asked what the difference was between the Rangers and Flyers this year after the Rangers 4th straight win against the Orange and Black, Timonen had two words: “The goaltending.” After a February loss to those same Rangers, Kimmo didn’t mince words about the effort: “The emotional level, playing against the top team in the conference…league…to be honest I think we got half the guys going half the guys not.” Hearing those kinds of quotes in the land of “upper body injuries” and “maintenance days” speaks volumes about how much respect Timonen has in the Flyers locker room.
American-born NHL star John LeClair sits at No. 14 on our list of the most underrated athletes in Philadelphia sports history. His career spanned 16 seasons, 10 of which were spent wearing the Orange and Black (’94-95 to ’03-’04). There’s no denying the fact that John LeClair was one of the best scorers in the history of the franchise. A quick run-down of his resume makes this abundantly clear:
- As a Flyer, he averaged 43 goals and 83 points per year.*
- He scored 50+ goals in three consecutive seasons from 1995-1998, becoming the first American-born player to accomplish that feat.
- He amassed 70+ points in five consecutive seasons from 1995-2000.
- He won the NHL Plus-Minus Award for the ’96-’97 season and the ’98-’99 season.
- He was an NHL All-Star in 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000.
- He ranks 5th in Flyers history in goals and 7th in Flyers history in scoring.
So how is a guy with those stats underrated? Two words: Eric Lindros. Most Philadelphia sports fans credit Lindros for most, if not all of LeClair’s production. Obviously, playing on the same line as one of the most talented players in the history of the league has its benefits, but the Vermont-native’s size (6’3″- 236lbs.), strength, and finishing ability can’t be questioned. Whether he was parked in front of the net- taking a beating, deflecting shots, or pouncing on rebounds; or letting one of his heavy slap shots go, LeClair was a force for the Legion of Doom. Lindros’ raw talent and play-making ability overshadowed LeClair’s consistency and production, which were vital to the success of that line. And don’t forget Mr. Lindros wasn’t healthy all that often. In the ’96-’97 season during which Lindros was absent for 30 games, LeClair still scored 50 goals.
No Flyer has dared to wear #88 since the Flyers traded Lindros to the Rangers in 2001, but there’s a 20-year-old kid wearing #10 for the Flyers now.
*In seasons he registered at least 76 games played.
Other than winning a Super Bowl, David Akers has had one major goal throughout his career: to convince us all that he is a football player, not just a mere place-kicker. Maybe that was just part of his make-up, or maybe it was all the time he spent in Philadelphia. This is the town where work ethic and grit are paramount to performance and talent. Kicking field goals wasn’t good enough; he wanted to show us how tough he was.
During his time as and Eagle, he would throw his 5’10” – 190 lbs. frame into oncoming traffic covering kickoff returns, he would make diving tackles on returners, and he would beast opposing coaches and then mix-it up with opposing players…by himself, on their sideline. But it was one game against the Oakland Raiders that settled the argument, once and for all. Akers isn’t just a kicker.
On September 25, 2005, the 1-1 Eagles were home against the 0-2 Raiders. After the coin toss, the Rocky montage, and the fireworks, the Eagles lined up to kickoff to start the game. Akers approached the ball and just as he struck it, he collapsed to the ground and clutched the back of his right leg. A flag flew and a whistle was blown; the Birds were offside. Akers got off the ground, placed the ball on the tee, and limped back to his starting position. On the retry, Akers collapsed again, and the Eagles were offside again. This time Akers was taken off the field and trainers began working on his hamstring. Mike Bartum was sent in and booted the third attempt at the opening kickoff out of bounds.
Akers’ injury kept him on the sidelines. The trainers and coaching staff didn’t even think he could make an extra point. After a Brian Westbrook 18-yard touchdown run in the second half, Mark Simoneau was chosen to try the game-tying extra point. It wasn’t successful. The box score reflects that it was blocked, but in reality, Simoneau drilled the ball into the back of his teammate, Steve Spach. The Raiders led 10-6 at the half.
