Rich Kotite wasn't known for his stirring locker room oratory but he found the right words on January 3, 1993, the first time the Eagles played a postseason game in New Orleans against the Saints. It was halftime and the Eagles were trailing the Saints 17-7 in an NFC Wild Card game.
Earlier in the day, Buffalo staged the greatest comeback in NFL history rallying from a 35-3 deficit to stun Houston 41-38 in the AFC Wild Card game. To make it even more improbable, the Bills were playing with Frank Reich, the backup quarterback, and without linebacker Cornelius Bennett and running back Thurman Thomas, two Pro Bowl players who missed most of the second half with an injury.
The Eagles knew what had happened in Buffalo so when the head coach looked around the locker room at halftime, he used it as inspiration for his team. If the Bills could do it, why not the Eagles?
"We're down 10 points," Kotite said. "What's the big deal?"
The Saints outplayed the Eagles in the first half – they had a 14-4 advantage in first downs, a 250-121 edge in yardage – and they extended their lead to 20-7 on a Morten Andersen field goal early in the third quarter. But then the Eagles took over scoring 29 unanswered points to win going away, 36-20.
As comebacks go, it was overshadowed by what the Bills did to the Oilers, but it was still a remarkable turnaround. Quarterback Randall Cunningham threw two touchdown passes to wide receiver Fred Barnett. Running back Heath Sherman rushed for 105 yards, 82 of them in the second half, and scored a touchdown. The defense picked off three Bobby Hebert passes – two by cornerback Eric Allen, one by linebacker Seth Joyner – and Reggie White sacked the Saints' quarterback for a safety.
The game actually became a rout as the Eagles outscored the Saints 26-0 in the fourth quarter. It was the Eagles' first playoff victory since the 1980 NFC Championship Game against Dallas and it was their first postseason win on the road since the 1949 NFL Championship Game in Los Angeles. The Eagles defeated the Rams that day in a rain-soaked Coliseum, 14-0.
It was a dramatic win for the Eagles but a crushing loss for the Saints who were coming off a 12-4 regular season. The loss left the Saints as the only NFL team at that time without a postseason victory (0-4).
"I felt like this was the best of our four playoff teams," said linebacker Sam Mills. "To let it get away like this is just unbelievable."
Joyner saw it differently.
"I really didn't see this game as them crumbling," said Joyner, the Eagles' Hall of Famer. "I saw it as us making big plays. We finally got a bead on what they were doing. We just picked up the intensity when we had to. It took us some time to get it done, but we put it together when we had to."
It started with Allen's first interception which set up a Roger Ruzek field goal. Then Cunningham lofted a pass that a leaping Barnett pulled down between two defenders for a 35-yard touchdown. That cut the Saints' lead to 20-17. Joyner's interception set up Sherman's 6-yard touchdown run and that put the Eagles ahead for the first time, 24-20. The visitors poured it on from there as Allen put a bow on it with a pick-six late in the game.
The lasting image of the game is White, the great defensive end, sacking Hebert in the end zone, clasping his hands above his head to signify a safety then leaping in jubilation. Mark Bowden, who covered the game for the Philadelphia Inquirer, made it the lead of his story. "See the Big Dog dance," Bowden wrote.
"We finally did it," White said afterward. "Everybody went out in the second half and played their tails off."
It was an emotional day for the Eagles because when they arrived at the Superdome, they found a locker with the jersey and other belongings of Jerome Brown waiting for them. The team kept Brown's locker at Veterans Stadium intact following his tragic death that summer. It was there every day as a reminder of the fiery defensive tackle who was one of the team's emotional leaders. For the playoff game in New Orleans, the equipment managers brought it with them and set it up in the locker room there. The players didn't know it until they walked in that day.
Willie Brown, Jerome's father, addressed the team before the game. The players, who wore a patch on their jerseys honoring Brown, dedicated the season to their late teammate and they carried that sense of mission into the playoffs where they were winless in three trips under previous head coach Buddy Ryan.
"Bring it home for Jerome" became a rallying cry for the 1992 season. It surely was in the win over the Saints.
"When Jerome passed away, you just felt like, 'Wow, we're not invincible,'" Allen said later. "It took us a long time to understand how to come back and try to fill that friendship void. That was like a brother, not a teammate. It was very difficult for us. Because we were so tight, we tried to keep his great sense of humor alive.
"We tried everything we could do to get to the big game for him. But it came down to, we needed him. He was a huge piece of our success."
An award-winning writer and producer, Ray Didinger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. He has also won six Emmy Awards for his work as a writer and producer at NFL Films. The five-time Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year is a writer and analyst for NBC Sports Philadelphia. Didinger will provide Eagles fans a unique historical perspective on the team throughout the year for PhiladelphiaEagles.com. You can read all of his Eagles History columns here. He is also the author of The Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition which is in bookstores now.