As we all know, Andy Reid and the Eagles are no strangers to NFC Championship games. Sunday will mark the fifth time in ten seasons that Reid’s Eagles will vie for a shot to play for the coveted Lombardi Trophy. As impressive as that accomplishment is, Reid’s 1-3 record in NFC title tilts sullies an otherwise successful coaching career.
Losers of three straight from 2001-2003, the Birds finally broke through in 2004 with a win over the Atlanta Falcons to advance to their first Super Bowl since January 1981. A day to remember for certain. It was the high point for me in over twenty years of following my beloved Eagles.
But the NFC Championship memories haven’t always been good ones. The three losses were beyond disappointing. So before I look ahead to Sunday’s game, l am going to look back at the previous four matchups and breakdown what went right and what went wrong.
2001 – Rams 29, Eagles 24 – No one believed the Birds would be playing in this one. One week after crushing the Bears in Soldier Field, the Eagles arrived at the Edward Jones Dome as serious underdogs to the powerful St. Louis Rams. The Eagles held the Kurt Warner passing attack in check, but Marshall Faulk ran for 159 yards and a pair of scores. The Birds led 17-13 at halftime, but an injury to then rookie Correll Buckhalter derailed the Eagles’ Super Bowl train. Despite the defeat, it was an exciting game that ushered in a new era of Eagles football.
2002 – Bucs 27, Eagles 10 – The last game in Veterans Stadium was supposed to culminate in the Eagles being crowned NFC Champs in front of a frenzied Philly crowd. Unfortunately, it didn’t go down that way. The game couldn’t have begun better for the guys in green as Brian Mitchell took the opening kickoff 70 yards. Two plays later Duce Staley crossed the goal line to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead. It was all downhill after that. The Bucs’ ferocious defense took control as Ronde Barber intercepted a Donovan McNabb pass and raced 92 yards for the touchdown with less than four minutes remaining. A rousing start ended painfully for Eagles Nation. If you thought back-to-back losses was tough to swallow, it would only get worse the following January.
2003 – Panthers 14, Eagles 3 – What a brutal game. It got so bad Koy Detmer had to finish the game after Donovan received a cheap shot late hit by linebacker Greg Favors. The defense held its own, but Todd Pinkston and James Thrash provided football fans a display of ineptitude not seen in the history of the franchise. Eight dropped passes and several poor routes that led to three interceptions were symptomatic of an all-around awful offensive performance. I was so pissed I turned my TV off for twenty minutes. In fact, I’m done writing about this forgettable game. On to better times.
2004 – Eagles 27, Falcons 10 – Finally, some good news. Check that – GLORIOUS NEWS! Without a certain wide receiver – who shall remain nameless – the top seeded Eagles dropped the Vikings the week prior setting up a showdown with Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The hype surrounding this one was all about stopping Vick. The defense, led by Derrick Burgess and Jevon Kearse harassed Vick all game, sacking him four times and shutting down the fleet of foot quarterback. Chad Lewis caught two touchdowns and the Eagles gave a sold-out Lincoln Financial Field crowd a lasting memory as Donovan McNabb hoisted the George Halas Trophy to the sky signifying the Philadelphia Eagles were NFC Champions. What a day. I’ve watched the game a few times since and still get chills.
Through all the coach and quarterback bashing, the Eagles have been one of the best teams in the NFL for nearly a decade. Yeah, they haven’t taken home the big prize, but at least they’re not the Lions. As fans we often forget success is not guaranteed. It’s not easy to win games in the NFL, let alone Super Bowls. Maybe this is the Eagles year, but even if it isn’t, I’ll take seven playoff appearances in ten years over nothing. I’ll take five NFC Championship appearances over none. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take a Super Bowl too.