During halftime, Akers returned to the field with a heavily taped right leg and began trying extra-point length chip shots. He had to alter his stance, his approach, and his weight distribution in order to give the ball the best chance of eeking through the uprights and him the best chance of not ending up in a heap after each kick. It was clear he was in a lot of pain.
When the third quarter began, Donovan McNabb, who was battling through a sports hernia, got things going. A short touchdown pass to Terrell Owens gave the Eagles a 12-10 lead. Akers convinced the training staff and his coaches that he could make the extra point, so he limped out onto the field for the P.A.T. And he made it, giving the Eagles a three point lead. Then, after a Westbrook touchdown reception, Akers gingerly made another extra point to push the score to 20-10 at the end of the 3rd quarter. The lead wouldn’t hold; after a Janikowski field goal, the Raiders tied the game on a Doug Gabriel touchdown catch with 2:17 remaining in the game.
A touch back on the ensuing kickoff placed the Eagles on their own 20. With a healthy Akers, the Eagles would have only needed about 50 yards to get into range for a game-winning field goal. With a hobbled Akers, the Eagles were thinking end zone. “We wanted to score a touchdown, so we wouldn’t have to worry,” said Reid after the game. McNabb hit Westbrook on two consecutive passes to reach midfield, then Greg Lewis and T.O. chipped in catches and the Eagles found themselves on the 17 yard line with 31 seconds remaining. But they still weren’t in field goal range. After a Nnamdi Asomugha illegal contact penalty and then a T.O. 7-yard reception, McNabb spiked the ball with nine seconds remaining five yards from goal line.
The outcome of the game would rest on David Akers’ injured leg. And just like he had countless times before, the dependable Akers made another important field goal. He collapsed in pain again, but this time it was accompanied by celebration.
Said Mike Bartum after the game, “They call him a kicker, but he’s not a kicker. He’s a football player…A tough guy.”
Akers will receive a very warm welcome this Sunday at the Linc when he returns as a 49er. Not just because he holds the franchise records for points and field goals, but because he was more than just a kicker. He was a leader. A football player.
With the Eagles facing Atlanta this Sunday night, let’s take a look back at the one Eagles/Falcons game that stands above all others: The 2004 NFC Championship game. It’s a game I will always remember; hell, it’s a game every Eagles fan who was around will always remember. It isn’t so much the game itself though, it is what the game meant to this city.
It’s crazy how different the sports psyche of this town was in 2004 than it is now. We all know the history. Philadelphia hadn’t seen a championship since ’83 and was in the longest such streak for any city with 4 major sports teams. This was when Philly sports teams were cursed; we couldn’t win. Even Smarty Jones fell short. The Eagles were no different. The Reid-McNabb led Eagles had made the NFC title game in 2001 and lost to the favored Rams. The next year, the Birds again made it to the conference championship game, but were stunned by the Buccaneers in the last game at Veterans Stadium. Then in 2003, the Eagles gave us 4th and 26th in the divisional game against the Packers only to lose horribly in the NFC title game against the Panthers at home.
For a franchise that hadn’t been to the Super Bowl in more than 20 years, ending the season one game short in 2002 and 2003 left the entire city in a collective clinical depression. These losses were devastating. Remember, this was when the entire city lived and died with the Eagles; it was long before the rediscovered love affair with the Phillies sparked back up. Philadelphians were invested in the Eagles, and they had perpetually let us down just when we were on the brink of the promised land.
In the offseason prior to the 2004 campaign, Jeremiah Trotter came home and the Eagles added two key free agents in Javon Kearse and a little-known, quiet, role player receiver from Tenneessee Chattanooga. After a blistering 13-1 start, the Eagles rested their starters for the final two games of the year. With a bye in the first round and then an easy home win against the Vikings, the Birds again found themselves one win away from the Super Bowl as a home favorite in the NFC Championship Game. Their opponent would be the Atlanta Falcons.
The game was played Sunday, January 23, 2005…just after a blizzard blew through Philadelphia leaving 2 feet of snow and 17 degree temperatures with brutal 25 mph winds. (Note: The snow was a good omen. The Eagles won their first championship in 1948 at Shibe Park in a blizzard. The weather was so bad that fans were given free entry into the game if they brought a shovel and helped clear the field.) With those conditions, neither team could rely too much on the passing game and if the Eagles were going to finally get to the Super Bowl, they would need to limit Mike Vick’s game-breaking plays.
