In Memoriam: The Philadelphia Eagles' 2008 Season

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In Memoriam: The Philadelphia Eagles' 2008 Season

This week concluded the Philadelphia Eagles amazing and improbable run. It feels incomplete given the fact they came up short again, but fans were certainly treated to an emotional ride that won’t soon be forgotten. As fans and critics continue to dissect the season and the loss, there are a few final thoughts I would like to dispel before I turn the page on another season.

This game hurt more than 2002 – False

The game itself hurt no question about it. The wounds haven’t healed yet and it’s at the forefront of a fans' mind, but the worst of all the recent championship game losses? More than the 2002 NFC Championship game against Tampa Bay, or the 2003 game against Carolina? I don’t know that I fully support that notion.

In the 2002 and 2003 NFC Championship games, the Eagles never looked like a team that should be representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. After looking dominant for the better part of those respective seasons, the Eagles were dominated by Tampa Bay in 2002, and managed a single field goal against the Panthers in 2003.

In two games that nearly everyone expected the Eagles to win, they lost and played miserably in both. The Tampa Bay game in particular caught me (and more importantly the Eagles) completely off guard. I was stunned for the entire offseason, and still harbor ill will for one of the "good guys" in the NFL, Joe Jurevicius.

Can fans honestly say they were "shocked" in quite the same way after this game? I don’t say that lightly, I just think the most shocking aspect was the Arizona Cardinals were the team that beat them.

This season the Eagles were practically eliminated from playoff contention in November, and rallied like few teams ever have. They snuck into the playoffs with some of the most unlikely help from the Raiders, and then managed to win two road games to even reach the Championship game.  

Suddenly NFL experts are saying that home field advantage has been rendered "obsolete."  I was fortunate in that I was able to attend the game last weekend, and not only was it an advantage for Arizona, it was the difference in the game.

As confident as Eagle fans were in their team over the past month, winning three road games to get to the Superbowl was as unlikely as it was when the Giants did it last year, and as improbable as Pittsburgh doing it in 2006.

Another big reason for the intense disappointment this year is the compounding effect of NFC Championship and Superbowl losses over the past 10 seasons. The hard feelings after this game are the result of a healthy dose of the following:

  • The realization that the Eagles wasted a healthy Donovan McNabb season.  After missing 15 games over the past three seasons, McNabb started every game this year. Recently viewed as a player who can’t stay healthy, he proved that he still has a lot in the tank at age 32. 
  • The possibility that this might be the last chance for a ring with this core group of players. The Eagles success over the past 10 seasons is due in no small part to their ability to make the right decision with their veteran free agents. It’s possible that emotional leader Brian Dawkins and other fan favorites like Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas will not be Eagles next season, and very probable that all won’t be back.  
  • The fact that superstar play-making machine Brian Westbrook has reached the crossroads for a running back (age 30), and has looked several steps slower than even last season. 
  • And of course, the fact that the Eagles went three straight seasons without reaching this game (missing the playoffs altogether in two), after what seemed like a perennial invitation to the NFC Championship.

Whether it was some celestial event, or destiny that had us believing that the Eagles were going to coast to the Lombardi trophy, it wasn’t to be. Destiny doesn’t win football games, and the Cardinals proved to be the real Cinderella story this year.  

There are many reasons to be disappointed, but it’s not fair to look at this game in the same light as previous championship games. Time will render this season a success, and there are many fond memories for a fan to take away from it. In the end the Eagles ran into a team that just peaked at a slightly better time.

Philly fans hate their team – False

I have read dozens of articles this week generalizing the entire Eagles fan base to a blue collar thug who hurls batteries at opposing teams, hates their quarterback, and would rather see the team lose so they have something to be angry about all week. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and I find it a bit comical.

Since when is Philadelphia the only city that gets frustrated over the play of their quarterback, or vocal about the play-calling of their coach from time to time?  

Is it that hard to remember what people were saying and writing about Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin in New York in the middle of last season? Were Dallas fans and media reticent with their feelings when Tony Romo vacationed in Cabo San Lucas in the playoff bye week along with Jessica Simpsons’ family last year?

The Philadelphia media doesn’t represent the entire fan base just as each of these other media outlets don’t represent all their cities’ fans. Yes, sometimes Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb frustrate us, and often as a fan you will have an opinion about it.

So what makes a good fan? If I was to select a few variables to evaluate and generalize an entire fan base on my visit to University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday, this is what I might come away with:

1. Class

As I walked up to the gate on Sunday, I had dozens of Cardinal fans yelling at me to blank myself, blank my mother, blank a cheese steak, and just about anything else you can blank.

As long as I am not rolling up to the gate with my mom, I actually enjoy that sort of banter. If I didn’t, I would watch the game at home on television. It’s a friendly rivalry (in most cases), and you have to respect any fan that is willing to go deep into enemy territory and represent the opposition (except of course in Oakland, which is an entirely different scenario).

I also read a story this week where a couple of thugs brought diesel fuel over to McNabb’s Arizona home and burned ‘Go Cards’ in his front yard and caused $2,000 in damage, not to mention the general danger involved in such a "prank."

Stay classy Arizona.

2. Passion

I had to listen to a lot of talk about what a Superbowl would mean for the Cardinal organization and its fans. First of all, very few Cardinal fans in that building were fans before the team moved to Arizona in 1988. Twenty years of futility is certainly disappointing, but apparently this run means so much to the Cardinal fan base that they almost couldn’t sell out their first round playoff game.

