Takeo Spikes thought he'd finally found the path to the postseason when he was traded to the Eagles last spring.
Nine years with Cincinnati and Buffalo, Spikes never played on a winning team: 46-98, all told, lots of slogging through meaningless Decembers. Now, he was going to play linebacker for a team that had made the playoffs 6 out of 7 years.
Spikes isn't all that disillusioned by his first season as an Eagle, he said yesterday. But it certainly wasn't everything he'd hoped for as he prepares to go on injured reserve with a torn rotator cuff. Spikes will have surgery, coach Andy Reid said, and he will miss the final two games, at New Orleans and at home against his former Buffalo teammates.
Reid said rookie free agent Akeem Jordan probably will play Spikes' weakside spot in the base defense, with third-round rookie Stewart Bradley cycling into nickel situations.
"It was frustrating. It's still frustrating up until this point,and I can only imagine it's going to get worse," said Spikes, who is scheduled to make $5 million next season in the final year of his contract. "I've always been able to look for a silver lining. I think that silver lining is, compared to the day when I first got here, the chemistry; what we developed as a team, that I developed with the rest of my teammates here. We got better and that's not something you just say it to blow it off. I genuinely mean that, because we got better over a time period, we started making plays when guys got healthy.
"The games we did lose up until this point, there was only one game where we really [decisively] lost the game, and that was the first Dallas game. The silver lining is, taking all of that, me now understanding the defense in and out, I'm looking forward to next year and hopefully bringing a lot of guys back."
Asked what needs to be different next season for the 6-8 Eagles, Spikes said: "We need to have a sense of urgency early in the season. I truly believe that if we had beaten Green Bay in the first game of the year, our season would have been totally different."
Spikes, 31, who is expected to be repaired by Dr. James Andrews in Alabama either today or tomorrow, said he still thinks he will end his playoff drought next year. He said he expects to be healthy for spring minicamps.
"We're very close. I think we really showed that against all of the big opponents this year," Spikes said. "The one thing that makes me proud is that, yes, we'll be sitting at home, but I know that when the Dallas Cowboys or New England Patriots go into the playoffs, I guarantee you that whoever they are playing is going to look up that Philadelphia tape."
Jordan made a training-camp impression out of James Madison, although he was built more like a safety, at 6-1, 226, and began the season on the practice squad. He was promoted Oct. 29, after Matt McCoy was released.
McCoy is now with the Saints and might play against the Eagles this weekend. Furthering the cause of irony, Ryan Fowler, the linebacker the Eagles came close to signing before they traded for Spikes, officially saw his Tennessee Titans season end yesterday because of a shoulder injury.
"You could say [it's been] a year of opportunity," said Jordan, who said he has added 10 pounds or so of muscle during the season. "I'm really not trying to prove anything, just that I'm ready and can play. To fill [Spikes'] shoes, I'm not ready to fill those shoes, but I just want to be able to play."
Bradley, primarily a middle linebacker, has played almost exclusively on special teams. He's eager to show he knows the defense.
"I'm excited," Bradley said. "It doesn't happen a lot for rookies, especially in [Jim Johnson's] defense, for a linebacker to really play. Me and Akeem are fortunate enough to be in the game plan this week and we're going to try to make the most of it . . . I'm pretty comfortable. Obviously, that's easy to say on Wednesday, in the locker room, but you've just got to prepare and go out and lay it all on the field.''
Defensive end Trent Cole acknowledged he wasn't real happy with only being a first alternate for the NFC Pro Bowl team, despite his 12 1/2 sacks, which trail only Seattle defensive end Patrick Kerney (13 1/2). New York's Osi Umenyiora and Green Bay's Aaron Kampman, who made the team along with Kerney, have 12 sacks apiece.
"I was surprised, and disappointed," Cole said, as teammate Jevon Kearse helpfully displayed Cole's No. 58 jersey as a camera backdrop while chanting: "Snub! Snub! Snub!"
Cole, having a breakthrough season at 25, said the first-alternate business wasn't much consolation, although it could end up getting him to Hawaii. Once an alternate is tapped, it's just as if he made the team originally, as far as posterity is concerned. "I want to be No. 1. I don't like second, nothing later than No. 1," he said.
Now that he has been snubbed, Cole said he would very much like to finish strong and lead the league in sacks, strengthening his case.
Running back Brian Westbrook and right guard Shawn Andrews were chosen for the NFC team. Free safety Brian Dawkins is a second alternate.
Michael Gasperson, in his third year on the Eagles' practice squad, finally is being added to the active roster, to take the place of Takeo Spikes. Gasperson, a 6-4, 220-pound wideout, also will get a look at tight end, Andy Reid said. "Hard work always pays off. My whole life, I've always seemed to take the hard road," said Gasperson, who played for then-coach Jim Harbaugh at San Diego. Harbaugh's brother, John, is an Eagles assistant. "It's always worked out for me." Gasperson was lauded for the job he did last week as the scout-team version of Terrell Owens . . . Eagles corner Lito Sheppard has been named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for the job he did shadowing Owens in the Birds' 10-6 victory at Dallas. *