THERE ARE two places in America where you have the best chance to get a bum decision overturned - the Supreme Court and the National Football League.
But it might take years for the Supreme Court honorables to reverse a lower-court ruling. Years and years and lots and lots of dollars. In the NFL, it might take as long as 2 minutes between the time the head zebra ducks his head under the hood and finally emerges to announce, "Upon further review . . . ''
So, under the hood I go to further review an 8-8 Eagles season that mercifully ended yesterday with a 17-9 victory over the Buffalo Bills in a game witnessed by thousands who heard the magic words, "Hey, how'd you like my tickets for the Bills game?''
Donovan McNabb finished his strong stretch quarterbacking with an OK game - 29-for-41, 322 net yards, one TD. But on further review, both he and Jeff Garcia were in the wrong places yesterday. Garcia, whose excellent relief of the injured McNabb got the Eagles into the second round of the playoffs last season, was in Tampa Bay, watching his NFC South champion Bucs lose a nothing game to the Carolina Panthers.
Garcia should have been resting here yesterday for the playoff-bound Eagles. They should have been an NFC wild-card winner with the underrated redhead running Andy Reid's offense and with McNabb getting a full year's rehab from the major ACL injury that made Garcia necessary in the first place. Everybody - I'm talking everybody from the orthopedic surgery elite to athletes who have gone through the ACL experience - are agreed that it takes a full season to recover from the injury. And, presto, just a few weeks past a full calendar year since McNabb's injury, he began showing signs that his compromised mobility was returning.
The decision to let Garcia go and to put the still-gimpy McNabb at the controls of the Birds was the product of two stubborn men with strong wills - the coach and the QB. Both guessed wrong.
Back under the hood, it is late January. Andy and Tammy Reid are vacationing in Southern California when their adult sons, Britt and Garrett, are all over the TV and print news, arrested hours apart in separate incidents involving drugs, road rage, a firearm. By the time the Eagles went to Lehigh, it had become obvious that these deeply troubled young men were facing jail time. Andy bulled his neck, deepened the moat around his personal life and soldiered on.
On further review, Reid should have done a pre-emptive airing in the Eagles' locker room with his team assembled. He should have revealed to his players what he finally revealed in Q-and-A form to Philadelphia magazine in an issue published last week. Andy's family crisis never should have been permitted to simmer below the surface, where every clunker on the football field, every missed tackle or blown-up play was immediately linked to a coach whose family life was so out of control he had lost focus and touch with his team.
Under the hood, Brian Westbrook, the team's Pro Bowl playmaker and new recordholder is trying to sort out a clerical glitch whereby he was paid a $3 million roster bonus twice. There were complications. Westbrook already had paid taxes on the bonus. And because he had not yet returned the overpayment to the Eagles, the NFL could have counted the extra $3 million against their salary cap. The usually accounting-sharp Eagles looked like bumbling oafs and their best player looked petty for not immediately handing back the money. But at the same time, how come the Eagles were low-balling their franchise-level player with a $5 million-a-year deal?
So, on further review, it would have been fitting, proper and correct for Joe Banner to have quietly worked some new numbers for Westbrook, numbers more in keeping with the athlete who yesterday set season records for most total yards from scrimmage with 2,104 and catches with 90. The 5-10 minipowerhouse, whose durability was once a question, finished the season with 368 touches from scrimmage.
After a while under the hood, your eyes adjust to the darkness. One figure lacking on the reel of Eagles offensive plays is a commodity the NFL's few truly elite teams seem to have. Peyton Manning wasn't quite as prolific after his playmaker, Marvin Harrison, went down Oct. 22 with a knee injury. What was the difference in the unbeaten Patriots now and the team that lost to Manning's Colts in the AFC final last season? Randy Moss. Since the Terrell Owens debacle, it has become fashionable in this town to belittle the importance of having a big-time game breaker who makes a difference the way Moss did at the Meadowlands Saturday night. Stars make systems. Systems do not make stars - Joe Montana excepted.
Under further review, no matter who played QB for the Eagles this season, he would have been under-weaponed. But try to imagine Westbrook in the same offense with a Moss, Harrison or Owens . . . Oh, you say he was in the same offense with T.O.? In a Super Bowl?
OK, I'm done. The mike is off. Hood's yours.