Watching Andy Reid call plays at the end of the 2004 Super Bowl was like seeing a toddler drive an 18-wheeler on the Schuylkill Expressway. In way over his head. But as disappointing as that loss to the Patriots was, his team falling flat on its face in the NFC title games the previous two seasons was arguably just as painful.
The fireworks that came with the addition of Terrell Owens — and the subsequent dumpster fire it turned into in 2005 — often overshadows the disappointments of 2002 and even 2003. Those teams were pretty good, but scored one touchdown in the conference championship game losses to the Buccaneers and Panthers.
Here’s a quick look at the 2002 and 2004 Eagles teams.
Both teams had 10 players selected to the Pro Bowl, but the 2002 Eagles had seven all-pros compared to four for the 2004 club. The 2002 Associated Press all-pros were first-teamers FS Brian Dawkins and CB Troy Vincent, and second-teamers PK David Akers, DE Hugh Douglas, LG Jermane Mayberry, CB Bobby Taylor and LT Tra Thomas. In 2004, Dawkins, WR Terrell Owens and CB Lito Sheppard were selected first-team All-Pro and Akers was named to the second team.
Advantage: The 2002 club.
The 2004 campaign was easily the best of McNabb’s career and having Owens to stretch the field was the biggest reason. McNabb set personal bests with 31 TDs, 3,875 yards and an astounding QB rating of 104.7. But that was the season Peyton Manning tossed a then-record 49 touchdowns for the Colts and was the unanimous all-pro quarterback.
The Eagles went 13-1 in 2004 and had homefield advantage wrapped up with two games left, which they lost as the key players saw limited action. The 2002 club went 12-4, but needed help to get homefield in the final week of the season. The Birds, playing without McNabb, lost in overtime at the Giants, but still got the No. 1 seed when the Packers were thumped by the Jets. As a result of playing more competitive games, the 2002 scored more points than the 2004 club (415-386) and held their opponents to fewer (241-260).
Advantage: 2004, but narrowly. The 2004 offense was better, but the 2002 defense had the edge.
As painful as the 2004 Super Bowl loss to the Patriots was, New England was a touchdown favorite on merit and Terrell Owens was coming back despite sustaining a fractured fibula six weeks prior. In 2002, everything was in the Eagles favor. Tampa Bay had never won when the mercury was below 40 degrees (it was 29 that day), the Eagles had handled the Bucs in the previous two postseasons (as well as the 2002 regular season) and there would be no better way to close the Veterans Stadium concrete jungle than with a win to go to the Super Bowl. And then Brian Mitchell opened the game with a 70 yard kickoff return to set up a quick touchdown. But the Eagles never saw the end zone again. Sigh. The Buccaneers 71-yard completion to Joe Jurevicius late in the first quarter became the Eagles equivalent of Chico Ruiz stealing home against the Phillies in 1964.
Disadvantage: The 2002 club. Frankly, the 14-3 loss to Carolina at home in the 2003 NFC Championship also was arguably more disheartening than losing Super Bowl 39.
P.S. Losing Super Bowl 15 was worse than them all.