After winning the toss, the Eagles decided to kick and put their defense on the field first. Andy Reid was confident in Jim Johnson’s scheme, which clearly focused much more on containing Vick than it did blitzing. Jevon Kearse and Derrick Burgess played the edges and didn’t let Vick loose. After forcing a quick three-and-out, the Eagles drove downfield to the Atlanta 29 where they failed on a fake field goal attempt to Chad Lewis and turned the ball over on downs. After a 34-yard-drive, Atlanta was forced to punt at the Eagles 38 with a chance to really pin the Birds deep. Swirling winds wreaked havoc on Chris Mohr though, who could only manage an 8-yard punt. The Birds took advantage with a 70-yard drive that featured a 36-yard run by #36 and ended with a 4-yard TD plunge by Dorsey Levens, who was pushed into the endzone by Jermaine Mayberry.
On the ensuring possession, Atlanta took 9 minutes off the clock driving to the Eagles 2 with a 1st and goal. With their backs against the wall, Jim Johnson’s bend-but-don’t-break defense came alive. On first down, the Birds stuffed T.J. Duckett for a loss. On second down, Michael Lewis blitzed and knocked down a Vick pass attempt. On 3rd and goal from the 4, Vick dropped back to pass, saw nobody open, and took off up the middle towards the end-zone. That’s when Hollis Thomas made the first big defensive play of the game when he launched himself at Vick and planted him at the line of scrimmage. A Jay Feely field goal made the score 7-3.
The Eagles answered with a drive of their own that was kept alive by Donovan McNabb. On a 3rd and 11 at the Eagles 40, McNabb eluded three defenders in the pocket and then fired to Freddie Mitchell for a first down. Then, a long completion on an underthrown ball to Greg Lewis put the Eagles on the Atlanta 4. McNabb capped the drive with a TD pass on a play-action to Chad Lewis for a 14-3 lead.
When the Falcons got the ball back with about 5 minutes left in the first half, they got their running game going a bit. Then Vick completed a long pass to Alge Crumpler at the Eagles 10, who was absolutely annihilated by Brian Dawkins, but somehow held onto the ball. Warrick Dunn then raced for a TD through the middle to bring the Falcons within 4 points at halftime.
The Eagles opened up the second-half with a 60-yard drive (Westbrook accounted for 48 of those yards) that ended in a David Akers FG to increase the lead to 17-10. From this point on, the Eagles defense played to perfection. Burgess and Kearse didn’t allow Vick any freedom and Trotter and co. stopped Dunn from any significant gains. Vick was sacked a total of 4 times and he lost more yards on those sacks than he gained through scrambling.
After both teams traded punts, the Falcons started on their own 10-yard line with 3 minutes left in the third quarter. On 1st down, Dawkins picked off Vick and took the ball to the 11-yard line. However, Atlanta stood strong and forced the Eagles to settle for another David Akers field goal and a 20-10 lead.
The Eagles entered the 4th quarter with a lead in the NFC Championship Game, something they hadn’t done in their previous three appearances. The defense continued to limit Vick and the Atlanta offence. Burgess picked up his second sack of the day on an incredible open-field, one-on-one tackle on Vick. After two straight Falcon drives ended in punts, the Eagles got the ball on their own 35 yard-line 10 football minutes away from the Super Bowl. Reid and McNabb would orchestrate their best drive of the day. An 11-play, seven-minute drive ending in another Chad Lewis TD reception put the Eagles up 27-10 with less than 3 and a half minutes remaining.
That deal-sealing touchdown started the party. The crowd at the Linc didn’t sit down the entire second-half, but it was much nerves than excitement. That changed when Chad Lewis hauled in that pass. The crowd erupted in pure, unadulterated elation. A weight had been lifted off the Eagles and off this city. Finally. Chants of “Super Bowl! Super Bowl! Super Bowl!” went on for what seemed like forever. Grown men hugging and high-fiving and crying and watching the clock count down to 00:00. As I said before, I’ll never forget it.
