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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, February 07, 2005

Forty-Four Years And One Day

It is 2 a.m., two hours into Day 1 of the latest "next year" in Philadelphia sports.

I really thought they were going to do it. The Eagles were winning the field position battle, T.O. got involved early, they took a 7-0 lead...

But they beat themselves. McNabb threw some floaters to nobody in particular that would make any secondary salivate, he and Reid couldn't figure out how to make the clock go slower, the Birds couldn't get David Akers a chance to kick a field goal - all week, I kept saying, "David Akers: the new Adam Vinatieri" - and in the end, the Eagles couldn't do enough right - not against a Patriots team that doesn't screw up - to make up for their mistakes.

All day long, I tried everything I could to make sure the Eagles would win. I barely slept, got up early, went to Redondo Beach and signed up, race day registration, for a 10k. I wore my old Bobby Taylor jersey during the race - didn't want to get the new McNabb uni sweaty, it needed to be worn later - and I clocked in with an official time of 49:36 (unofficially, 48:44, a 7:52 pace). Considering my "training" basically consisted of hockey practices and a three-mile run on Friday, that's a terrific result: 578th out of 3168 finishers, and 29th out of 79 in the male 19-24 age group. It had to be a good sign.

After the race, I went home, made myself some Chunky Soup (seriously, I did - it was beef and barley), put some Icy Hot on my quads, and took a pregame nap. I was a little worried about the bad omen of having left my hockey equipment on my balcony in the rain, but I put it all in my bathroom with the fan and heat lamp on to dry out, so I don't think this was too bad.

Game time. I went to the house of a few people I didn't know - friends of a law school friend - wearing the McNabb jersey and bearing a 12-pack of Rock Green Light. Green beer from Pennsylvania - another positive sign.

3:30 PT. Eagles won the toss. Throw in T.O.'s direction the first couple of plays. Three and out, but the Pats gave the ball back quickly. Back and forth. Eagles winning the field position battle. And then...L.J. Smith! The Eagles had the lead! They clung to it for a perilous while. Tom Brady even coughed the ball up in Eagles territory.

You could see the cracks in the foundation, though. McNabb was chucking up some ill-advised balls, reminiscent of Brett Favre's pass in the 4th-and-26 game last year. The only plus that came from Rodney Harrison's pick was that Jeff Thomason lowered his hard hat and drilled Harrison right in the nuts.

The guys with whom I watched the game had one of those grids where you buy squares corresponding to the last digits of the score. The halftime payout was $25, and I had the 7-7 square. I did not want that $25. Someone with the 7-0 square could take it, or the 7-3 square, or better yet, the 4-0 square. At halftime, it was 7-7. I've never been so unhappy and anxious about winning money.

At one point, I vowed that I would name my firstborn son after the Super Bowl MVP if the Eagles won. He'll understand, one day, why his name is Donovan, or Jevon, or Lito, or Terrell (I held my breath with every step T.O. took, especially when Harrison was in pursuit).

Second half. Mike Vrabel gets another touchdown pass and imitates T.O.'s bird dance, like David Givens did after the first Pats TD. This is infuriating, which I suppose is the point, but damn, they can't even do it well. And Vrabel - don't the Eagles know that when he's in there, they're going to pass to him? By the way, at some point in the second half, Deion Branch caught his 11th pass of the night, which caught me totally off guard. I hadn't given Branch a second thought - never came to my mind that, hey, Branch is tearing apart our secondary - but there he was, tying the record for receptions in a Super Bowl.

The Eagles bounced back - McNabb threads the needle to Brian Westbrook for a TD and ties the game at 14. After that, the game becomes fuzzy. The Pats went up by 10 with about 10 minutes to go. Donovan threw another pick, but the Eagles got the ball back. Then steadily - way too steadily - the Eagles march down the field. On NyQuil. By the time they score to bring the game within a field goal, they're inside the two-minute warning with two timeouts that they haven't used.

Then they go for the onside kick. Now, normally I love Andy Reid, but explain this to me: If you're going to save the timeouts in order to get the ball back after a Pats possession, why go for the onside kick? And if you're planning to onside kick it, why save the timeouts? Long story short, Pats recover the kick, go three-and-out, bury the Eagles inside their own 10, and the Eagles never even give Akers a sniff of the field.

I left the party in the next two minutes. I didn't want to see any award presentations. I drove home in a daze, turned off the lights, and went to sleep at 8 p.m. Unfortunately, I didn't stay out until morning. I woke up at midnight, probably thanks to the earlier nap, and now I can't fall back asleep.

I saw that Branch was named MVP. Out of spite, I'm glad Tom Brady didn't win a third MVP. I saw ESPN.com's home page, but I didn't read any of the articles. I think I'll try to avoid watching ESPN until March Madness rolls around; I don't want to see highlights of the game.

The Eagles, in all likelihood, will be the favorites to win the NFC again next season. And the goal of any team, I've said before, is to improve on the previous season. The Eagles finally did that this year, reaching the Super Bowl. So why do I feel like the Eagles fell short?

After the Eagles won the NFC championship a couple weeks ago, I put a background on my computer of Donovan hoisting the NFC championship trophy while Brian Dawkins, T.O., Andy Reid, and a longshoreman-looking Terry Bradshaw stood by. I really wanted to replace that background with one of the Lombardi Trophy. I'm not sure what I'll do with that background now - an NFC championship is nice, but that and $5.75 will get you a provolone wit raw at Geno's. I suppose I'll leave it for the time being, because it's not as if I have any championship photos to replace it with (although there is UCLA hockey in the coming weeks, hopefully).

Meanwhile, the next step for the Eagles is to improve on the 2004 season. It's Super Bowl or bust, and it's time to start hoping now in the face of disappointment. I sure as hell don't want to wait until LXIII to see the Eagles with Roman numerals on their jerseys again.

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