SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Sunday, January 16, 2005

Do Not Underestimate the Birds

A few days ago, I posted this in Sports Frog's Swamp (in the section regarding the Eagles-Vikings game):

The Eagles, to a large extent, have been underestimated. And, they're probably the most underestimated right now. Earlier in the season, they were viewed as a weak defensive team, bad against the run, and, yes, Pittsburgh did beat them badly. So, what did they do? They moved Jeremiah Trotter into the middle linebacker position, moved Mark Simoneau outside, and then they started to push people around on defense bigtime. That said, people forgot that they have the best secondary in the NFL, with three Pro Bowlers and one Dr. Z first-teamer. Even after their defense improved (and, remember, up until week 15 they had allowed the least points in the NFL), they were still underestimated. Remember when Green Bay was going to march into Philadelphia on December 5 and beat up on the Eagles? Final score, 47-17. Eagles. Then, they decided to coast and not risk further injuries after TO went down. They lost two meaningless games, and now the self-appointed cognoscenti say that they've had a five-week layoff and will be rusty. Well, they underestimate Andy Reid and this Eagles team, and they're overestimating the Vikings. Yes, they backed into the playoffs, and yes, they had a good win against a Green Bay team that played awful last week, but, yes, Mike Tice is still their head coach. Bottom line, the Eagles will win this football game. Call it Philadelphia 27, Minnesota 10. And remember the name Greg Lewis.
Now, I am not claiming clairvoyance here, and, no, I'm not a descendant of Jeanne Dixon, but my point all along is that people have been underestimating the Eagles because a) they play in the NFC and b) they failed to reach three straight NFC championship games (even if two years ago they were the underdog and were driving for the winning score in St. Louis when time ran out). As a result, they're viewed as soft, fatally flawed, and all of the rest.
Well, today they dominated the Vikings, 27-14, in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the score. The Eagles controlled every aspect of the game. Donovan McNabb looked very sharp, the Eagles' defense was outstanding (especially the linebackers, who got two picks), and the wide receivers were excellent (special kudos to Freddie Mitchell, who had 1 TD pass for a score, recovered an immaculate-reception-like fumble by L.J. Smith for a score, recovered an onside kickoff and almost had another TD).
True, they didn't score ten points they should have, and, no doubt, because they didn't win 47-17 at home, once again people will be overestimating the wares of the Atlanta Falcons, who are a good football team, and underestimating the Eagles. I'm sure that next week the experts (except for Mike Golic of ESPN Radio) will be saying that Donovan McNabb is a semipro league player when compared to Michael Vick, and that the Eagles' receiving corps got lucky against a weak Minnesota defense.
And the proverbial "they" are entitled to their opinion.
Because if they underestimate the Eagles, they'll do so at their peril.
No doubt, today, all over the greater Philadelphia area, the stevedores and the Walnut Street fund managers, the skycaps and the electricians, the teamsters and the teachers, the politicians and the pediatricians, the sanitation workers and the social workers, the prosecutors and the preachers, all were watching the game united in their undying affection for the team in green. Hanging on every pass, every blitz, every deep cover. And despite their different backgrounds, they all can unite in the rousing, uplifting cheer that has penetrated the Delaware Valley during Andy Reid's tenure as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles football team.
E-A-G-L-E-S! Eagles!
They'll continue that rousing cheer all through next week, in sports bars, local tap rooms, union halls, on Broad Street, Rittenhouse Square, Fairmount Park, at the Eagle in Hecht's (once Wanamaker's, when the big Eagle really meant something in city lore; ironically, the Eagles team probably means more to the town now than any time since 1981), in City Hall Courtyard and any other place imaginable.
Their hearts are in their mouths, and they're wearing their emotions on their sleeves. Unlike those who are wont to underestimate their beloved (if frustrating) Birds, these fans know well enough not to overestimate the home team. They worry about more injuries, they are more than concerned about Terrell Owens' absence, and they still fear that their undersized defensive line is a bit weak against the run. They remember the Steelers' game, they know all about Peyton Manning and the mystical qualities of the New England Patriots.
But like the coach, who takes one game at a time, they root one game at a time. And they know full well that the Falcons are a formidable squad, and that the road to Jacksonville goes through the Atlanta Falcons.
Hopeful?
You bet.
Overconfident?
Not a chance.
They are a tough group of fans, and, right now, their team is playing just as tough as they are.
It will be easy to underestimate them given their history over the past three years.
But it might prove to be a big mistake.

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