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Lawlor: A Team For The Ages

Posted Feb 14, 2018

Back in January of 1981, I stood in the gravel parking lot behind the church and explained to the other kids how Jaws and Wilbert were going to lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl win over the Raiders. I was confident in the Eagles, who had dominated the NFC. Winning the Super Bowl was just the next step. Unfortunately, Raiders linebacker Rod Martin proved to be Ron Jaworski's favorite target and Wilbert Montgomery only ran for 44 yards. The Eagles lost 27-10.

In the summer of 1992, I picked up a copy of The Football News at a newsstand. Their Super Bowl pick was the Eagles over the Broncos. Randall Cunningham was coming back from his knee injury. Gang Green was a dominant defense and all the key pieces were back. Herschel Walker had been added in free agency and things seemed great. A few days after that, Jerome Brown died in a car crash. The team overcame that tragedy and did win a playoff game, but didn't get to the Super Bowl.

The 2002 Eagles absolutely looked like a Super Bowl team. They went 12-4, despite Donovan McNabb missing six games due to injury. That defense was outstanding and the team had great chemistry. After jumping out to a 7-0 lead in the NFC title game, the Bucs dominated and won 27-10 (that's not a good score for Eagles playoff games). The Ronde Barber pick-six was just a devastating moment. That was the ultimate gut punch.

The Eagles finally got back to the Super Bowl in 2004. That was a terrific team. Unfortunately they turned the ball over four times in the Super Bowl and lost to the Patriots 24-21. Oddly, that wasn't a devastating loss. The team was loaded with good players in the prime of their careers. It felt like they could get back.

Those years, and so many like them, were filled with hopes and dreams. That's what made the 2017 Eagles such an unusual team. This group was expected to challenge for a playoff spot and improve on 2016's 7-9 showing, but no one realistically saw a championship coming.

Sometimes you see a team develop over several years. You see them build into a title team. Other times, greatness comes together out of nowhere. That was the 2017 Eagles.

They were so good so fast that I think it helped them. There was no pressure to win because this team was ahead of schedule. There were no ghosts from previous playoff losses to overcome. This group could just go out and play football. And have fun. Lots of fun.

I enjoyed 2017 more than any other Eagles season in my 30 or so years of following this franchise. Even if this group had somehow come up short in the big game, I would have had incredibly fond memories. The fact they actually finished it off made the whole thing feel like a dream.

I will admit that I started to get nervous in the final days before the Super Bowl so I went back and re-watched multiple games from the season. Watching the Eagles in action gave me confidence that this team would win. They played at a high level all year long. It only made sense that the Super Bowl would be the same way.

The beauty of this championship is that there were no shortcuts. The Eagles beat the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round. They dominated the number two seed Minnesota Vikings in the NFC title game. The Eagles then took down the defending Super Bowl champs and a team with a Hall of Fame coach and a Hall of Fame quarterback.

The degree of difficulty was through the roof, as the Eagles pulled this off without Carson Wentz, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks, Chris Maragos and Caleb Sturgis. The Dallas Cowboys fell apart without a couple of starters for a couple of games. The Eagles kept right on winning. This was an amazing team.

This all started when owner Jeffrey Lurie hired Doug Pederson to be his new coach. Lurie put Howie Roseman back in charge of the personnel side of things. You then had a group that was all on the same page and could really work together. Titles aren't won alone.

Roseman was the visionary who put the whole thing together. He made the big moves that delivered the key players. Joe Douglas, Andy Weidl and Dwayne Joseph went out and found talent that filled the roster. From LeGarrette Blount to Patrick Robinson to Corey Clement, the personnel staff did a great job of finding guys who contributed in a variety of ways.

The coaching staff embraced this collection of players and got something out of all of them. No one was along for a free ride. Clement, a rookie free agent, had 100 receiving yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Veteran free agent Corey Graham was the second-leading tackler in the game. Bryan Braman, signed in December, had a special teams tackle.

Doug Pederson did a great job during the season and somehow was even better in the postseason. Most people felt he would be over-matched when facing Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl. That wasn't the case at all. Pederson was incredible, in large part because he listened to his assistants. They built a brilliant gameplan that Nick Foles and the offense could execute and that the Patriots defense couldn't stop.

The rest of the NFL was blown away by the job done by the Eagles coaches. You could see that as the Vikings hired John DeFilippo to come run their offense and the Colts hired Frank Reich to come be their head coach. Pederson is the hottest topic in the NFL right now and there are 31 other teams who are going to closely study what he did, hoping to steal some good ideas.

As good as Pederson was with X's and O's (and he was a maestro), he was even better with how he handled people. He let all of his coaches contribute to the gameplan. He used every player on his roster. He didn't lower expectations when injuries happened. He pushed all the right buttons.

Pederson preached competition the whole year. This goes back to last April. He wanted his players competing as much as they could, knowing they would push each other and bond at the same time. His mantra for the whole year was “Win the Week”. Don't prepare less or more for games. Win every time you can. Make excellence a habit, not something for big occasions.

The Eagles didn't have any trap games all year. This team beat inferior opponents, usually by a wide margin. This was the most consistent Eagles team I've ever seen and I think a lot of that goes to Pederson and the way he challenged them all year long.

Just think about Pederson and his quarterbacks. He wasn't interested in bringing Carson Wentz along slowly. Pederson knew he had a special talent and challenged his young star to play at a high level. Wentz proved to be better than anyone could have imagined and took this team to an 11-2 start before his injury.

Foles then took over for Wentz and threw four touchdown passes in his first start. That should have been a huge hint that Foles wasn't going to be a typical backup. It took Pederson a few games to really get in sync with Foles, but once they did, the results were historic.

Foles' play against the Vikings and Patriots was phenomenal. He threw six touchdowns, completed more than 70 percent of his passes and had a passer rating well over 100. Even crazier, the Vikings were the number one defense in the league. Foles just shredded them.

Pederson called the right plays, but he also knew what to say to Foles to get him in the right frame of mind. I loved the fact that Pederson was so aggressive with him. Some coaches play not to lose when dealing with backups. Pederson was as creative and aggressive as he was all year long.

Eagles fans had to watch 51 Super Bowls come and go before finally seeing their beloved Birds bring home the Lombardi Trophy. All the losing and suffering was washed away by the great parade down Broad Street. Thanks to a very special team, reality was even better than the dream.

 

 

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