JACKSONVILLE - I went back to the Marriott Sawgrass Hotel this past weekend for two reasons. They had a really cheap rate, for a resort hotel (hey, Florida in August, they should pay you to go there), and because this was the team hotel for Super Bowl XXXIX.
The Eagles allowed a small group of beat writers to stay with them, chronicling the week that ended up being the high-water mark of the Andy Reid-Donovan McNabb era.
If I was looking for ghosts from February 2005, I didn't find any. The hotel is in the process of a big renovation (another reason for the rate). You can't even go in the entrance that once was lined with Eagles fans, bunched behind ropes waiting for a glimpse of a player or coach; it's blocked by construction equipment. The lobby, all bright, sleek marble and glass now, looks nothing like the wicker-and-palm-tree warren it was then.
This all seemed fitting, because 8 1/2 years ago really might as well be 85 years, as far as the Eagles are concerned. No Eagle took the field for Saturday's preseason game who played in the Super Bowl; the last of those guys were kicker David Akers and safety Quintin Mikell, who left following the 2010 season. Reid is gone. The team is coming off a 4-12 year and hasn't won a playoff game since 2009.
My memories of that Super Bowl week are fragmentary and mostly inconsequential. I spent most of it in my room, churning out stories, or in the downtown media center, doing the same.
I remember how transfixed everyone was by the drama over Terrell Owens making it clear he planned to play with pins holding together his healing ankle, without his surgeon's blessing. I remember how Freddie Mitchell was miffed he wasn't one of the players who got a special podium for interviews; he was assigned to sit at a common table and hold forth. The loss to the Patriots in SB XXXIX would be the final NFL game of Freddie's odd career.
I remember how Reid had been to a couple of Super Bowls with the Packers, and seemed to take the circus atmosphere of the week in stride. I remember getting to talk to Andy's position coaches for the first time - Reid always made them off-limits, but the NFL controls access during Super Bowl week.
Despite staying in the team hotel, and being granted a few extra sessions with Reid and McNabb there, courtesy of Eagles media relations director Derek Boyko, we didn't interact with the team much. The Eagles were curtained off in the spaces where they ate and met. Their buses boarded at a back entrance.
Defensive tackle Corey Simon seemed to spend a lot of time in the lobby lounge. He might have been the only Eagle who did so; he's the only one I remember ever sitting with, anyway. Simon relished the opportunity, basked in being there, after living through three NFC title game disappointments. I think that was a common and understandable Eagles reaction, though it was one everyone played down in front of the cameras. You don't ever want to say you are happy just to finally be there. Even if you are.
I remember the weather was disappointing, especially to people who lacked a firm grasp of geography and thought all of Florida was like Miami. (Among those were the folks who conceived Comcast SportsNet's open-air set on the St. John's River, where it was always 45 degrees and windy.) Turns out, Jacksonville is just south of Georgia.
I remember Eagles fans everywhere, all week. I've covered 10 Super Bowl weeks, and I've never seen as many fans in the host city as there were Eagles fans in Jacksonville.
And I remember talking to then-offensive coordinator Brad Childress when the game was over, trying to get a coherent answer to why that famous clock-chewing touchdown drive was so ponderous. Childress said something about it not being just McNabb, that several factors intruded. I still don't know what he meant.
One thing the world does not need is yet another rehashing of pukegate. But I remember how blissfully unaware we were of the controversy to come when we met with Reid at the hotel early Monday morning to rehash the game. I don't remember anything that was said then, but I will stick with the conviction I formed during the game, in person - that the Eagles lost mostly because of McNabb's early shaky play, when they had a chance to take firm control, and because Jim Johnson's defense got steamrolled in the second half.
The aftermath, the legend that emerged once we all returned to Philadelphia, and talk radio found a narrative that better fueled a region's angry disappointment, I don't really connect that with Jacksonville, because it played out back in Philly.
This weekend, another reporter mentioned to a young Eagles player that he was staying at the Sawgrass, and that the team had stayed there for the Super Bowl.
"They had a Super Bowl in Jacksonville?" the player asked.
Yeah, they really did.