When I walked down the tunnel that led to the field at Veterans Stadium for the NFC Championship Game on January 11, 1981, I remember thinking just one thing - the fans.
They were just absolutely so into it, and never in my 13-year career did I feel better about winning. We were not going to lose that game. My attitude and everyone’s attitude coming down that tunnel was, we’re going to beat the Dallas Cowboys today, I just wonder how bad it’s going to be. The score was 20-7, but that was not indicative of how the game went. We should have beaten them 55-0, that’s what the score should have been.
I couldn’t tell you the exact temperature during the game, but I remember it being bitterly cold. I saw three guys in the crowd who didn’t have shirts on and I thought, “Oh my God, this is really going to be some kind of game.” As a player, though, you have to block out all external distractions, and that includes the elements. It was so cold but, really, I can’t even remember how cold it was now because we ended up winning the game. Winning always helps you look back more favorably on the weather conditions, but no matter what, you can’t make that an excuse. You just have pay attention to detail and hope that you can control the turnover situation because that is the biggest variable in the game.
Now, for us, going in that NFC Championship Game, we had never really talked about the Super Bowl, and this is what I really love about Chip Kelly – he makes sure he, his coaches and players only worry about the next game. We were so completely obsessed with beating the Dallas Cowboys, and early in the year Dick Vermeil kept stressing, “Guys, we have to find a way to overtake the Cowboys.” We never talked about the Super Bowl, and when we went down the tunnel that day at Veterans Stadium, we knew that we were going to win. We’re saying to ourselves after the game, while whooping and hollering, oh, by the way, we’ve got another game and they just happen to call it the Super Bowl. It was an afterthought, that’s how tuned in we were to that one game, and that’s why I like Chip Kelly’s attitude – let’s just worry about the next game. Don’t worry about who you can play after the New Orleans Saints, worry about the Saints and do everything you can to take care of them.
Let’s not for a second minimize homefield advantage. Playing at home at Lincoln Financial Field, where the Eagles have won four in a row after losing 10 straight, is a well-deserved reward for their performance over the second half of the season. That place is going to be electric. It’s going to be loud and it will surely be an unwelcoming environment for the Saints. And let me tell you, whenever you have a player who says I am so engulfed in what I’m doing on the field that I completely tune out the fans – that is the biggest bunch of malarkey you’ll ever hear in your life. You hear the fans and you feed off the fans, whether you’re home or away.
I’ve always said the champion at the end of the season is a team made up of players who have corrected all of their errors and mistakes as they’ve gone along. You’ll win the games you’re supposed to win, you’ll lose maybe a couple and then you’ll even steal a couple, which I think the Eagles have done. Then, what you do, and this is the bottom line – you stay healthy at the end of the season, and I feel like the Philadelphia Eagles are the healthiest team in the league. There’s some good luck mixed in, too, which you need.
The forecast for Saturday night calls for sub-freezing temperatures with a wind chill in the teens. Fantastic. FANTASTIC. I’ll tell you what – the colder and windier, the better. I know that New Orleans is 0-5 all-time in road playoff games and 0-3 with Sean Payton as their head coach. I know all that stuff. Just don’t let them think they have anything going for themselves whatsoever and just put the dagger in their hearts right off the bat.
I’ll be watching from sunny Gainesville, Fla., but my heart will be with those 60,000-plus fans going wild at Lincoln Financial Field.