In 1988, the Eagles had just beaten the woeful Dallas Cowboys in the final week of the season and the New York Jets had defeated the Giants to help them win the NFC East and earn their first postseason appearance in seven years. Thirty years later, much the same thing happened, with the Eagles demolishing the Washington Redskins last Sunday and the Chicago Bears defeating of the Minnesota Vikings on the last week of the season to give Philadelphia the NFC’s final playoff berth.
Both 30 years ago and last Sunday, the Eagles welcome their good fortune with a first-round postseason match-up in the Windy City against the Bears. Only this time around, a mere seven days after the Chicago did them a solid to help them get into the postseason, the Birds will look to return the favor by rudely ousting them from the tournament.
Life can be ironic and cruel, kids.
The Eagles have played at Soldier Field in the playoffs two times previously, having lost in the infamous and infuriating Fog Bowl Game in ‘88, and then again in 2001, when Donovan McNabb put his stamp on the Andy Reid-era Eagles. Let’s take a look back at those two match-ups as Doug Pederson and the gang get ready for the wild card match-up in Chicago.
The Fog Bowl
Good heavens this game was awful. It was also one we’ll never forget.
Leading up to the NFC Divisional match-up, the game was billed as a revenge match-up between Bears coach Mike Ditka and his former defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan. It was their first meeting since Ryan unceremoniously left Chicago after Super Bowl XX to take over as head coach for Philadelphia, and the two men had been snarling at each other the entire week.
But once the game started, all that hype went away, as the contest itself played out in two distinct halves — one in which people were able to see properly, and one in which they were not. And frankly, both halves were equally frustrating.
In the first half, the sun was shining brightly on an unseasonably warm December day in Chicago, and the Bears jumped on the board first thanks to a 64-yard touchdown pass from the woeful Mike Tomczak to Dennis McKinnon. Montana-to-Rice they weren’t. As for the Birds, their postseason inexperience was evident early on.
Although they outplayed Chicago for most of the first half, they trailed 17-9 at halftime after having two offensive scores wiped out by penalties on consecutive plays. In addition, Luis Zendejas missed a 43-yard field goal, Keith Jackson dropped a perfectly thrown touchdown pass and another Eagles drive ended at the 5-yard line as a Randall Cunningham 4th-and-1 QB sneak was stuffed for no gain.
Amazingly, that was the least frustrating of the two halves as, just as the two-minute warning hit, the warm air coasted over the nearby waters of Lake Michigan and dumped a dense fog right into the bowl of the stadium with no warning.
And it wouldn’t go away.
Down 17-9, neither team could see and yet officials allowed play to continue. Referee Jim Tunney had to announce the down and distance for each play on the stadium microphone so that broadcasters and fans knew what was happening. As to why they didn’t postpone or delay the game until the fog lifted, Tunney reasoned that both teams could see the opposing goal posts the entire game, however, it’s hard to imagine that the game would be allowed to continue today.
Chicago and the Eagles would add a field goal each in the dense fog, but Cunningham’s 407 passing yards were nullified by his three interceptions (and an inability to see) as the Birds fell to the Bears in one of the craziest games ever played, 20-12.
McNabb Comes Home
In 2000, the Eagles had gone 11-5 in Andy Reid’s second season as head coach, having beaten the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the wild card round and losing to the NY Giants in the divisional round. So in 2001, the team was expected to take another step forward, and that is exactly what they did, led by the best quarterback in franchise history, Donovan McNabb.
You heard me.
McNabb, born and raised in the Chicago area, was returning home to play the Bears, who had won the NFC Central with the league’s stingiest and turnover-hawking defense and a record of 13-3.
On defense, the Eagles were facing a Bears offense led by journeyman Jim Miller, who went 11-2 as a starter that season but completed just 57.7% of his passes for 2,299 yards with 13 TDs and 10 INTs and a QBR of 74.9. McNabb, meanwhile, made the Pro Bowl for the second year in a row by completing 57.8% of his passes for 3,233 yards, 25 TDs and 12 INTs for a QBR of 84.3. He also rushed for 273 yards on the season.
And in this game, McNabb wasn’t perfect, but he was at his playmaking best. He went 26-for-40 for 262 yards, 2 TDs and a pick-six, but he also rushed for a touchdown and made this phenomenal play just before halftime to make it 13-7, Eagles.
The Eagles knocked Miller out of the game with a shoulder injury thanks to a bruising hit by defensive star Hugh Douglas on an Eagles interception return (Douglas would later be fined $35,000 for the hit) in the first half, but the Bears returned a McNabb interception for a touchdown at the start of the 3rd quarter to go back up 14-13.
From there on out, the Eagles pulled away.
McNabb connected on a 6-yard strike to Duce Staley to go up 20-14 in the 3rd, with the Bears adding a field goal to make it 20-17. The Eagles then rattled off 13 unanswered points before a Chicago safety as the Birds ran the ball out of the end zone as time expired made the final score 33-19.
In the end, the Eagles outgained Chicago 336-184 and dominated time of possession 36:07 to 23:53, and David Akers kicked a team playoff record four field goals along the way, too.
The Eagles would go on to lose the in the NFC Championship Game against the Rams in St. Louis, the first of three straight NFC Championshp Game defeats by Reid and McNabb. But their victory against Chicago was their first in the divisional round since a 31-16 win over the Minnesota Vikings in 1980, their Super Bowl XV season.
Can the Eagles run the table as the NFC’s No. 6 seed this year? We’ll get our answers on Sunday afternoon in Chicago.