The Eagles were preparing for their first playoff game in four years, an NFC Wild Card game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It would be played on December 31, 2000 at Veterans Stadium.
The weather forecast called for bitter cold with gusty winds, a typical New Year's Eve in Philadelphia. All the stories written that week made a point of saying how the weather would be a huge advantage for the Eagles. The Buccaneers never had won a game when the temperature was below 40 degrees. Eagles defensive end Hugh Douglas was asked about it one day after practice.
"(The Bucs) ain't the only ones," Douglas said. "I don't like the cold either. Cold is cold, I don't care where you're coming from."
The game time temperature was 32 degrees but with the winds gusting at 31 miles an hour, the wind chill factor was a frigid 11 degrees. Douglas may have been cold, but he brought plenty of heat to the Buccaneers' offense. He made the biggest play of the game, roaring in on quarterback Shaun King, hitting him in the back, and forcing a fumble that Mike Mamula recovered at the Tampa Bay 15-yard line.
At that point in the second quarter, neither offense had done very much. The Bucs held a 3-0 lead on a Martin Gramatica field goal but Douglas' hit on King and the resulting fumble energized the crowd and the Eagles' offense. Five plays later, Donovan McNabb scored on a 5-yard run to put the Eagles ahead, 7-3, and they went on to win the game, 21-3.
It was the first playoff game for head coach Andy Reid and McNabb who would go on to play in many more postseason games, including Super Bowl XXXIX. This was their first trip to the postseason and it was unexpected because the Eagles were coming off a 5-11 finish the previous year and McNabb was in his first full season as the starting quarterback. He had replaced Doug Pederson as the starter late in the 1999 campaign.
But McNabb grew into the role quickly and he accounted for all three touchdowns in his first playoff game. In addition to his scoring run, he also threw touchdown passes to Na Brown (5 yards) and Jeff Thomason (2 yards). He completed 24 of 33 passes on the cold, blustery day.
"The nice thing about Donovan is that he will continue to get better here for the next couple of years," Reid said. "We surely haven't seen the finished product yet."
McNabb took his first playoff game in stride.
"I tried to approach like any other game," he said. "I prepare for every game the same. I understood the situation. In these games, you either win or go home, but I felt confident in our team. I know some people didn't expect us to be here (the postseason) but we're here now and we feel like we belong."
The Eagles' offense was still a work in progress in 2000. The starting receivers were Charles Johnson, Torrance Small, Todd Pinkston, and Brown. Chad Lewis and Thomason were the tight ends. In the win over Tampa Bay, journeyman Chris Warren was the leading rusher with 85 yards on 22 carries. McNabb was the only real playmaker.
But the defense, led by coordinator Jim Johnson, was outstanding. That season, the defense had 50 sacks and forced 31 turnovers. Their red zone defense ranked fifth in the NFL and their third-down defense was even better, ranking second. That day they limited the Bucs to just 11 first downs. They totally shut down Warrick Dunn, Tampa Bay's most dangerous weapon. He had eight carries for 1 yard.
Douglas had two of the Eagles four sacks of King. The others were by Hollis Thomas and Mike Caldwell.
"We felt we could win games that way (with defense)," Douglas said. "We had good players and a great coach. Dawk (Brian Dawkins) was the best safety in football, Troy (Vincent) and Bobby (Taylor) could shut down anybody one-on-one and that allowed Jim to do whatever he wanted to do on the pass rush. We were attacking the whole game. I loved that.
"Jim was really good about taking away the other team's best player. That day it was Dunn. He was their big-play guy. He could hurt you in the run game and the pass game. We knew if we got him under control, they wouldn't be able to do much. King was a young guy and if our pass rush got to him early, which we did, we'd have the advantage."
Douglas played six seasons with the Eagles and was a Pro Bowl selection three times. He is fourth on the team's all-time sack list with 54.5. He had a career-best 15 sacks in that 2000 season.
"I was proud of the way I played the run, too," Douglas said. "I tried to be a complete player. People said, 'Douglas, he's a pass rusher.' I played the run, too. I had the best time playing with those guys and playing for Jim. That year was a lot of fun."
Even in the cold.
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 hisEagles History columns here.He is also the author ofThe Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition which is in bookstores now.