Flock of Eagles: A Bombastic Look Back at the Birds in NFC Championship Games
The Eagles play in their seventh NFC Championship Game tonight.
It’s going to be the sixth that I’ve been cognizant enough to witness.
Beginning in 2001, it's their sixth NFC title game of this millennium.
Whether watching on TV, or three (with luck, four) in person, I vividly remember each of them.
In honor of today’s matchup, Flock of Eagles reflects on conference title games past.
The results weren't always pretty, but setbacks serve to make triumphs sweeter.
Nostrabombus prognostications for today's games at the end.
Good Luck and Go Bird-Dogs!
Catch some of yoūse in the city today, the rest back here sometime on the other side.
2001 NFC Championship Game
Eagles at Rams
Trans World Dome
St Louis, Missouri
Line: Rams by 10.5
Final Score: Rams 29, Eagles 24
Six-Word Summation: Birds Scare Greatest-Show-on-Turf.
The start of the new millennium couldn't have been more promising for the upstart Birds. Led by new coach Andy Reid, plus young franchise QB Donovan McNabb, both entering the fold in 1999, by Year 3 these new Eagles were almost ready for the big time.
Already playing with house money, having destroyed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Veterans Stadium in the Wild Card game for the second straight year, then stepping it up a notch with McNabb (in his best ever playoff performance) dancing on his hometown 13-3 Chicago Bears’ grave at Soldier Field the week before, the sky felt like the limit.
I watched the game in Charles Village Pub in Baltimore, with the exact same crew that had viewed the prior week's victory, when we’d trudged there once the cable went out at our Calvert Street house due to a blizzard outside.
The Birds went into St. Louis as double-digit underdogs, yet nearly got it done if not for an injury to Troy Vincent, plus an errant pass bouncing off Freddie Mitchell’s hands into a Ram defender’s at the 50-yard line on the game's final drive.
The Bird blueprint was used two weeks later by the New England Patriots’ upstart Head Coach/Quarterback combo (Bill Belichick and Tom Brady).
The rest is, somehow still, ongoing history.
2002 NFC Championship Game
Buccaneers at Eagles
Line: Eagles by 4
Final Score: Buccaneers 27, Eagles 10
Six Word Summation: Last Game Vet, Birds Shit Bed.
2002 was supposed to be the Year of the Eagle. The Rams never recovered from the shock of the Patriots' upset in the 9/11 Super Bowl, coupled with Head Coach Mike Martz losing his mind and QB Kurt Warner getting his brains scrambled by concussions.
The Eagles shot into 2002 out of a cannon. Then McNabb broke his leg against Arizona in Week 10. But somehow these Eagles, armed with great defense and elite offensive line play, went 5-1 in his absence with a patchwork under-center situation featuring Koy Detmer and soon AJ Feely, once Detmer left a Monday Night game in San Francisco on a stretcher.
McNabb wouldn’t return until the Eagles’ first playoff game two months later, in the divisional round at Veterans Stadium, a dilapidated, rat-infested, concrete-jungle with cement-infused turf that frothy fans loved as much as opposing teams feared.
Despite a rusty McNabb, BDawk nearly killed ATL QB Mike Vick with a devastating TD-thwarting hit, and the Birds bested their Dirty South counterpart.
Younger Bambino and then-roommate Jimmy Mac headed up the infamous 700 level for the 2002 NFCG and final game at The Vet. The Eagles were looking to make the Super Bowl for the first time in our memory.
The game opened with a three-and-out by the Eagle D, into a long punt return into the red zone by special teams ace Brian Mitchell, then running back Duce Staley punched it in with a TD run moments later.
Bedlam erupted inside the old building.
We were witnessing a coronation, as well as a third straight postseason beatdown of the Warren Sapp Era Buccaneers.
Then things got weird.
Penn State alumni WR Joe Jurevicius, days after the death of his infant son, changed the game with a run.
Barry Gardner is likely still chasing him.
By the time Donovan, on a last-ditch effort to drive the Eagles back into the game in the fourth quarter, tossed a game-ending pick-six to Ronde Barber, I was in the Chickie-&-Pete’s in the basement of the old dump with my boy Ro.
We were waiting on a miracle.
It never came tho.
As soon as Barber was crossing the goal line, we were tossing what was left of our crab fries and speed-walking out the side door.
Outside, I’d never heard South Philly so quiet before.
Two months later, the old place was reduced to rubble.
We didn’t fully know it then, but this nucleus had blown its best chance to win.
2003 NFC Championship Game
Panthers at Eagles
Lincoln Financial Field
Line: Eagles by 4
Final Score: Panthers 14, Eagles 3
Six Word Summation: The Ricky Manning Jr>>>Todd Pinkston Game.
