I had not worn the 2004 NFC Championship Ring since the few weeks after receiving it in the late spring of 2005 for many reasons, most of which was the sense of parading around a second-place ring. The accomplishment of that team was significant, indeed, for it was only the second Super Bowl trip in franchise history after a dominating, 13-win regular season. Those 2004 Eagles were an outstanding team.
But they didn't win it all.
Oh, the ring was beautiful and the team accomplished a lot, but until February 4, 2018, the Eagles hadn't finished the task. And as we've gone through these remarkable months since then, as the world seems turned upside down, everything has been put into its proper context: The Jeffrey Lurie era of ownership has been the best in Eagles history as he enters his 25th season in charge of the franchise.
I wore the 2004 NFC Championship ring on Thursday night to the Super Bowl Championship Ring Ceremony. It had become a bit discolored in the years since receiving it as it sat in its ring box first in a closet and then in a safe (other than the few weeks it went missing after being stolen from my home. Old-timers remember that it was found on eBay). But it still looked good as I waited excitedly for the Super Bowl ring to dwarf the ring finger on my right hand.
As Lurie presided over the ceremony, announcing each coach and player's name and handing each man his ring, it struck me how remarkable the Lurie era has been – eight NFC East titles, six trips to the NFC Championship Game, two Super Bowl appearances, and one World Championship. Winning the Super Bowl changed everything for every one of us, none more than Lurie.
Remember the risk Lurie, 42 at the time, took as he stepped up and bought the Eagles for a reported $185 million in 1994? It was a record amount for a professional sports franchise and with it came a considerable amount of risk. Peter Angelos bought the Baltimore Orioles for $173 million and Robert Kraft purchased the Patriots for $160 million, so Lurie was in uncharted waters. He was not on the "inside" in NFL circles, but he was highly regarded.
Said Robert Tisch, part owner of the New York Giants, in an interview with the New York Times of Lurie: "To move to Philadelphia and spend that kind of money, you have to be rabid. He'll be a hands-on owner. He's a great kid, who has done well as a producer."
Lurie purchased the team from Norman Braman, who owned the team for nine seasons. In the same Times article, Braman is quoted as saying that the team wasn't on the selling block; Lurie just made an offer he couldn't refuse. After buying the team for $65 million, Braman made a tidy profit. He also reminded us why he wasn't the right fit to own the Eagles.
"I live in Miami and traveling the 16 weeks in the fall – well, there's more to life than the National Football League," Braman was quoted as saying.
That isn't how Lurie looks at it, and we're thankful. He isn't as "hands-on" as we understand the definition; instead, Lurie is incredibly supportive to his football people and his entire organization. He wants to know what's going on and isn't reluctant to offer an opinion, but Lurie's also wise in that he backs off and allows his football decision-makers to do their thing. He trusts them, the ones he puts in place to oversee the football operations, to make the right call.
Ask around the league and you will hear back an extremely high level of compliment for Lurie, who said at the time of his purchase of the team in a statement released by the Eagles: "I am very excited at the prospect of acquiring the franchise and becoming a Philadelphian. Philadelphia is one of the great sports cities in America, and I look forward to a long and successful relationship with the city, its team, and its loyal fans."
Mission accomplished. By a long shot.
Now, back to the ring(s). While the 2004 season had always been held high in regard and with fond memories, there was also crushing disappointment. The Eagles lost to New England, 24-21, dealing a blow to a fan base that had suffered through near misses from 2001-2003. In its fourth straight trip the NFC Championship Game, the Eagles finally broke through, but could not take the final step. It hurt. So that ring has always been associated with that sense of defeat and, thus, it lived in the darkness of a ring box for many years.
But I pulled it out on Thursday and have been wearing it since – the 2004 ring on the left hand and the 2017 ring on the right. On Saturday morning, I visited Lincoln Financial Field as thousands of fans (more than 2,000) lined up for treasured photos with the Lombardi Trophy. I left after a couple of hours, but I allowed the rings to remain for the rest of the day as the fans shared in the celebration, taking pictures with both the Trophy and the rings.
It's a context thing for me, see. It's more than winning this Super Bowl. It's a lifetime of Eagles love and dedication and sharing it with the fans is the right thing to do. We've all shared the ups and downs together.
The goal for the Eagles now is to win multiple Super Bowls, as Lurie said to the organization on Thursday night. "We are just getting started," he said, to the roar of the entire team.
That's true, but what's also true is that Lurie's tenure has been a remarkable one, something we all can put into perspective. Save the party on Thursday night, the Eagles have turned the page and are focused on 2018. This is going to be a very competitive team that should challenge for the postseason, at the very least. But as I look at the rings on my fingers, I'm reminded of something more meaningful, and that is a quarter century of Eagles football to be savored and appreciated.