Let’s get it out of the way. Today was one of the greatest days in Philadelphia sports history.
This Sunday, Philadelphia witnessed what turned out to be one of the most improbable days in recent memory.
The Philadelphia Eagles were supposed to be dead. Dead. Last Saturday night, they’d been brought back to life after the Cowboys bumbled their way to an embarrassing 33-24 loss against the Ravens. Only they immediately handed the keys right back to the Cowboys the next day in a frustrating 10-3 loss against the Redskins in which the offense struggled mightily. Following the loss, Philly’s sports radio call-in crazies resigned themselves to arguing over whether a meaningless win over the Cowboys could extend McNabb’s tenure with the Birds.
In a city that lives and dies with its teams, Philly’s got a pulse.
As Anthony Gargano eloquently explains in A Sunday Pilgrimage, sports in Philadelphia holds a special place and meaning different from most other cities. Philadelphians invest in their sports teams in a way that is beautiful, incredibly passionate, and borderline crazy.
When the Phillies won the World Series, you heard tons of fans commenting (many in tears) about how happy they were for their fellow, long-suffering fans. We feed off each other. Our individual passion fuels our collective passion in a way that is moving and intoxicating.
When the Eagles went to the Super Bowl in 2004, there were people around the Delaware Valley refinancing their houses in order to make the trek down to Jacksonville for that “once in a lifetime opportunity”, an explanatory phrase commonly heard justifying the costly move. Some might call it crazy, I call it sports magic.
In seriousness, sports have an incomprehensible ability to allow us to transcend beyond the reality of our current situations. Even if just for awhile. I can bet you that people around the City of Brotherly Love didn’t have the Eagles- Boys game on mute while they discussed the recession’s infringement on this year’s Christmas festivities or layoffs likely to come in 2009. No, of course not. It could wait. This year did see things change for a lot of us, but the Eagles (to be sure, the Raiders and Texans also) provided a welcome distraction on Sunday.
Michael Bush. My brother, Dave, predicted a Raiders’ win earlier this week. He’d watched JaMarcus Russell turn in a strong performance (128.2 QB rating) against the Texans and thought the big guy might be able to turn back a sputtering Bucs unit. Turns out Mike Bush would be the reason for this Eagles’ playoff season.
The Bucs collapse is enough to make you feel sorry for their fans. For those of you not counting, the Bucs were 9-3 as of December 7th only to finish with a final record of 9-7 twenty one days later. Starting December 7th, they only had to win one game and they were in the playoffs. On Sunday with 10 minutes to play, The Bucs were on the their way to that one win with a 10 point lead and Cadillac Williams revving up and down the field in fine form. But Cadillac got hurt and Bush took it 67 yards to the house, giving the Raiders the lead for good.
Then the Texans.
"Our whole thing was to ruin their season," Mario Williams said.
Beautiful. Enough said. But I’ll continue. Anyone watching the game could see the Bears didn’t want it. Not to take away from the Texans because they truly came to play. The Bears looked every bit like the flawed team in watching their own 10 point lead disappear Sunday afternoon against a suddenly feisty Texans team looking for their 2nd straight season going 8-8.
Everyone at the Linc knew. The games were on the big screens and the crowd knew. The team knew. Around the world, Philly fans stared at sports tickers and bottom lines in disbelief. My other brother Jon, on a trip to Dubai, got a call from me letting him know the impossible had happened.
Raiders 31 Buccaneers 24.
Texans 31 Bears 24.
He listened to the Eagles play the Cowboys through a satellite broadcast until 4:00 AM.
It’s a tough thing to handle watching your team play “a win and in game”. It’s nerve-wracking and ulcer-inducing. It’s another thing entirely when the opponent standing in front of the door to the playoffs is your most hated rival in the league, the Dallas Cowboys.
Our most hated rival team featuring Philly’s most hated rival player, the infamous Terrell Owens.
All the potential in the world to destroy a Sunday that’d been magical thus far.
On a Sunday with a strong possibility of sickening heartache, the Eagles wouldn’t have it.
The Birds turned in their finest performance of the season in whipping their arch-enemy by 38 points.
When McNabb drew in the defender to free up Buckhalter and spring him for a huge 59 yard run, I was excited.
When McNabb tossed that beauty to DeSean Jackson on third down and then hit Brent Celek on a nice route to the back of the endzone to go up 24-3 before halftime, I was giggling softly.
When Pacman Jones fumbled before halftime, I was jumping up and down.
When Chris Clemons stiff-armed the snot out of the last Cowboy defender between him and end zone glory, I was outright hysterical.
And just like that, we have a playoff game next week, folks.
Redemption came and rewrote this season on the back of a remarkable December turnaround. Every Eagles fan is and should be realizing that the Birds are hot and that the defending champs won three playoff games on the road last year before winning the Super Bowl.
Does any team really scare you this year? This playoff race is wide-open.
Hey Eagles fans…
If the Eagles mastery over the Cowboys’ defensive schemes are any indication of what’s to come, you might want to look into your refinancing options.