What I remember most of all from the final night of the 2013 season, the 26-24 loss to the New Orleans Saints at Lincoln Financial Field, is the noise from the 68,000 fans who packed the place and waved their towels and screamed their lungs out and reminded me of the true message from this year: The Eagles are back and relevant in the NFL, on the rise, and the fans are strapped in for the ride.
Who didn't have a great time in 2013? From the very minute the Eagles announced, on January 16, the hiring of Chip Kelly as the head coach, the season moved at warp speed, Kelly speed, and the Eagles' football fortunes turned around in a positive direction. Aided by strong draft classes from 2012 and 2013 and a coaching staff with men from both the college and NFL games, the Eagles started the regular season with a demolition of the Washington Redskins, and then some bumps and missteps in the next seven games on the way to a 3-5 record at midseason before everything fell into place and the team won seven of its final eight games in the regular season.
Wonderful season. Serious enjoyment. A record-setting offense and a defense that defined T-E-A-M. The Eagles lost to a very fine New Orleans team on Saturday night, but not before fighting tooth and nail to the very end and falling on the final play, a 32-yard field goal, of the game.
So now the season is over, but the memories remain. And those memories very much include the way the fans responded at training camp, with more than 100,000 of you attending the open training sessions at Lincoln Financial Field, and how the stadium was packed on every game day and night, and how Eagles fans had such an important and huge presence away from Philadelphia and how the riveting nature of this team captured the heart of the expanding fan base.
The fun is back, after some challenging years in 2011 and 2012.
It's going to be an engaging offseason, and the Eagles are positioned the challenge the roster and address needs throughout. They are going to make some moves that you may question, and they are going to do it all with the intention of improving the team and keeping the momentum moving in the right direction. it's one thing to go from 4-12 to 10-6 in the span of a season, but it's entirely different -- and in ways, more difficult -- to stay at the first-place level, maybe get a playoff bye, and perhaps reach the Super Bowl against a first-place schedule and a different set of circumstances during the season.
We pause now, then, and catch our collective breath and prepare to again climb the ladder in 2014. The feeling now is one of disappointment, not depression. There is a tremendous amount of confidence in the approach the Eagles are taking and the men in charge of making the decisions. Kelly immediately infused the team with energy and purpose running the football program the way he wanted it run -- sports science, forward-thinking training sessions, an innovative approach on game days -- and the Eagles and the fan base responded.
Still, in my ears, I hear the ringing. I hear the roars. I hear the E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES chants. I feel the passion from the fans who packed the stadiums, home and away, and who huddled around television sets and jammed sports bars and who wore their Eagles gear on the streets in Every Town, USA and even those around the world who check in on a regular basis.
Here is a big "THANK YOU" for all of the support, all of the love and the continued passion. The Eagles are just beginning to put something special together, and they are going to be every bit as critical in the coming decisions. The truth is that we are all in this together, and while the loss to New Orleans ended one season, the future is bright.
Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie said that 2013 was the "tip of the iceberg." The team has grand plans, a championship vision. It's not possible without all that you do, and all that you mean to the franchise.
Two thousand and thirteen was just as much about the fans as it was about what happened on the football field. It was a blast, whether you watched from the comfort of your home or at a friend's house or at your favorite barstool down the street or at Lincoln Financial Field in the face of a sudden blizzard of snow or away from Philadelphia surrounded by fans wearing the opposing team's colors.
"All Of Us" means something more now, doesn't it? The Eagles and the fans now move forward, shrugging off the disappointment of a season ended, and celebrate the real meaning of 2013: The Eagles are back, baby, moving in the right direction, and the future has never been brighter for this franchise.