Hey, Philadelphia Eagles, welcome back to the Super Bowl! How’ve you been? Is that a new shade of green? Have you lost some weight at the coaching position or have we just not seen you in a while?
That’s how it is with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Super Bowl. They get together about as often as second cousins separated by several states or a national border. Philly Super appearance No. 3 comes on Super Sunday No. 52. More than twice as many Rocky movies punched their way across our screens in that time. Unless you count owner Jeffrey Lurie, the Eagles’ Super Bowl appearances have been so widely spaced, nobody’s been twice as an Eagle.
Pete Rozelle’s predecessor as NFL commissioner, Bert Bell, intoned the famous, “On any given Sunday, any team can beat any other” line during the days when, as has often been said, he ran the NFL out of his Philadelphia den. After the Eagles got themselves consistently on the right side of those given Sundays during the regular season in the late 1970s, they kept landing on the wrong side during the playoffs in the 1990s and the current millennium.
And when they did reach the Super Bowl … blecch. That’s not quarterback Donovan McNabb in the huddle late in Super Bowl XXXIX (at least that’s what McNabb insists). That’s the entire city watching Rod Martin pick off Ron Jaworski three times in Super Bowl XV.
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Speaking of which …
SUPER BOWL XV
OAKLAND 27, PHILADELPHIA 10
▪ Jan. 25, 1981
▪ Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans
▪ MVP: QB Jim Plunkett, Oakland
After over a decade of losing records, the Eagles returned to the playoffs for one game in 1978, losing the NFL’s brand new Wild Card game to Atlanta. They won that game in 1979 only to get run over in the Divisional Round by Tampa Bay. But in 1980, they raced out to an 11-1 record, then coasted home 12-4 with the NFC East title and No. 1 seed. When they met hated Dallas for the NFC Championship Game, they played with the Cowboys’ heads. Ron Jaworski completed a practice pass to a blocking sled in front of the media. A walker instead of shoulder pads seemed more appropriate for banged up running back Wilbert Montgomery. They made Dallas wear blue jerseys, in which the Cowboys suffered three of their four losses. A sure sign of desperation.
Suckers. Coach Dick Vermeil told the Eagles he thought America’s Team was taking the Eagles for granted. On the second play, Montgomery cut a left side run all the way back behind right tackle for a 42-yard touchdown. He ran for 194 yards in a 20-7 win that left some of the Cowboys grumbling about the Eagles’ pregame tactics and others saying Vermeil was right.
The Super Bowl rematched a regular season anomaly in the increasingly pinball-scoring NFL. Philadelphia beat Oakland 10-7 in a contest as hard and nasty as the Veterans Stadium turf. Philly’s league-best scoring defense allowed one big play, an 86-yard touchdown bomb to Cliff Branch, amid eight sacks of Oakland quarterback Jim Plunkett. Nobody figured the Super Bowl would be much different.
As soon as they landed in New Orleans, the Eagles labored under a curfew set by Vermeil, who made clear he’d send violators home. Rookie Super Bowl coach mistake by Vermeil. One Raider said if Raiders head coach Tom Flores sent players home for that, he’d be alone on the sideline Super Sunday. Several players and coaches remained from Oakland’s Super Bowl XI winners. They knew how to handle Super Bowl Week.
Like during the John Madden-coached years, the Raiders led the league in partying and ready-to-party attire but meant more business than General Motors come kickoff. The Eagles looked as uptight and wary as Vermeil’s curfew.
Jaworski couldn’t avoid throwing the ball to linebacker Rod Martin, whose three interceptions set a still-standing Super Bowl record. A Plunkett scramble turned into an 80-yard touchdown pass to running back Kenny King when Eagles cornerback Herman Edwards misplayed the entire situation. Eagles’ rookie cornerback Roynell Young got used by crafty veteran speedster Cliff Branch, who caught two touchdowns. Those eight sacks from the regular season game got reduced to one, a Plunkett scramble for no gain.
The Eagles never seemed completely out of the game. Nor did they seem completely in it. They just were completely beaten.
The pregame festivities paid tribute to the end of the Iran hostage crisis, resolved five days earlier. A yellow bow 80 feet by 30 feet was attached to the outside of the Superdome.
SUPER BOWL XXXIX
PATRIOTS 24, EAGLES 21
▪ February 6, 2005
▪ Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville
▪ MVP: WR Deion Branch, New England
Losing the 2001 NFC Championship Game to The Greatest Show on Turf Rams, who also brought a top-notch defense? Acceptable.
Losing the 2002 NFC Championship Game to Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers’ franchise’s first win in cold weather and the last game at Veterans Stadium? Come on, man.
Losing the 2003 NFC Championship Game to Carolina after the Panthers pushed and punked the Eagles’ wide receivers around so much that pass happy Philly scored only three points? An indictment of manhood in Philadelphia.
So, it was with a sigh of relief that the Eagles dismissed Minnesota and Atlanta to get to this Super Bowl. Defending Super Bowl champion New England had more serious challengers in the AFC than Philadelphia did in the NFC. But, in the end, this was the matchup most commonly anticipated from the moment Philadelphia acquired wide receiver Terrell Owens in the offseason.
Predictable result, too: Patriots by three, as in their two previous Super Bowl wins.
Wide receivers provided the break from the foreseen. From a receiving corps known for not having a true No. 1 guy, the Patriots’ Deion Branch broke out with 11 catches for 133 yards. But Owens almost cornered the drama market with a gritty performance.
A broken ankle suffered late in the season on Dallas’ Roy Williams tackle that inspired the “horse collar tackle” rule put Owens out for the regular season and the Eagles’ first two playoff games, cruises past Minnesota and Atlanta. Owens proved to be tougher, more determined than anybody thought and not only did he play in the Super Bowl, he caught nine passes for 122 yards.
Down 24-14, the Eagles took possession with 5:40 left. But they moved at a far too stately pace for a team needing two scores. Hard to go to the whip when the jockey, quarterback Donovan McNabb, felt ill. Whether or not he actually barfed in the huddle, he definitely was dog sick. Still, the Eagles moved 79 yards in 13 plays to a touchdown. But it took them 3:52 and the Patriots recovered the onside kick.
Be seeing you, Eagles.