Philadelphia Eagles News

Lawlor: The most memorable season openers

The Eagles open the 2019 season on Sunday when they host the Washington Redskins. We'll have to wait and see what Sunday holds in store, but over the past 30 years there have been some memorable games and moments in Eagles season openers.

I remember sitting down to watch the 1991 opener. My expectations for the season were sky high with Reggie White leading a dominant defense and Randall Cunningham running an explosive offense. That all changed when Bryce Paup hit Cunningham's knee, early in the game. The Eagles did beat the Packers that day, but Cunningham tore his ACL and was done for the year. Jim McMahon did his best, but wasn't able to get the Eagles to the postseason. It was amazing that one small moment in the opener shaped the whole season.

The 1992 opener had a very different vibe. Once again, there were big-time expectations for the season. The defense was still loaded. Cunningham was healthy. The Eagles had signed Herschel Walker in the offseason and we were all excited to see what he could do.

Jerome Brown died a couple of months earlier in a car accident. That was devastating for his teammates, but also gave them something to rally around. The opener was dedicated to Brown. Teammates would break the sideline huddle with "1-2-3-JB!" The Eagles' defense played inspired football. They limited the Saints to 202 yards and 13 points. New Orleans got just 55 yards on the ground. Walker ran for 112 yards in his Eagles debut and they won the game 15-13. The season didn't go as hoped but that was an emotional, intense game.

Ray Rhodes took over as coach of the Eagles in 1995. I was incredibly excited to have a new coach and some real organizational leadership. There was this young guy named Jon Gruden running the offense and I was curious to see what he could do with Cunningham.

The Eagles hosted Tampa Bay in what would become an infamous game. Cunningham looked lost as he ran the West Coast offense for the first time in his career. The Eagles managed just six points on the day. Tampa's Horace Copeland (Who?) went wild on the secondary. He had 155 yards on five receptions, including a 64-yard touchdown. Ugh.

Rhodes had signed star free agent Ricky Watters to be the key weapon for Gruden's offense. Watters struggled as a runner and receiver. To make matters worse, he got a bad case of alligator arms on a pass over the middle. When the media asked him about that after the game, Watters responded, "For who? For what?"

That was a terrible way for him to get started in Philly. The good news is that Watters was highly productive from 1995-97. His comments were not forgotten, but they were forgiven because of his on-field performance.

The worst season opener of the past 30 years? 1998 and it isn't close. Seattle came to The Vet and won 38-0. Bobby Hoying had 12 net passing yards. That was a long, long day to kick off a long, long season.

2000 provided us with the greatest season opener in Eagles history. The only way you could top this is if the team could somehow win the Super Bowl in September.

Andy Reid, in his second season, took his Eagles down to Dallas to battle the Cowboys. Donovan McNabb started the first season opener of his career and led an offense that was dominant on the ground. The Eagles ran for 306 yards. Jim Johnson's defense held Dallas to 167 yards and one late touchdown.

The Eagles had a secret weapon. That was a sweltering day in Dallas with on-field temperatures above 100 degrees. To combat the heat, trainer Rick Burkholder had the Eagles players drink pickle juice. That helped to keep them from getting dehydrated.

The final score of the game was 41-14 and it wasn't even that close. It was beautiful to watch Duce Staley run for 201 yards while Eagles defenders relentlessly pounded Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman. That was one glorious day.

The 2004 season opener had a fun atmosphere, as if the City of Philadelphia threw a "Welcome T.O." party. Terrell Owens made his Eagles debut, catching three touchdown passes and showing instant chemistry with McNabb. Owens celebrated after his big plays and played with more personality than any Eagle in a long time.

The Giants had no answers for the Eagles that day. McNabb, Owens, Brian Westbrook, and even Todd Pinkston just overwhelmed the Giants' defense. The Eagles won 31-17 to launch a magical season that would end in a Super Bowl appearance.

The 2010 season opener was an odd game. The Eagles were wearing kelly green throwback uniforms to honor the 1960 NFL Championship team, so it was fun, but different to see them. This was supposed to be the beginning of the Kevin Kolb era, but things didn't go according to plan. Kolb was knocked out of the game and Michael Vick took over for him.

Vick threw for 175 yards and ran for 103 more. He was brilliant at times. The Eagles lost the game 27-20, but Reid saw enough that he named Vick his starting quarterback. The team went on a 10-3 run after the opener and a lot of those games were incredibly fun. It was a strange season, but full of some amazing highlights.

Reid and the Eagles parted ways after 2012. Chip Kelly took over for him and the 2013 opener had the whole world watching. The game was played on a Monday night and everyone was curious to see the high-speed attack in action. There was an electric atmosphere.

The Eagles didn't disappoint. They played at a breakneck pace and led the Redskins 26-7 at the half. Kelly's offense slowed down after that and they had to hold on to win the game, 33-27. The game showed that Kelly's offense could work, but also that opponents could adjust and give it problems. Still, that was a fun night.

Kelly was gone after 2015, which led to the Eagles hiring Doug Pederson. The man who started the 1999 opener at quarterback was now coaching the Eagles in the 2016 opener. The excitement that day was focused on rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, who threw for 278 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Eagles beat the Browns 29-10 and showed that they were not going to be rebuilding. They wanted to win.

It was hard to quantify Wentz's day. I had seen other Eagles rookies start games over the years, but no one played like that. To do it in the opener after missing the last three preseason games due to injury, that's even more impressive. You could see right away that Wentz was going to be special.

The 2017 opener wasn't significant, but it did feature one magical moment. Wentz turned into Houdini, escaping from multiple Washington defenders. He then fired the ball downfield to Nelson Agholor. What looked like a sack turned into a 58-yard touchdown. That play gave us all a hint that we could be in for a fun year.

Last year's season opener was unlike any in Eagles history. The Eagles were defending Super Bowl Champs, so they got the honor of playing on Thursday night and hanging the Super Bowl banner at Lincoln Financial Field. That was definitely a party atmosphere.

The game was a tense, hard-fought affair. The Eagles were down 6-3 in the third quarter and the offense just couldn't get going. Pederson dialed up a trick play and had Agholor throw a pass to Nick Foles. It wasn't exactly the Philly Special, but it gave the Eagles 15 yards and a huge emotional boost. They scored a pair of touchdowns after that and won the game 18-12.

I can't wait to see what happens on Sunday. Maybe the game, or some part of it, will be on the next list of memorable season openers.

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