As if enough insult had not been ladled over the injury of this Eagles season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will add their own dollop on Sunday when they celebrate the 10th anniversary of their lone Super Bowl championship season.
The Bucs advanced to the January 2003 Super Bowl by virtue of the most ignominious defeat of Andy Reid's head coaching career - an upset in the NFC championship game that marked the last time the Eagles played in Veterans Stadium.
It also marked the first indication that the rocket ship to the moon with Reid as coach might suffer a few malfunctions along the way. Until that game, the team's rise from its 3-13 crash in Ray Rhodes' last season had been steady and upbeat. The Eagles lost the NFC championship the season before to a superior St. Louis team, but that was accepted as a stepping-stone rather than a stumbling block.
Against the Bucs, however, they fell flat, and Reid's reputation as a provider of unfulfilled promises began that day. Ten years later, the Eagles might be on the way to another 3-13 finish, Reid's tenure is shakier every game, and, while the Lombardi trophy might be lonely in its case in Tampa Bay, there is even more available shelf space at the NovaCare Complex.
That is the backdrop for Sunday's halftime in which 50 players and coaches from that 2002 Buccaneers team will gather to celebrate. Was the Eagles game chosen by coincidence for the party? Doesn't seem likely.
"I can't tell you I'm excited to see that group again," Reid told Tampa-area reporters last week. "Every time I see John Lynch I get upset."
More than Lynch, an all-pro safety on that team and now a broadcaster, Reid should really get upset when he sees cornerback Ronde Barber, now in his 16th season with Tampa Bay. It was Barber who tricked Donovan McNabb into thinking a blitz was coming in the fourth quarter and then stepped between McNabb and his hot-read receiver to seal the game with a 92-yard interception return.
"Yeah, 200 Jet All Omaha," Reid said, the play call still burned into his brain. "He got us. He picked it and took it the distance."
Barber has four interceptions this season, including one returned 78 yards for a touchdown, and he would probably like nothing better than to commemorate the 10th-anniversary celebration with a replay of his biggest pick against the Eagles.
That would be just another ladle of insult to endure, but what's a little more? The Bucs are actually more likely to outscore the Eagles than to beat them with defense, however. Nick Foles, making his fourth start and his first since leaping over Michael Vick on the depth chart, will be working against a pretty bad Tampa Bay secondary. The Bucs have given up the most passing yards in the NFL this season (the Eagles are 16th) and have remained in postseason contention only because of a revitalized offense.
The last three seasons for the Bucs have been a good reminder that it is difficult to judge a young quarterback in a vacuum. The Eagles will be assessing the play of Foles in these final four games, hoping for a clue about his viability as a long-term starter. That's a short sample, of course, and nothing like the ride Tampa Bay has taken with Josh Freeman, the 24-year-old taken with the 17th pick of the 2009 draft.
In 2010, Freeman's first full season, the Bucs were 10-6 and Freeman threw for 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Last season, the team fell to 4-12 and Freeman had 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. So, which quarterback was he?
The Bucs opted to lend some help before deciding Freeman couldn't do the job. They added free-agent wide receiver Vincent Jackson to pair with Mike Williams, and they moved up in the draft to take running back Doug Martin from Boise State. Both moves have paid off, and Freeman, with an array of weapons to keep defenses off-balance, is ranked among the top dozen quarterbacks in the league with 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Getting the Eagles turned around after this season probably won't be accomplished as quickly, but just as much rests with Foles. Regardless of who is coaching the team, and regardless of how many other changes are made, it all starts right there.
No one is predicting yet that Foles will have a 10-year career as a starter, but just showing consistent promise would be helpful. Even if he simply avoids throwing the ball to Ronde Barber on Sunday, unlike the last decade-long quarterback, that would be fine for starters. There will still be enough celebrating for one afternoon, anyway.