Bob Ford | Birds' fortunes fit for jazz city: They swing

The 2006 Eagles season has, in turn, been a season of expectation, no expectation, and don't-know-what-to-expect.

Those who have figured it out should report immediately to Stephen Hawking and help him smooth those last wrinkles from the string theory of physics. If you can explain the path of the Eagles since Sept. 10, then explaining quantum gravity should be no more difficult than explaining a Nancy and Sluggo story line.

For me, I'm stumped, and that stumped will be trumped if the Eagles can find a way to beat the New Orleans Saints, those Deliverers of the Delta, those Godsends of the Gulf, those Healers of the Houseless, and those Beacons of the Bayou.

Beating Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, Deuce McAllister and Marques Colston won't be a stroll through Jackson Square, either, but first the Eagles will have to wade through a tidal wave of noise and emotion just to get to the Louisiana Superdome playing field.

Makes going to the Meadowlands not seem like so much any more.

On paper, and by sheer logic, it would seem that the Eagles' stretch run into the playoffs and beyond - a six-game streak - is scheduled for an abrupt halt tomorrow night in a hostile environment against what looks like a better team.

In other seasons, and two of them come quickly to mind, the Eagles didn't have that kind of game standing between them and the Super Bowl but still failed to advance. Home losses in NFC championship games to Tampa Bay in the 2002 season, the last game at the Vet, and to Carolina in the 2003 season - those weren't supposed to happen.

So in the same way that no one goes out the door expecting to find a $20 bill on the sidewalk, perhaps this will become the season of surprises that has many more of them planned.

"We've been at this thing a long time," said linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. "We've been right there at the doorstep and couldn't close the deal. You never know. The year you think you're going to do it, it ain't going to happen. The year you think you don't have a chance, it could happen."

Beating the Saints, if you choose to look at it this way, would be no more shocking than anything else that has taken place.

Here's a quick list of events this season that weren't necessarily expected:

The Eagles, coming off a 6-10 season that stunk on ice, win four of their first five games and, despite having a shackled running game and a receiving corps that drew preseason snickers, have the No. 1 offense in the league.

The Eagles forget how to block and tackle and lose four of their next five, getting beaten along the way by two field goals at the gun, including a 62-yarder. As an uplifting finale to that stretch, they lose Donovan McNabb to a season-ending knee injury.

After a rump-roasting in Indianapolis with jittery Jeff Garcia as the new starting quarterback - a move endorsed by, oh, zero percent of the population - the Eagles remember how to block and tackle, are revitalized by the play calling of Marty Mornhinweg (something that never happened in Detroit), unleash Brian Westbrook, see Garcia do his Joe Montana imitation, and win their last five regular-season games, including the rare division-on-road sweep.

Just your average season, all in all, and capped Sunday by the celebrated return of Koy Detmer, which, let's face it, wasn't high on the predicted-event list, either.

Beating the Saints would be just more of the same, although it is hard to come up with a scenario that will provide that outcome. The improbability piled higher when Lito Sheppard dislocated his elbow and when Thomas Tapeh hurt his knee in practice. It grows monumental when you consider just how due the Eagles are to play a true stinker of a game. Garcia was very fortunate that the opposition dropped several passes that should have been interceptions. And the defense has remembered to tackle for quite a while now, a switcheroo that could end any time.

That is healthy skepticism, or unhealthy cynicism depending on one's point of view. But regardless, it misses the point of this season: There doesn't have to be a point that makes sense.

"You just try to take every day one day at a time, enjoy the ride along the way, and hope for the best," Trotter said.

Locally, we have become used to great expectations with this team, a change that happened so quickly the past grows dim. Remember that the Eagles played 12 postseason games in the 20 years before Andy Reid's first playoff season in 2000. Tomorrow, they play their 14th postseason game in his eight seasons as coach.

Not bad, but it is like a sugar rush that leaves you strung out on the couch when it fades. That happened somewhere in November, back when the expectations reached their expiration date and the Super Bowl clock stopped ticking.

Now, no one knows really what to expect. There will be a game tomorrow. It will be loud, and it will be difficult. The Eagles will show up. Somewhere, there is a sidewalk upon which a $20 bill has fluttered to rest.

Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or Read his recent work at