The 2017 Eagles are 10-1. The 2004 Eagles were 10-1.
Man, that 2004 team was fun. They went to 13-1, clinched home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, then lost the last two regular season games while everyone rested. They would’ve gone 15-1, otherwise. They swept their division. They clinched by Week 13. It was awesome.
This year’s team could finish with as good, if not a better record, than the 2004 squad. Yeah, they have a tough two-game west coast trip ahead of them, but are favored to beat the Seattle Seahawks by six on Sunday (as of this writing) and will likely be favored to beat the Rams in Los Angeles the week after. They hold a two-game lead for the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and people are freely and openly talking about Super Bowls around here as if the city and its sports teams haven’t had their souls repeatedly put through a blender and pureed on a semi-regular basis over the last 100 years.
The team has been routing fools, dancing on the field, performing choreographed celebrations and lapping up every drop of their success. It’s been wild. The fanbase, although still somewhat understandably gunshy about such things, is enjoying this team and its success perhaps more than the 2004 team that ended up playing in the city’s first Super Bowl since 1981.
The 2017 season feels more fun than that 2004 team, and the reason is simple.
No pressure. Or at least, not nearly as much pressure as Donovan McNabb, Andy Reid and the gang were under 13 years ago.
Let’s remember what that 2004 team was facing. The Eagles went into that season having lost three straight NFC Championship Games, two of them at home. I was at the 2002 NFC title game against Tampa, the final game ever at Veterans Stadium. I remember Brian Mitchell almost taking the opening kickoff to the house and Duce Staley finishing things off two plays later.
It felt as though the stadium was going to come down right then and there. Victory was assured.
Of course, they didn’t win. Brad Johnson dinked and dunked the Birds’ defense to death that day, Joe Jurevicius ran through a patchwork of linebackers all afternoon, and Ronde Barber smothered the team with a pillow in a loss so crushing that no one even had the heart to boo afterwards. That wound was opened even more the following year when Carolina came to town and Ricky Manning Jr. became public enemy No. 1 in one of the more infuriating afternoons in Eagles history.
The 2004 team was under immense pressure from Week 1, and getting off to a 13-1 start didn’t lessen the pressure, either. Eagles fans were basketcases. The pressure for that team to advance to the Super Bowl was immense. It’s hard to overstate how crucial it was for the ‘04 Birds to get past that damned NFC Championship Game. And that pressure certainly stripped some of the pure enjoyment from that season. Had the Eagles not gotten to the Super Bowl, the whole year would have all been a waste.
Fast forward to this season. Carson Wentz is in his second season and is the odds-on MVP favorite. The offense and defense have playmakers all over the field. The team is populated by great players who appear to be really good people, all of whom genuinely like each other.
They’re also winning a crap-ton of games.
It’s an infectious mix of youth, talent, and chemistry that few NFL teams experience, and rarely does it happen in a season like this. Many thought the Eagles were still at least a year away from reaching the postseason, so there were no Super Bowl expectations. In fact, the postseason felt like a bit of a longshot when training camp opened.
But that’s what makes this season more fun than 2004. This is found money, there is really no pressure, here. Sure, running out to a 10-1 record and securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs raises expectations. Anything other than a spot in the NFC Championship Game would, at this point, be a bit disappointing. But it’s nothing like the crushing weight of expectations the team and the city felt in 2004, where another loss in the NFC Championship Game would have created a city-wide psychosis. The 2017 Eagles season feels carefree by comparison.
So, enjoy this run and don’t ask too many questions. Wallow in the fun, because seasons like this almost never, ever happen. Especially in Philadelphia.