The city of Philadelphia was abuzz on the last day of 1989. The pieces were all coming together. The team had finished 11-5, including a 6-2 record at home. They would be hosting the wild card matchup with the Rams at the Vet, the first playoff game in Philadelphia since 1981. The weather was 34 degrees at kickoff, and it was well established that the Rams struggled in cold weather (where have we heard that before? Oh yeah, before that damn Bucs game). It was New Years Eve, and Eagle fans planned on being joyfully drunk for the next 36 hours or so. Five minutes later, it would be dead silent.
Eric Allen was injured, and so the Eagles had no choice but to start Izel “Toast” Jenkins, who more than lived up to his nickname. Jim Everett quickly connected with Henry Ellard (is that guy still in the league? I swear, he played for the Rams for 25 years) for a 39 yard TD over the outstretched arms of Toast. Minutes later, the Rams scored again, and suddenly it was 14-0.
Meanwhile, it wasn’t defensive mastermind Buddy Ryan who was the innovator in this game. It was Rams defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur (father of new Browns coach Pat Shurmur) who shocked Randall Cunningham, showing defenses no-one had ever seen before .
Shurmur had the Rams stay in their zone the whole game, not once switching to man-to-man coverage. And he made things tougher on the Eagles quarterback by flooding the field with his best and fastest players, frequently deploying them in an alignment that utilized five linebackers, six defensive backs and not one defensive lineman.
If that ploy had been tried before in the National Football League, nobody could remember it.
For Cunningham, the scheme produced considerable confusion and too many receivers covered by too many defenders in a secondary more crowded than a King Family reunion***.
Since none of the Rams’ defenders were chasing receivers, as they would have in a man-to-man defensive scheme,
they were looking toward Cunningham when he threw or ran with the ball and thus were able to react quickly.
The dangerous Cunningham was completely shut down, and since the Eagles had no other weapons on offense, their offense was a total dud. They scored in the 4th to cut the lead to 14-7, but Rams running back Greg Bell responded with a 54-yard run deep into Eagle territory and then scored on a short run, and the city of Philadelphia entered the 1990s with tears falling in their beers.
***WTF is a King Family Reunion?