Cast off your anguish, my fellow much-beleaguered Philly fans. This is not the bitter end that it seems to be. This is simply another pit stop on the proverbial “road to victory” we hear drunkenly heralded year after year after year in the Eagles fight song.
This is the fourth consecutive year we’ve been teased by dreams of Super Bowl glory only to be denied. This is old news to us. If Philadelphia is used to anything, it’s failure – we’ve just learned to live with it, to accept it.
We all knew they were the underdogs going into this, but it was a fact Philadelphia fans (and their South Jersey counterparts, I salute you) seemed apt to ignore. Nothing could stop the swelling of pride and excitement over our boys in green, even as prediction after prediction swung in favor of the reigning New England Patriots. If there was a fan favorite in this game, it was easily the Eagles.
As leathered to the sting of loss as we’ve become, this was, nonetheless, a particularly demoralizing one.
It was a close game. The Eagles matched the Patriots touchdown for touchdown all the way into the fourth quarter – one of only a handful of such even-handed games in Super Bowl history.
From the beginning it was a defensively oriented game. Drives were shut down handily in both directions. The drama was high. The Eagles made it within the Patriots’ 20-yard-line, only for Donovan McNabb to throw an interception to Rodney Harrison on the three.
This was the first of a series of truly stinging moments brought to us courtesy of McNabb. If anything was lacking from the Eagles’ offense Sunday night, it was a failure of leadership from their much-spoken-of quarterback.
I can’t really blame him, of course – a young quarterback playing in his first Super Bowl, trying to dethrone the champions, to halt the genesis of a dynasty. He was excited – a little too excited – and his performance suffered as a result. He was sloppy.
McNabb threw three interceptions (four, if you count one reversed by a penalty call). The New England defense squeezed in on him, left him little room to execute his trademark rushes, sacked him four times and rattled him enough for him to lose control of his arm.
As the game headed into its last three minutes, the Patriots in front by 10, McNabb’s leadership failed again. He wasted time putting his plays together, getting his men up on the line. It felt as if they had simply resigned themselves to defeat, a resignation any true Philadelphia fan is used to by now.
The clock wore down. Five seconds out of the two-minute warning, McNabb threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Gary Lewis. A failed on-side kick and a Patriots punt later, the Eagles had the ball once again. But with less than a minute to play and over 90 yards of field to cover, it was too late to re-stoke the fires of the Philadelphia offense.
And so McNabb threw another interception.
But we cannot completely decry his performance – he did throw for 357 yards compared to Tom Brady’s 236.
It’s been damned easy lately to be a New England sports fan – the Patriots rule an empire of football; the Red Sox have shed their curse. For having known for so long and so intimately the icy sting of defeat, you’d think they’d at least have some sympathy for this city and its long legacy of sports infamy.
Hell, I wasn’t even alive to see the last (and first) Eagles Super Bowl appearance in 1981 against the Oakland Raiders. Needless to say, we lost. Sure, 24 years was a long wait to see the whole heartbreaking thing happen again, but at the end of the day, this is the Philadelphia Eagles we’re talking about – and so we eternally remain, struggling against the tides of mediocrity.
Fold up your jerseys and tuck them away, my brethren.
Keep hope alive.
There’s always next year.
And next year.
And next year.