2003 was a weird year. The sting of the Bucs loss in the Vets final game was exacerbated by the Bucs shredding the Raiders in the Super Bowl. Then the next season opened with the Bucs visiting Philly again for the first game ever at Lincoln Financial Field. Tampa throttled the Eagles on Week One on Monday Night Football, shortly after an awkward opening ceremony featuring Sly Stallone.
But by the home stretch of the season, the ship had been righted.
The Eagles were in good shape to have homefield throughout, but suffered a serious setback when Brian Westbrook went down for the season, late in a blowout of the Steve Spurrier-led Deadskins at FedEx Field.
The three-headed monster rushing attack of Staley, Correll Buckhalter and BWest, coupled with McNabb’s mobility, was vital to a team lacking quality receivers.
We’d witnessed it the week before, from our shared Linc season-ticket seats, when the Eagles needed a 4th-and-26 conversion, plus a Farve funball punt tossed up to Dawkins in OT, to survive the Packers.
But there was still plenty of reason to feel confident about beating a Jake Delhomme-led Carolina Panthers team at home.
Panthers corner Ricky Manning Jr had been talking mess all week, fairly (but seemingly unnecessary) proclaiming that the Eagles wideouts were trash.
Younger Bambino, by this point carving out a name for himself on the interwebs as Bombastic on Okayplayer's Sports message board, got into an argument with a Carolina Panther fan that predicted Ricky Manning would have two picks that Sunday.
An indignant Bomb proclaimed “if Ricky Manning Junior has two picks, I’ll walk across Broad Street naked and never post here again”.
McNabb got speared while on the ground late in the second quarter, and played the second half with broken ribs.
Todd Pinkston alligator-armed and volleyball-tipped first downs into turnovers.
DeShawn Foster ran LB Mark Simoneau over twice on the same play at the goal line, while going in for the winning score.
Ricky Manning picked off not two, but THREE McNabb passes.
The rest, landed me my first taste of internet infamy, before the term social-media even existed, and likely still comes up 15 years later.
While I didn’t literally walk naked across Broad Street in January, I did abandon my cherished posting home for many moons.
Walking out of the Linc back to the Jetro lot that day, I was telling anyone who listened “If Andy doesn’t sign Terrell Owens this offseason, I’m not renewing my tickets next year”.
In retrospect, that Westbrook-less, Pinkston-plagued team, with an immobile, laboring McNabb, would’ve likely lost to New England in the Super Bowl anyway.
2004 NFC Championship Game
Falcons at Eagles
Lincoln Financial Field
Line: Eagles by 5.5
Final Score: Eagles 27, Falcons 10
Six Word Summation: The Birds Are In The Bowl!
2004 was a glorious season. Andy must’ve heard our cries after Carolina.
He signed T.O. and The Freak that summer.
It was clear this squad was in win-now mode. Having addressed our biggest needs (stud WR, linebacker help by bringing Jeremiah Trotter back) the Eagles seemed poised to do so.
They lost only one game with starters all season, at Pittsburgh to a 15-1 Steeler team. Everything was beautiful, until Roy Williams horse-collared Terrell Owens so brazenly it broke his leg and led to the NFL instituting a new rule over it.
Still, the Eagles managed to navigate the NFC playoffs even with T.O. on the shelf.
Weapon X added another iconic postseason Falcon flattening to his Rolodex.
The NFC playoffs culminated in a brutal dismembering of Atlanta at The Linc.
It would be Vick’s last playoff game in ATL, before the Dog-fighting Scandal cost him to spend nearly two years infederal prison, missing three full football seasons before joining the Eagles as a backup in 2009.
By 2004, I had moved to Southern California, but made sure to watch this game alongside two of my hometown brethren, Granite & NASOOTEE. When this game ended, we literally shed tears of joy while giving each other extended bear hugs.
Nasootee & I ended up in some kind of intoxicated argument about Tupac versus Fat Joe, with him riding the powerful momentum of “Lean Back” in '04 to bolster the argument.
As for what happened two weeks after this blurry, blissful day?
I’d rather not talk about that.
Ask Belasterisk, I’m sure he’s got it on tape.
2008 NFC Championship Game
Eagles at Cardinals
University of Phoenix Stadium
Line: Eagles by 3.5
Six Word Summation: The Time I Get to Arizona
So, it was starting to look like some odd bit of destiny that one of the least accomplished regular-season McNabb era playoff teams, would play in the Southwest against a team with Cleveland Browns levels of franchise futility, for the right to go to a winnable Super Bowl.
