One year after my birth in February of 1980, the Philadelphia Eagles played the biggest game of the franchise’s history down in New Orleans at the Super Dome. Of course I’m talking about Super Bowl XV when the Birds fell to the wildcard Oakland Raiders 27-10. It was a crushing defeat for the Philadelphia area and perhaps was the first time this organization failed to meet the city’s expectations.
That theme has repeated itself over and over again since that fateful January day in 1981. Buddy and his defense couldn’t capitalize on the enormous talent they had during the 1988-1991 stretch. Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb didn’t win a championship despite five trips to the NFC title game. And – more recently – the “dream team” era has never reached its’ potential despite the signing of multiple big-name free agents and an offensive roster that is as explosive as any in football – at least on paper.
Which bring us to tonight. The Eagles are back on Bourbon Street. Back in the building that started us on this long and fruitless adventure as Birds’ fans. The game against the Saints this evening doesn’t have championship implications but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a massively important game for Reid and his quarterback of the moment – Michael Vick.
To the contrary, this is the most important game the Eagles have played since falling to the Arizona Cardinals in the 2008 NFC title game. Yes, you read that correctly. More important than their other playoff appearances. More important than the always heated NFC East rivalry games. This game – tonight – is a tipping point. It’s “Last Call” for Reid. It’s “Last Call” for Vick. It’s a franchise defining moment for a team in search of hope. In search of a rallying cry. In pursuit of its’ first and only title.
The Eagles simply can not afford to lose this game if they hope to make the playoffs in 2012. At 3-5, the math just doesn’t add up. If they lose tonight, all signs would point to owner Jeffrey Lurie pushing the “reset button” on his franchise. Reid will likely be fired at season’s end if they miss the playoffs. Vick will likely be benched and let go in the off-season if the Birds don’t make the post-season. And then we’re left with the uncertainty of tomorrow. Who would be head coach? Who would be QB? Where do we go from here? Does Chip Kelly come in? Jon Gruden? Bill Cowher? A no-name coach that is completely off the radar? Nobody knows for sure and as a fan – that can be scary.
Maybe we hit the jackpot and hire the “right” guy who changes the plot line of missed opportunity and failed expectations. Maybe Nick Foles is the next great backup to achieve Pro Bowl status and win a Super Bowl. Or maybe both of those decisions go the other way and we end up as Cleveland Browns or Jacksonville Jaguars. There’s no way of telling which way any of those potential moves will go until they happen and we have some data to prove them one way or another.
The point is this: we have the data on Reid and on Vick. Neither has won a Super Bowl. And neither appears to have the requisite “greatness” to achieve that goal in the final stages of their careers. Reid’s teams have routinely played poorly in big spots – particularly over the last two seasons. While Vick has shown that he can’t hold onto the football, can’t account for extra blitzers and simply doesn’t operate the offensive efficiently enough for the team to contend.
The writing is on the wall. Tonight’s game represents the period at the end of that sentence written on that imaginary wall. With a loss, the period signifies the end. The end of Reid. The end of Vick. The continuance of a championship-less streak. With a win, the period transforms into “…” – as in “to be continued”. As in there’s still hope that Reid can deliver a Super Bowl to our desperate fan-base.
It’s fitting that we’re in New Orleans tonight at the site where all of this started. Back at the Super Dome where the Eagles can exercise the demons created by Raiders’ LB Rod Martin. His three interceptions signified the end of the Eagles championship hopes in 1980-81. Here’s to hoping the burning desire to win a championship under Reid is fueled by another tri-fecta of sorts tonight.
As in three periods, not one. As in “…”