Let the date December 26, 1960 sink in. So few of you reading this column were alive back then. Those of us who were at Franklin Field that day did not fully realized the magnitude of what was taking place. As shadows deepened on the field and the final whistle sounded with Chuck Bednarik wrapped around the body of the Packers’ Jim Taylor, the Eagles became champions of the National Football League. Fifty-three years later, Philadelphia’s fans have not been able to utter those words again.
It is a different world, a different time. The NFL Championship is now called the Super Bowl and is grandly (some say pretentiously) marked off each year in Roman numerals. A magnificent parade awaits the Super Bowl champion each season, but in Philadelphia, we still wait for our parade. Never has a city wanted or needed a parade like us. Wonderful players have come and gone and many not so wonderful. Colorful coaches such as Buddy Ryan have come and gone, and some, like Andy Reid, not so colorful. Some men have come close to fulfilling the city’s dream, like Dick Vermeil and Reid, but none have succeeded. The Super Bowl title may as well be the modern version of the Holy Grail to Eagles fans (forgive us if we believe that the Grail might be easier to obtain). Enter Chip Kelly -— Kelly with his clipped New England accent and a rat-a-tat-tat speech that simulates the tempo of his offense. Chip is the latest would-be saviour of our sanity and souls as Eagles fans. It is Chip in whom we now believe and why not? Kelly burst upon the scene shining light into the dark corners of the Eagles franchise. For whatever reason, be it personal tragedy, pure frustration at coming close so often, or simply being here too long, Reid had left a burnt-out organization. Kelly came along last season and, as a rookie coach, breathed life into the moribund franchise.
It didn’t hurt that the sour Joe Banner had left the organization or that Kelly found his quarterback amidst the wreckage of 2012’s sad team. Some say it was Kelly’s system, others that Nick Foles was a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered. It was likely a combination of both factors plus the opportunity to play afforded Foles when Michael Vick’s body no longer allowed him to play the brave warrior anymore.
After a slow start, it all seemed to click — LeSean McCoy’s running combined with the high-powered passing game and a defense that went from one of the league’s most doubtful to one that was reliable enough at the end not to get in the way of too many chances to win. For Kelly, the result was a division title (OK, it was a lousy division, but good teams take advantage of being in a lousy division), and a nice record of 10-6 with a trip to the playoffs. Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints short-circuited any possible playoff run, but the ’13 season ended with the feeling that the ’12 train wreck had become a high-speed locomotive headed in the right direction.
As we get set for the new season, hopes are running as high as they have in years that the Eagles are nearing their dream of winning the Super Bowl. The thought is that there are still some formidable obstacles in the way — in their own conference, the defending champion Seattle Seahawks and the always dangerous San Francisco 49ers. This writer feels the Arizona Cardinals are a lurking dark horse that has to be reckoned with. And, in the AFC, certainly no one should look past any team headed by those Hall-of-Famers-in-waiting, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
It remains to be seen whether a puzzling move in the offseason by Kelly derails the Eagles express. You don’t normally dump your best receiver and get nothing for him. Worse, you don’t smile when he winds up with a division rival whom you play twice a season. But that is how Kelly handled the mercurial DeSean Jackson, who now wears the burgundy and gold of the Washington no-name franchise. Jackson’s offenses were vague and hints of gang membership unfair. The faithful believe in Kelly — believe that this was a case of adding by subtraction. I am more of an agnostic on the Jackson move. The result is a receiving corps that is thinner than the meat in a Subway hoagie. We are left with panic attacks every time Jeremy Maclin or Riley Cooper stubs his toe. The result is a lot of pressure on rookie receiver Jordan Matthews to make good.
There are other areas of concern, as there are with every team in the league. The field goal kicking is a big question mark. The kick return game could be an issue, as could the lack of a consistent pass rush. But the NFC East still appears to be the NFL’s least. Chip makes adjustments on the fly with the very best of them. His defensive coach, Bill Davis, continues to be underrated, but less so. The protection at QB with the unassuming Foles and Mark Sanchez is fine.
I like 10-6, another division title, and a playoff win. But we’ll have to wait another year for the big parade.
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