The Eagles’ surprising season

From the Sidelines January 8, 2014 0 Comments

by Clark Groome

This column was going to be the typical end-of-the-year review of the major sports stories of 2013.

You know, a rundown of the important developments of the year past: some national stories and, locally, a look at the changing of the Phillies manager, and the Eagles’, Sixers’ and Flyers’ head coaches; the Flyers’ buyout of Ilya Bryzgalov and Danny Briere; the Phillies’ Roy “Doc “ Halladay’s retirement; the emergence of Nick Foles as the Eagles quarterback; and the Sixers drafting Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams, who, after one game, the great Magic Johnson dubbed as this season’s Rookie of the Year.

So much happens each year that it’s useful to look back.

But that’s not what I’m going to do.

Let’s just talk about the Iggles, and their fans.

After the Eagles won the NFC East title by beating the Dallas Cowboys 24-22 the weekend before last, the always-irrepressible Philly fans were quoted in large numbers as saying they had known all along that the Birds were headed to the playoffs.

The reality is somewhat different.

Harken back to when Head Coach Chip Kelly was hired to replace Andy Reid. While most seemed to respect his history as a college coach at Oregon, many were distressed that the new guy had no NFL experience.

The local fans’ reaction, while not really negative, was less than enthusiastic.

The general feeling among those who covered the Eagles was that the team was in the first year of a new era. Local folk seemed resigned to the probability of a better-than-last-year-but-still-not-really-great season. Predictions had the season record with six or seven wins and 10 or nine losses.

That looked accurate as the team got off to a shaky 3-5 start. And then, in what was a surprise to just about everyone, they went 7-1 the rest of the way for an overall 10-6 record.

Among the team’s many unexpected positives was the impact the initially maligned defense had. The hurry-up offense was effective.

Perhaps most surprising of all was the spectacular season back-up quarterback Nick Foles had after he was called on to replace the injured Michael Vick. Throwing 27 touchdown passes with only two interceptions, Foles ended the season with the league’s best passing rating: 119.2. In the Nov. 3 game against the Oakland Raiders he threw for seven touchdowns, tying an NFL record held by Sid Luckmane, Adrian Burk, George Blanda, Y.A. Tittle, Joe Kapp and Peyton Manning.

And then there was “Shady.” Running back LeSean McCoy had one of the best offensive years in Eagles and NFL history. He was the first Bird since the legendary Steve Van Buren to lead the league in both rushing and yards from scrimmage. He set new Eagles’ records in both categories: rushing for 1,607 yards and gaining a total of 2,146 yards from scrimmage.

The local loyalists were pumped up and, at least in their minds, sure that this was what they expected all along, which of course they didn’t.

The energy, and the noise, at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday reflected the fans’ enthusiasm and confidence. Alas, for reasons ranging from missed opportunities to facing a more experienced playoff team, the favored Eagles fell to the New Orleans Saints 26-24 on a heartbreaking last second field goal.

And how, other than disappointment, did the fans react to the loss? Surprisingly, reality returned.

From what can be initially determined, most fans were proud of what the team accomplished this year. Many said, demonstrating their memory’s flexibility, that they didn’t expect the Birds to do as well as they did. The most constant comment was that this is a likable bunch.

With the exception of one idiot on WIP who said that if they had used Michael Vick the outcome would have been different, the general reaction was that they had a successful season that bodes well for the future.

My gut tells me that the 2013 Eagles will join the beloved 1993 Phillies (who went from worst in 1992 to first in 1993 and then into the World Series, losing to Toronto in Game Six) and the admired 2010 Flyers (who snuck into the playoffs on the last game of the season and then went all the way to Game Six [what is it about Game Sixes?] in the Stanley Cup Finals when the Chicago Blackhawks won in overtime) in Philly fans’ hearts.

The Eagles had a surprisingly successful season. For the most part their fans were supportive, realistic and proud. In Philadelphia sports, it’s hard to ask for anything more and, frankly, not always the way it is. Good going.

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