For the fourth time since 2002, the Eagles were favored heading into their NFCG matchup. Me, surrogate little sister Kate Nasuti, and a few of my favorite South Jersey-bred brothers (Granite, Reeb, Timmy, EIBELL!!!) got in an RV leaving California and headed for the desert, to go see our Birds receive their just desserts.
The photo above featured a summit with my man Concrete (a New York Times hockey scribe and longtime #ThatSite homie) in the lot. Spirits were high.
Granite & I had free seats compliments of his older brother’s Fox Sports hookup, that had us sitting in the 100 level by the 50 yard line.
Kurt Warner made a wise choice by forcing them to keep the roof closed that day.
He remembered the success he had as a Ram against the Eagles in a dome, seven years ago.
It was a beautiful late January day in Phoenix, probably 80 degrees in a “dry heat”.
The effect was like being in a really loud, boisterous shopping mall.
Once we were seated, Warner immediately drove the Cardinals 90-plus yards to score a TD on the game’s opening drive.
By halftime, the Eagles were barely alive.
Larry Fitzgerald destroyed the Eagles, as he always did, no matter who his QB ever is.
But the Eagles came back in the second half, finally taking a tenuous one-point 4th quarter lead, due to Desean Jackson deflecting a McNabb deep ball up in the air to himself, until he could corral it and scamper into the end zone for a 62-yard touchdown.
Sadly, the Eagle D ended the game how they started, with a Warner 90-plus yard touchdown.
The Eagles late great Jim Johnson was visibly shredding his players on the sideline.
It was the last time I’d see him alive.
And tho we didn’t fully know it, it represented the McNabb Era’s final meaningful playoff ride.
After the game, in an effort to get our mind onto other things, I made a call from the RV to book us a pair of rooms at a Holiday Inn in Scottsdale.
We needed showers and real beds, after 36 hours inside a mobile unit together.
After cleaning up, a friend's younger brother who lived locally and managed a gym in the area showed us around.
We were soon skipping the velvet rope and line at every Scottsdale spot in town, including a place called the Pussy Cat Lounge.
It was there, while grooving between two beautiful girls, as drinks floated over to us on the dance floor in trays, while greenery floated thru the air and a DJ spun classic Biggie, that I temporarily forgot how or why I was there.
That amnesia and euphoria was temporary tho.
As I looked back towards our VIP booth, I now noticed a familiar face in the next booth over.
It was Donovan, with that goofy smile on, while holding up a bottle of champagne.
“Oh yeah”, I thought to myself, “we came down here to watch the Eagles blow another one as the favorite in an NFC Championship Game”.
That bit of sad reality did not seem to faze McNabb in that moment.
But an uglier reality would set in later when some Arizona Cardinal fans, in a state with apparently enough racists to actively fight against a paid day off, for decades after it becoming a federal holiday, vandalized McNabb’s front lawn that night.
No telling whether they did or didn’t realize they were doing so in the early hours of MLK Day.
We heard about the whole mess on the long ride back to LA the next day.
*cue Chuck D & Company*
Moving on to current business...
2017 NFC Championship Game
Vikings at Eagles
Lincoln Financial Field
Line: Vikings by 3
Six Word Summation: Birds Are Home Under Dogs Again?!?
Nostrabombus Prediction: E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES!
The Vikings are incredibly lucky to be here, with Breesus and the Saints losing in the most heartbreaking fashion in the history of the playoffs. The Vikes’ vaunted D showed holes, I’m still not buying Case Keenum, so I believe this underdog team can pull this game off at home, as long as it’s not fucked up by Foles.
Happy Slightly Belated BDay, Nicky, hope you waited to celebrate until today.
2017 AFC Championship Game
Jaguars at Patriots
Line: Patriots by 7
Six Word Summation: Anyone Believe Brady Is Actually Hurt?
Nostrabombus Prediction: The Deflatetriots.
There seems to be way too much sentiment that the Jaguars keep things close this week. Bortles is still sorry, I don’t care what happened last week. Pittsburgh blew that game in a million different ways with coaching, turnovers and mental lapses. Bortles, playing the best game I've seen him play, still only had 80 yards passing by the time his team was up 28-7.
I’ll take the Pats by a touchdown, even though it’d be wonderful to head into an Eagles game needing to beat the Vikings at home in order to face Blake Bortles in the Super Bowl.
Nostrabombus Regular Season Record: 36 Wins, 25 Losses
Nostrabombus Divisional Round Record: 1 Win, 1 Push, 2 Losses
Nostrabombus NFL Playoff Record: 3 Wins, 1 Push, 4 Losses