I began to follow the Eagles in 1989 and immediately fell for the club because of immense heart that the players showed. They tallied an 11–5 mark that season and a 10–6 mark the next campaign, earning a playoff berth each time. When ’91 rolled around, I was certain that not only would they win a postseason contest but three, the number of victories for a division champion to claim the Super Bowl. Though the Birds failed to qualify for the playoffs, I still consider that team my favorite. Being that this marks 25 years since that star-crossed gridiron march, I pondered my top 10 favorite memories surrounding the squad and present them before you.
10) The decision to promote Rich Kotite to coach: Then-offensive coordinator Rich Kotite became the franchise’s 18th coach on Jan. 8, succeeding the polarizing Buddy Ryan. Given that he was inheriting an offensively gifted team, I believed Randall Cunningham et al would shred opponents. Then came Sept. 1.
9) The loss of Cunningham to a knee injury in Week 1: Linebacker Bryce Paup will live on for many achievements, including his winning the 1995 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, but here in Philly, he is known as the (insert your favorite expletive) whose first-quarter tackle resulted in a knee injury for Cunningham, the reigning most valuable player. Had the Green Bay Packer not inflicted that hit, how explosive might the offense have been that year? Sigh.
8) The hiring of Bud Carson as defensive coordinator: Most fans rightfully geek out on their favorite players’ statistical output, but I have always been a fan of the coaches and coordinators who help them to put up such great numbers. Already highly regarded for his Super Bowl-winning methods while with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bud Carson came to town having escaped Cleveland, or Football Hell, as I know it. His initial unit was scary, finishing first overall and topping the ranks against the rush and the pass. We will never see such dedication to hard-nosed tackling in this town again.
7) The tenacity with which they played defense: This group of defenders really let me down only one time (See item number 3.). With Reggie White, Jerome Brown, and Clyde Simmons harassing people up front, Byron Evans and Seth Joyner heading the linebacker crew, and Eric Allen leading the secondary, I pitied opponents who felt they would put up career days against this nest of pests.
6) The Week 6 loss to Tampa Bay: Tampa Bay used to be Football Purgatory to me, and when the Eagles traveled there Oct. 6, I expected them to avoid damnation and slaughter the Buccaneers. This was an interesting day, as I also watched the Flyers and the Penguins play to a 2–2 tie and the Mets’ David Cone strike out 19 Phillies. None of our teams would emerge victorious that day, as the wretched Sunshine State athletes claimed a 14–13 win.
5) The commendable job by Jim McMahon: The Wikipedia article on the ’91 season says when Cunningham went down, the Eagles needed to rely on “an over-the-hill Jim McMahon.” The guy was 32 years old! I think he performed well, especially when keying a six-game winning streak through a Week 10 throttling of the New York Giants. He was an exciting piece of a complex puzzle, and I thank him for being a solid fit.
4) The Week 10 win over the Giants: Being a typical Philly fan, I hate all teams with “New York” before their nickname. The fact that the Giants play in New Jersey makes me dislike them even more! On Nov. 4, the Birds romped to a 30–7 win over the defending Super Bowl champions, drawing many smiles from this then-12-year-old.
3) The Week 11 win over Cleveland: Losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers or Indians is no cause for shame, but falling to the Browns should be enough to make a team consider folding. On Nov. 10, the Eagles nearly earned my ire by going down 23–0 in a road tilt. Storming back to win 32–30, they made me feel that something special was going to occur as the season aged.
2) The Week 14 win over Houston: Despite their defensive prowess, I heard a few experts say the mighty Oilers, with Warren Moon chucking the pigskin, would put up 50 on the Eagles. Subtract 44 from that, you sages. The Birds allowed only 247 total yards and forced five turnovers, completely knocking Moon and his mates out of their orbit at the Astrodome.
1) The Week 17 win over Washington: This 24–22 triumph over the Redskins, who went on to win the Super Bowl, immediately mattered to me because it gave the Eagles four straight years with at least 10 victories and again marked a great effort against an offensive juggernaut. It took on greater significance June 25, ’92 when Brown died in a Florida car accident. I cried over his passing and still engage in “What if” scenarios regarding the rest of the decade. Such is life. Such is football. ■