Big things are expected from the Eagles this season, and plenty of experts have them in the Super Bowl. Let’s go back through the years and see what predictions SI has made in past years. There are some fun ones here. We start with Peter King’s analysis in 2005.
The problems started before camp, of course, when Owens announced that he wanted to renegotiate the seven-year, $49 million contract he signed in 2004. Then he took shots at quarterback Donovan McNabb, calling him a hypocrite; injured his groin; and was se
nt home for arguing with Reid and offensive coordinator Brad Childress. Who knows how this soap opera will play out, but you can be sure that whether Owens plays 16 snaps or 16 games this season, Reid will have the Eagles focused and ready to play.
It didn’t quite work out that way. Terrell Owens singlehandedly destroyed a team perhaps more than any other single player in NFL history. They finished 6-10. In 2002, Peter King saw the Eagles weakness before the season started.
But a funny thing happened on the way to improvement. In the off-season the Eagles lost star middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, who was released after a contentious contract negotiation with coach Andy Reid. That loss might be crippling if 275-pound Levon Kirkland or unproven four-year vet Barry Gardner fail to be adequate replacements.
It is well worth noting that this year is not the first time that the Eagles have entered the season without a quality middle linebacker. In 2002, letting the Axeman walk may have very well cost the Eagles a shot at going to their first Super Bowl. Who can forget his replacement, Fat Levon Kirkland, futilely chasing Joe Jurevicius in the NFC Championship Game? Things weren’t looking good back in 1994, though there was some new hope thanks to new ownership.
…none of the new guys they brought in this year can match the quality of Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons, who followed Buddy Ryan to Arizona. And the defensive line, which once was the most feared in football, now reads, from left to right: William Fuller, Andy Harmon, William Perry and Mike Flores…The offense is more flash than smash. The Eagles were 4-0 last season until quarterback Randall Cunningham went down with a broken ankle; then they lost their next six. It was the second major injury in three years for the 31-year-old Cunningham. Two darting runners, Vaughn Hebron and rookie Charlie Garner, should help ease the pressure on Cunningham to take off and leg it.
The biggest plus is new owner Jeff Lurie, who stepped in and made sure that everyone was signed on time. It’s the first time since 1984 that that has happened in Philadelphia, where it’s being said that Lurie has brought a new, aggressive attitude to the team. Now if he could only step in at defensive end.
Take away two players and the PHILADELPHIA EAGLES are a sub-.500 team. Despite a mediocre line, quarterback Randall Cunningham had a magical year, practically willing his team into the end zone. End Reggie White was the best defensive player in football. But White missed much of training camp in a contract holdout, and the Eagles were on their way to nowheresville.
When he returned in late August, White said that if Buddy Ryan were not coach, he would never have played forPhiladelphia again. The players win for Buddy, not for the Eagles. Owners don’t like that kind of thinking.
Philly has some noticeable holes. Ryan keeps talking about a heavy running game, but that’s all it has been, talk. Even with White’s NFL-leading 18 sacks last year, the Eagles ended up last in pass defense, giving up the most yards ever by an NFC team. Philadelphia plays on high emotion. Last year it could beat anybody, but it could go in the dumper against anyone too. It will be another nail-biting season in ’89.
SI predicted a 9-7 season. In fact, the Eagles went 11-5, with Eric Allen, Seth Joyner, and Andre Waters taking some of the pressure off Reggie White (The offense continued to be a One-Man Show). In 1979, the Eagles were continuing their climb to respectability, but were being slightly derailed thanks to cocaine.
The PHILADELPHIA Eagles slipped into the playoffs last year on the winged feet of Wilbert Montgomery, only to make a quick exit when they blew a 13-0 fourth-quarter lead to Atlanta. Montgomery’s 1,220 yards rushing erased Steve Van Buren from the Eagle record book, but the guy who knocked down the linebackers for Montgomery last year, 215-pound Fullback Mike Hogan, won’t be around. Hogan and reserve Halfback Boomer Betterson were arrested on cocaine charges…Philadelphia’s strength, especially against the run, is the defensive front seven, led by greatly underrated Right End Carl Hairston, Inside Linebacker Bill Bergey and a comer at outside linebacker, Reggie Wilkes. The Eagles’ first pick in the draft, Jerry Robinson from UCLA, has impressed everyone with his speed (4.6 for 40 yards) and could be a starter at outside linebacker. Another draft pick, Tony Franklin of Texas A&M, seems ready to end the Eagles’ long search for a quality placekicker.
