JOSELIO HANSON grew up a Deion Sanders fan, in Southern California. Hanson told himself that one day, he would get to the NFL and score a touchdown. When he did, he vowed, he was going to do the "Deion dance," Sanders' distinctive scoring celebration.
Sixty NFL games passed for Hanson, 13 with the 49ers and 47 more with the Eagles, before such an opportunity presented itself. Then, in the third quarter of Sunday's amazing 44-6 triumph over the Cowboys, Brian Dawkins wrangled Marion Barber from behind as Barber strained for the end zone along the Eagles' sideline. The ball popped free. As Hanson, the Eagles' nickel corner, noted yesterday, it didn't just pop free, it seemed to defy the laws of physics.
"It was perfect," Hanson said, as the Eagles began to turn their focus to this Sunday's wild-card playoff date at Minnesota. "Nine out of 10 times, it probably would have gone out of bounds. I've never seen a fumble, on the sidelines, just fall back inbounds like that. I'm glad it happened."
Hanson had a clear path, 96 yards to the end zone, for a 41-3 Eagles lead. Tony Romo was the only Cowboy who even bothered to give chase, and he broke off pursuit around the Dallas 20.
"Romo gave up and I started high-stepping," Hanson said.
Much like Lil Wayne, whose Camden concert Hanson attended in celebration after the game, Hanson was "so gone my ID [was] a postcard."
It was the second-longest fumble recovery touchdown in Eagles history, surpassed only by Mike Patterson's 98-yard ramble in San Francisco in 2006.
"I got the football," said Hanson, who wears No. 21, just like Sanders, but only because Asante Samuel came in as a $57 million free agent last spring and claimed Hanson's former No. 22. "The ref tried to take it from me, but I said, 'Uh-uh.' "
Hanson entered the NFL as a 5-9, 185-pound undrafted 49ers rookie out of Texas Tech in 2003. He is playing this season under a restricted free-agent tender, and the Eagles might have to spend some money to keep him around when he becomes an unrestricted free agent this offseason - especially if they finally part with Lito Sheppard, as expected.
The Eagles haven't opened their postseason quest on the road since Jan. 12, 2001, when they won a wild-card game at Tampa. During the years when they regularly rolled to the NFC Championship Game, the Birds built a reputation as an excellent road team - 31-9 in the regular season from 2000 through '04. But they haven't experienced that kind of success recently.
This year's Birds were 3-4-1 away from Lincoln Financial Field. The road was where the offense tended to be the most erratic, sometimes getting started slowly (San Francisco, Seattle) and sometimes never really getting started at all (Cincinnati, Washington). To get to the Super Bowl, the sixth-seeded Eagles will have to win three playoff games in a row on the road, something the Giants did last season, as a fifth seed. But in 2007, New York built an identity as a team that played better away from home, winning seven regular-season road games in a row before the three playoff contests. The Eagles haven't shown themselves to be that kind of team.
"We obviously have to do better," coach Andy Reid said yesterday. "It's important that we focus in during the week and eliminate any distractions, which there can be sometimes during playoff time, with people wanting to go up to Minnesota and get tickets and all that kind of stuff. You just have to put all that aside, along with the media and so on, and just focus in on the game. And the better you do that, the fewer problems you'll have once it comes game time."
Tra Thomas did very well Sunday against NFL sack leader DeMarcus Ware, who did not add to his total of 20. If Thomas plays as well this week against Jared Allen, the Eagles might have to win a free-agent bidding war for their 34-year-old left offensive tackle . . . Both Eagles coach Andy Reid and Vikings coach Brad Childress spoke yesterday about their phone exchange Sunday evening. Reid and Childress, the former Eagles offensive coordinator, speak fairly often, but Reid said they probably won't communicate again this week. "I don't particularly relish playing those guys, just from a personal standpoint," Childress said at his news conference in Minnesota. "We probably didn't talk as much through this year as maybe years past. We each have our week-to-week crosses. So you are really focused on your football team. But we touched base after maybe we had a common opponent. I know I talked to him after they went down and [lost closely at Dallas in Week 2] and [the Cowboys] looked like they were unstoppable and everybody thought they were unstoppable. As I mentioned, you go through a number of different seasons in the same season." *