With the Eagles set to host the Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, let's take a look back at the last time these two teams met in the postseason - the 2004 NFC Championship Game.
It is hard to believe it is 10 years. A decade has passed since the Eagles won their last NFC Championship, defeating Atlanta, 27-10, in a frigid Lincoln Financial Field.
Ten years. It hardly seems possible.
What I remember most is the week leading up to the game, the feeling of dread that gripped the city. This was the fourth consecutive year the Eagles had advanced to the conference championship game and, of course, the previous three ended in heartbreak.
- January 27, 2002: A loss to the St. Louis Rams. OK, the Rams were a very good team with a great quarterback (Kurt Warner). The Eagles were underdogs so the fans, while disappointed, could accept it. But ...
- January 19, 2003: A loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The final game at the Vet. A Tampa Bay team that never played well in cold weather. Brad Johnson at quarterback. It was the perfect setup and ended with Ronde Barber's pick six. Then ...
- January 18, 2004: A loss to the Carolina Panthers. Donovan McNabb was knocked out of the game. The Panthers, with Jake Delhomme at quarterback, pulled off the 14-3 upset. Are you kidding? Brad Johnson, now Jake Delhomme?
So in January, 2005, the Eagles fans were hoping for the best but fearing the worst. It was as if some terrible curse was at work and it would once again allow the Eagles to get within one game of the Super Bowl and then rip their hearts out.
Some thought the curse was already at work with the leg injury that sidelined Terrell Owens late in the regular season. The fans saw T.O. as the piece that would put the Eagles over the top. Now he was on the shelf.
The fans tried to be brave but couldn't quite pull it off. Wherever I went, people would say: "The Eagles are going to win ... right?" Or "They can't lose again ... can they?" Typically, the Philadelphia fans are long on bravado, but not this time. They had been burned too often and the scars were still too fresh.
On Friday before the game, there was a pep rally at Love Park. Various speakers tried to fire up the crowd, but the response was strangely hollow. Again, it was the fear factor. Backstage, WIP's Angelo Cataldi said, "It's either going to be dancing in the streets (Monday) or a funeral procession."
A foot of snow fell the day before the game. Was that another omen? Was it yet another indication that fate was conspiring against the Eagles? The Falcons were the NFL's top rushing team so if the weather was brutal - and the wind chill was near zero - it would seem to favor a team that ran the ball often and well.
I stayed at a Center City hotel the night before the game just to make sure I'd get to the Linc. I took the Broad Street Line and found myself surrounded by fans wrapped in Eagles gear but with looks of worry on their faces. It was more of the same, "Today's the day ... right?"
Funny thing was I was very confident the Eagles would win. It didn't make much sense when you consider they were facing a more dangerous quarterback - Michael Vick, in his prime - than either Johnson or Delhomme and who knew how much the absence of T.O. would limit the offense?
But I really liked the Eagles in this game. I liked what I saw in Friday's press conference when Donovan McNabb met the national media. At a time when everyone else appeared tight, he was loose and confident. He actually looked like he welcomed the challenge. He looked ready to get the team over the hump.
"I have visualized winning the game," McNabb said, "and holding up the trophy and getting hit by confetti and having all of our fans getting excited and it being chilly out there and snow on the ground."
I thought McNabb would play well and he did. He threw a pair of touchdown passes to tight end Chad Lewis and Brian Westbrook, who always played well in big games, rushed for 96 yards and added 39 yards on five receptions. The defense shut down the Falcons as Derrick Burgess, Hollis Thomas and Jevon Kearse all recorded sacks and Jeremiah Trotter led the team with eight tackles. Brian Dawkins intercepted a pass to set up a David Akers field goal.
It is funny going through my game notes and seeing some of the names: Artis Hicks (great block on a Westbrook run), Greg Lewis (fights off a defender for a 45-yard reception), Dorsey Levens (4-yard touchdown run). They are a distant memory now, but they came up big in that game.
I still remember the cheer that went up on Lewis' second touchdown catch which put the game away with 3:21 remaining. It was the sound of a city that held its breath all week and now could breathe again.
There is a memorable photograph of McNabb, holding the NFC championship trophy aloft while confetti falls around him. His vision had come true.
Ten years ago. Quite a memory.
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 Comcast SportsNet. 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 New Eagles Encyclopedia. Join Ray and Glen Macnow on February 13 for Sports Movie Night, a discussion of the genre's best, with proceeds benefitting Eagles Youth Partnership. Tickets are available here.