They would ultimately finish the season 11-5 and make it to the 2nd round of the playoffs, where they’d lose to Tampa. And finally, in 1966, things were looking up for the Birds.
The offense again should be hard to stop. Quarterback Norm Snead, after a good 1965 season, had surgery on a weak knee and is in excellent shape. At his best Snead can call a smart game, balancing the strong Eagle running with accurate passes at short and medium range. Behind Snead is King Hill, a certified big league quarterback who has knocked around for eight years but has never been No. 1. Although he has a strong arm he is not No. 1 because he is terribly inconsistent. The Eagles’ No. 3 quarterback is the little-used scrambler, Jack Concannon. Tall and strong, a good runner and a pretty fair passer, Concannon could be valuable as a halfback. He can run well enough, and with the threat of the halfback option pass he could be doubly dangerous.
In any case, the Eagle running can be outstanding. Now that Jim Brown has retired, the other Brown, Tim of the Eagles, is the most versatile runner in the game. He weighs 198 and can burst through the line or sprint around it with equal facility. He is at his fancy best when he breaks clear and shows off his repertoire of fakes or his tantalizing change of pace. Last year Brown was third in yardage (861) and first in average yards per carry (5.4).
Timmy Brown didn’t live up to expectations, rushing for 548 yards for a mere 3.4 yards per carry, Snead threw 8 TDs and 11 interceptions, and the defense allowed more points than the Eagles scored. And yet, somehow, the Eagles finished 9-5 and 2nd in the East Division. Go figure.
The Eagles open the season against the Rams this Sunday. Michael Vick, who was making license plates a couple of years ago, will be leading the Eagles against young, promising upstart Sam Bradford. It’s interesting to note that just less than 10 years ago, these two teams met in St. Louis with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Kurt Warner, who had been bagging groceries a couple of years before was matched up against the promising young star of the Eagles, Donovan McNabb. Eagles fans were ecstatic to be in the NFC Championship game, their first one since 1980.
But the Eagles defense was no match for Rams superstar Marshall Faulk. He ran for 159 yards and scored two TDs. Of course, that was no knock on an excellent Eagles defense, which had given up 64 points in 8 regular season road games that year, something no team had done since 1942. Faulk was unstoppable at that point in his career, having gained over 2,100 yards from scrimmage that season and having scored 21 TDs, despite missing two games with injury.
The Eagles had no such stars in their backfield, with Correll Buckhalter and Duce Staley combining to rush for almost 1200 yards. But they had a tremendous defense, led by stars Brian Dawkins and Jeremiah Trotter, and wins over the Buccaneers and the bears had gotten them to the NFC championship game. The Birds led, 17-13 at halftime, but the Rams proved to be too much in the 2nd half, and went on to win 29-24. At the time, Eagles fans knew that the better team had won, but were excited by this Eagles team that had all the parts in place to make numerous runs at a title in the future. The Birds would indeed make numerous runs, being a very good team at a time when the NFC was rather pitiful, but they couldn’t get over the top. The Rams game is now held up as an example of their futility, instead of being the moment the Eagles showed the world that they would be a contender for the next decade. Here is a recap of that game on CNNSI.
You can find the box score here. The most interesting thing about the box score to me is the names on the starting lineup, none of whom is currently on the team but many of whom have a place in Eagle lore. Troy Vincent, Brian Dawkins, Jeremiah Trotter, Hugh Douglas, Chad Lewis, and of course McNabb. The last link to that team was dropped a few months ago when the Eagles let David Akers go. The Rams have no players left from their 2001-2002 roster, either. There will however be two former member of that 2001 Eagles team playing for the Rams this Sunday. Can you name them?