We’re in the heat of the summer and you know what that means… football is right around the corner. In fact, there are only 52 days left until the Eagles kick off their 2017 season at Washington on September 10. Training camp starts next week at the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia. The team will begin this season in the same way many have in the past, with higher expectations than last year. The Philadelphia fanbase seems to almost always have steep, often unreasonable, preseason expectations for their beloved Birds.
There’s an influx of new talent on the roster – the Eagles had a positive offseason by acquiring Torrey Smith, Alshon Jeffery, and LeGarrette Blount on top of a good draft class. However, the Eagles still have many weaknesses, namely their secondary which is ranked the worst in the league. It’s still too early to make clear predictions, but that doesn’t stop us. At the moment, I’m not sure they’re ready to be a first-time Super Bowl champion. I don’t want them to finish 7-9 again. I get the feeling that they will be either really GOOD, or really BAD. So, in honor of my hazy conjecture, let’s take a look back to the longest winning and losing streaks in franchise history.
The Eagles longest winning streak in a season is 9 games, which they have done twice. They first accomplished this feat in their 1960 Championship winning season. The Eagles, coached by Buck Shaw and led by Hall of Famers Norm Van Brocklin, Tommy McDonald, and Chuck Bednarik, lost the first game of the season to Paul Brown’s Cleveland Browns, but rebounded in week 2 with a 27-25 victory at Dallas. The team would remain undefeated until a week 11 defeat at Pittsburgh. They finished with a 10-2 record, which placed them atop the East Division and NFL. In 1960, there was only a single playoff game, the championship between the best team from the West against the best of the East. The big game was played at noon on the Monday after Christmas at Franklin Field in front of a crowd of 67,000. Despite the best efforts of QB Bart Starr and HB Jim Taylor, Bednarik and the Eagles D held on against the Green Bay attack, winning 17-13 thanks to a late game rush from Ted Dean. In what many believe to be the greatest game in Eagles history, the team celebrated their third and last Championship in front of their home fans. Shaw and Van Brocklin ended their careers as champions, delivering the great Vince Lombardi his only career postseason loss.
The team most recently won 9 games in a row in 2003. Andy Reid’s Eagles began the season with something to prove, they had lost in the conference championship in both of the previous two seasons. However, the 2003 season got off to a rough start. Big Red’s team had a chance at revenge against the dreaded champs, Jon Gruden’s Buccaneers, who had killed the Eagles’ title dreams in the final football game at Veterans Stadium. In the first regular season game at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles were shutout by Tampa Bay 17-0. Not the best start to a new era. As the season progressed, the team eventually found a winning gear, going undefeated from week 7 to week 15. McNabb, Westbrook, and Correll Buckhalter fit well in Reid’s west coast scheme while Jim Johnson and his blitzing defense bewildered opposing quarterbacks. They finished 12-4, matching their 2002 record. The Eagles squeaked by the Packers in the Divisional Round, winning 20-17 on a David Akers overtime field goal; made possible by the infamous “4th and 26” play. But, next week, much to the heartbreak of Philly fans, they would lose embarrassingly 14-3 to John Fox, Jake Delhomme and the Carolina Panthers. For the third year in a row the Eagles had lost in the NFC Championship, Super Bowl dreams crushed again.
The longest losing streak in franchise history stands at 14 games and stretches over two seasons, 1936 and 1937. The Eagles were a comically bad football team during their first decade (Only twice winning more than 2 games from 1933 to 1942). 1936 started out well as the Eagles beat the Giants in week 1. However, they would not score another touchdown until week 7, and would not win another game until week 6 of the next season! Click here to read a hilarious earlier entry from this site about these two pitiful years in our team’s history. The ‘36 season was doomed from the start as soon as the first selection of the first NFL draft, Jay Berwanger (also the first Heisman Trophy winner), rejected first-year Eagles owner and coach Bert Bell’s offer in favor of business pursuits. Bell never found success in running a team, but later became the league commissioner. He is notable for pushing to establish the system of drafting players which is used in professional sports leagues today. During these early years, the Eagles early rosters lacked talent and capable offensive lineman. Fortunately, they would see success in their second decade, winning two NFL Championships during the 1940s after Greasy Neale took over the reigns from Bell.
We’ll see how it goes this fall. Taking a rough glance at their schedule, it doesn’t exactly look easy. The Eagles will be challenged by the Chiefs, Seahawks, Raiders, and 6 games against the NFC East that don’t look so easy; the division was recently ranked the most competitive in the NFL. Based off of these matchups, I’ve penciled them down to go 7-9 again… As we do every year around this time, let’s hope against this mediocrity and for a great season more closely resembling 1960 or 2003.
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.