After the announcement we held a moment of silence in the second half in the press box at Lincoln Financial Field, which was designed with his input. After decades of waiting for rickety elevators at decrepit Veterans Stadium, Lyon wanted stairs out the back for easier access to the locker room.
I took those stairs Sunday night.
He was, in my 25 years as a Philadelphian, the most respected and the most significant sports journalist in the region. He died as the Eagles, again as underdogs, battled the Patriots, with their genius head coach and their G.O.A.T. quarterback. The Eagles were depleted by injury, handicapped by their front office, and generally undisciplined in their execution.
It was raw and cold and windy, the Eagles’ franchise quarterback underperformed and the defense occasionally choked, and the Patriots won, 17-10. A game that ended, for all intents, when embattled receiver Nelson Agholor dropped a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone with 54 seconds to play.
Bill Lyon, the columnist, would have loved it. On Sunday, he’d have made you weep away your layers of resentment for Agholor, who, Lyon would have explained, is a good and decent man. Then on Monday, he’d have explained how 5-5 is so much better than influenza, or something. But he’d have made you feel better.
Bill would have loved this game, and he’d have loved this whole broken, crazy season. He’d have loved this whole Eagles situation.
The team, less than two years removed from its only Super Bowl title — won over brilliant Bill Belichick, this very coach, and ageless Tom Brady, this very quarterback — has teetered on the brink of collapse for a full month. But their tale won’t be told until at least another loss or two.
The franchise has been toothless since offensive assistants Frank Reich and John DeFilippo took promotions with other teams, and its personnel guru, Joe Douglas, just took twice Roseman’s salary to renovate the Jets. So the future isn’t exactly bright.
To Bill Lyon’s utter delight.
It is these sorts of moments that Bill Lyon loved best. Moments when men were made or broken. The faux drama and pathos and conflict of sport and its thrill and its commerce.
Will unlikely Super Bowl champion Doug Pederson regroup and recover? Will Carson Wentz, in his fourth season, finally take full command of a team whose greatest glories have so far eluded him? Will Roseman’s flawed and aged collection of players find life as autumn turns into winter? At 5-5, with a rested flock of Seahawks descending next week, what did Sunday really mean?
Bill Lyon would have told you. Give him 60 minutes and 22 inches and you’d have a better idea, better than Pederson or Roseman.
Sunday’s smorgasbord was the sort of odd and unimaginable contest, the type of undefinable scenario, that Lyon loved best and wrote best and made sense of better than anyone else.
The Eagles bottled the Patriots’ running game and dared 42-year-old Brady to beat them. And he did, sort of.
There was nothing tidy about Sunday, which makes you miss Bill Lyon all the more.
The Eagles ran a “Philly Special” knockoff, with Mummers poseur Jason Kelce at wide receiver — to no effect, but it was fun to watch. The Patriots tried their own trickery — a throw back to Brady, who went deep, but the pass was underthrown and nearly intercepted.
The Eagles didn’t exactly dominate, even when they dominated, holding the ball for nearly 13 of the game’s first 17 minutes. They kicked a field goal off a pass interference drawn by fourth-string running back Boston Scott. They then scored a touchdown by the hair of Dallas Goedert’s wispy goatee: The ball was wrested away as Goedert fell into the end zone, a play initially ruled a fumble, then overruled by instant replay, a technological advance about which Lyon was conflicted, like us all.
Lyon adored real football, the era before quarterbacks and receivers were swathed in the protective wrap of new rules that amplified passing and diminished hitting, so he would have adored what unfolded as Sunday evening descended into Sunday night. The Patriots’ top-ranked defense had allowed just 150.2 aerial yards, second in the league, and had intercepted 19 passes, the most in the league, by five.
It allowed the Eagles 174 yards. Wentz threw no interceptions, which is all that kept the game close, and Bill would have shined his light on that sliver of silver lining.
The Eagles overcame a long punt return and a fumble by Wentz and still led the one-loss Patriots at the half, thanks to a defense that stiffened in the shadow of its goalposts. That defense led the team’s resurgence, from 3-4 to 5-4, and it will lead the Eagles to the playoffs if they make it. Lyon would have been lyrical in his depiction of that journey, regardless of how it ends.
Four of their 23 front-line players missed the game with various maladies: the ankles of top wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and middle linebacker Nigel Bradham, the shoulder of top running back Jordan Howard, the hip flexor of 35-year-old kick returner Darren Sproles, now lost for the season and likely done for good.
None of those absences was as dire as the loss of right tackle Lane Johnson, who left with a head injury after the Eagles finished their 95-yard touchdown drive with 12 minutes, 40 seconds to play in the second quarter.
The Eagles managed 19 yards and a turnover and surrendered five sacks on their next four possessions.
Afterward, Bill Lyon would have attended Belichick’s news conference, if only to prove himself the more austere of the two. He might have asked a question, maybe two, Jedis existing on a plane above the rest of the room. Belichick might have even answered him properly; if not, the writer would have just chuckled to himself, knowing he’d won the encounter anyway.
Then Bill Lyon would have meandered back to the press box and, somehow, he’d have woven 800 words of optimism, fast and clean, because he always was careful to show the light at the end of whatever tunnel faced his readers.
Because, even as he battled in the darkness of the Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases that finally took him from us, Bill Lyon was a beacon.