The NFL had to extend the blackout deadline twice before the final tickets were snatched up at the 11th hour. A home playoff game (and only the second playoff appearance since relocating to Arizona in 1988), in a state of the art facility, and nearly blacked out locally. Awesome.

When the final seconds ticked off the clock, thousands of Cardinal fans poured out of the stadium along with dejected Eagle fans. Did they not notice the confetti that was being dumped on their beloved players inside? Did they not realize that a trophy presentation was about to take place providing a rare opportunity to celebrate with their hometown heroes? Or were they just trying to beat traffic?

You would have had to drag me out of the stadium kicking and screaming as the lights were turned out if my team just won the championship. I would miss a flight and spend the night in the airport to be able to take that memory home with me.  

3. Knowledge of the Game

The Cardinal players decided before the game to close the roof on a beautiful 75 degree day with clear skies. They really wanted to disrupt the Eagles game plan with crowd noise, which was actually quite impressive.

Even with all the electronic signage indicating exactly when fans should cheer, and when they should be quiet, the fans generally weren’t able to get it straight.

It didn’t seem to affect the Cardinal team very much, but it was certainly amusing.

In the waning moments of the game, the Cardinals had the ball on the Philadelphia 44 yard line leading by seven points, and trying to run out the clock. They were in a third-and-one situation, with 59 seconds remaining in regulation.

A group of fans behind me came to the conclusion that the smart play in this situation was for Kurt Warner to "take a safety." I actually tried to entertain this idea for a moment before shaking my head in disgust.

Let’s pretend that somehow Warner had the speed to receive the ball in a shotgun formation, turn around and sprint 56 yards to his own end-zone. What exactly was that supposed to accomplish?

It wouldn’t run the clock all the way down. It would allow the Eagles to be within 5 points of winning the game. And instead of punting from the Eagles 44 yard line, they would be forced into a safety kick and give the Eagles a much better chance of scoring. Not to mention the many ways that the football could be dislodged from the speedy Warner before he got to the end zone.

It was probably one of the most ridiculous armchair quarterback calls I have ever heard.

The point is, most Cardinal fans never even fantasized about burning up McNabb’s lawn last weekend. They didn’t attend their very first football game Sunday, make ridiculous play calling suggestions, or scream obscenities at opposing fans and leave early to beat traffic.

Just as not all Eagle fans were booing Michael Irvin when he was laid out on the field, throwing snowballs at Santa Claus, and calling into 610WIP and calling for McNabb’s head every Sunday evening since 1999.

And the vast majority of Eagle fans don’t hate their team.

Donovan McNabb cost the Eagles another trip to the Superbowl - False

The idea that Donovan McNabb cost the Eagles another Superbowl is absurd. The guy played as well as you could expect out of your quarterback, and certainly well enough to win the game.

But football is a team sport.

McNabb completed sixty percent of his passes for 375 yards. These are very solid numbers, especially when you factor in some of the big passes dropped by his receivers (most notably Greg Lewis), and other would be first-downs called back on penalties in the first half.

McNabb did turn the ball over the ball twice, but neither turnover cost the Eagles. He was intercepted in the first quarter, but DeSean Jackson was able to strip the ball from Aaron Francisco on the return, and the Eagles maintained possession.

McNabb also fumbled in the third quarter when Adrian Wilson blind-sided him with Tra Thomas failing to pick up the blitz. There isn’t a quarterback in the league that holds onto the football after that hit, but of course Donovan should have. The Cardinals were once again unable to capitalize, going three-and-out after recovering the fumble.

McNabb made big plays with his legs, avoided sacks, and showed some serious heat by tossing three touchdowns in a span of eight minutes to get the Eagles back in the game.  

I found Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to be especially hard on Donovan in the first half of the telecast.  Could some of his passes been a bit crisper? Sure. Could a better ball thrown to Hank Baskett late in the first quarter gone for a touchdown? Probably.  

When it comes to most quarterbacks, they "put the ball where only the receiver can get it," but with Donovan it’s generally just a poor throw. I didn’t hear any mention of Warner’s second touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald being terribly under thrown. If the defender doesn’t fall down on the play, there is a good chance the pass is intercepted.

The bottom line in this game was the Eagle defense just wasn’t as sharp as they had been in previous weeks. They missed several tackles that led to big yardage for Arizona. They had no answer for several impressive Cardinal drives, and the final Cardinal drive in the fourth quarter that used up seven minutes of clock was just too much for Philadelphia.  

The defense more than made up for the offensive indiscretions in the first two playoff games, but on a day where the offense was good they were unable to match the performance.

Unfortunately, McNabb will continue to be evaluated, scrutinized and criticized for the final drive with less than three minutes remaining in the game. After moving the ball to the Arizona 47 yard line, his final four passes were incomplete. It doesn’t matter that two of them were catchable, or that the final one was likely a defensive penalty, the blame again is all Donovan’s to shoulder.

So as I look beyond 2008, I try to focus on the bright side of all of this.

McNabb is signed and the organization is behind him. The Eagles have two first round draft picks, and a ton of young talent which includes a wide receiver on the rise. They won a couple playoff games, and the fans should feel much better about the outlook for 2009 than they did less than two months ago.   

The Eagles and their fans have proven on many occasions that they have the ability to bounce back from heartbreak, and I expect it will be no different this time.

When I returned to the airport, I saw another dejected fan and said to him "Next Year." He laughed and said, "I can’t even think of going through this again right now."

"You know you will though," I said.

No Doubt. 

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