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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Monday, January 24, 2005

Hell Freezes Over, Or At Least Experiences A Cold Front

A couple days ago, I was having a conversation with a friend where I claimed that the objective of every team, from season to season, is to improve upon its finish from the previous year. If you have a losing record, then you want to go at least .500 the next year. If you go .500, then you want to make the playoffs. If you make the playoffs, you want to reach the next round.

For the past two years, the Philadelphia Eagles failed to meet that goal. After losing in the NFC championship game in 2001, they reached the exact same level again in '02 and '03, only to stall and go no further.

At last, on their fourth attempt, the Eagles are finally NFC champions.

I'm not quite sure how to react. In my memory, only three times before has a team from Philly made it to the finals of their respective sport - the '93 Phillies, the '97 Flyers, and the '01 Sixers. They all lost.

The '93 Phils were perhaps my favorite team of any single season in any sport ever. Led by my favorite player, Darren Daulton, they went from worst to first in one year and were baseball's most perfect reflection of the city of Philadelphia. They beat the pretty-boy Atlanta Braves in the NLCS, and though they gave the defending champion Blue Jays their best fight in the World Series, they lost in heartbreaking fashion. You've seen the play; I don't need to mention it any further.

In '97, the Flyers went up against the fearsome Detroit Red Wings, led by a quintet of Russians, back when Russians still weren't as prevalent in the NHL as they are today. My dad gave me the option to choose one game of the NHL finals to attend. Since the Flyers had home-ice, I could pick from Games 1, 2, 5, and 7. Thinking that Game 7 might not happen and that nothing would be settled in Games 1 and 2, I opted for Game 5. The Flyers never made it back to Philly, getting swept by Sergei Fedorov & Co.

In '01, the Sixers gave Philly a whole lot of false hope by beating Shaq & Kobe's Lakers in L.A. in Game 1 before dropping the next four games to lose the series. I'm not really much of a Sixers fan anyway, so I didn't lose any sleep over that one.

Which brings us to the present. Part of me says I should be satisfied that the Eagles have simply made it this far - that reaching the Super Bowl is success enough for this team that has tried three times before and failed to make it. That part of me is resigned to thinking that the Patriots are too well-run, that they are too deep, too efficient, and too confident to beat. The whiners in Boston will get their fourth championship in four years and still find something lacking.

The other part of me defiantly says to hell with that attitude. The Eagles of the last three years didn't just lose a trip to the Super Bowl - they lost a chance to win the Super Bowl. That's the ultimate goal - not simply to get there, but to win it. Have Philadelphia fans been so accustomed to falling short - 21-plus years without a championship in any major sport - that they are willing to accept merely an NFC championship, only because that was the Eagles' stumbling block the last three seasons? I hope not.

Nobody plays for a conference championship ring. Ask Ray Finkle.

I want T.O. to make good on Andy Reid's promise that he will play in the Super Bowl. I want Donovan McNabb to make Tedy Bruschi miss on a backfield tackle before he tosses a perfect spiral past Earthwind Moreland for T.O.'s first playoff touchdown in an Eagles uniform. I want Jeremiah Trotter to knock Tom Brady back to Michigan and then swing his axe. I want David Akers to kick a last-second field goal that makes people forget Adam Vinatieri ever played the game.

I want a parade down Broad Street with Billy Penn's statue looking down on the Vince Lombardi Trophy as it reaches the steps of City Hall.

I've already booked my Super Bowl weekend flight to Florida - Gainesville, to be precise. It's an hour and a half from Jacksonville, and because tickets cost an arm and a leg (if it were only a toe, you know I'd do it), I'll probably end up watching from a bar near Alltel Stadium. But I just had a feeling that I would regret it for a long time if I wasn't around to see the Eagles win a championship.

Given the team's history, it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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