BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The downside to getting a Super Bowl rematch with the New England Patriots will hit Eagles fans like a burst of cold Minneapolis air this week. Before Sunday night’s kickoff at U.S. Bank Stadium finally arrives, you will have to live through the nightmare of Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Fla., over and over and over again.
The NFL Network will replay the Feb. 6, 2005 game ad nauseam. ESPN will pull out highlights from New England’s 24-21 victory. Terrell Owens will take some more verbal shots at Donovan McNabb. And we’ll keep wondering why the Eagles weren’t in more of a hurry to score when they were down by 10 points with less than six minutes to play.
Sure, you have the option of flipping the channel to Big Bang Theory reruns or watching a Netflix movie, but that Super Bowl is like a gruesome train wreck. You want to turn away, but the gory details keep you staring in disbelief. Shortly after checking into my hotel room early Sunday afternoon, I turned on the NFL Network just as McNabb was leading the Eagles on their final, chaotic touchdown drive of the game. I sat. I watched. I remembered.
My recollection of that Super Bowl is quite vivid and somewhat fond. It was my second year as the Eagles’ beat writer for the Inquirer and the aftermath of that excruciating loss was fascinating to report. Somewhere in a storage bin I still have the VCR tape of the game that I watched for hours in an effort to dissect exactly what had and had not happened. Despite my best efforts to unveil the truth, the narrative has never changed.
McNabb puked. McNabb choked. It was all McNabb’s fault. Andy Reid will never win the big game.
The truth is, McNabb actually gave a good account of what happened that night immediately after the game.
“If it wasn’t for the turnovers, it might have been a blowout,” McNabb said, pinning the blame for the Eagles’ Super Bowl loss on his own shoulders.
The season-high four turnovers were far more consequential than what happened on the late fourth-quarter drive that resulted in a 30-yard touchdown pass from McNabb to Greg Lewis. Twice in the first quarter, the Eagles moved into New England territory without scoring a point. The first drive was snuffed by a Rodney Harrison interception near the goal line on an underthrown McNabb pass. The second one was aborted by an L.J. Smith fumble after a completion had put the Eagles in field-goal range.
Two field goals there and it’s a different game, but no one remembers the first quarter. Everyone remembers the fourth quarter. Everyone remembers the Eagles’ final scoring drive with Patriots coach Bill Belichick on the sideline asking if the scoreboard was malfunctioning.
“We’re ahead by 10 points, right?” Belichick asked. “Do I have the score right?”
When it became apparent that the Eagles were going to get their rematch with the Patriots in Super Bowl LII, I was in Foxborough, Mass., surrounded by New York writers at the AFC championship game. One of them mentioned how McNabb puked in the last Super Bowl between the teams.
He did not, of course, but that’s the story and it’s as entrenched in NFL history as George Washington’s cherry-tree encounter is in United States history. McNabb did struggle to catch his breath during the final drive, but two sources told me a couple of weeks after the Super Bowl that it was because he had taken a hit in the back from Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi with 3:26 remaining.
McNabb recovered with an 11-yard completion to Freddie Mitchell and hit a wide-open Brian Westbrook in the hands on the next play. It is seldom mentioned in revisiting that Super Bowl that Westbrook had a crucial drop on the play that might have resulted in a touchdown with well over two minutes left. That’s significant because the Eagles, with two timeouts remaining and the benefit of the two-minute warning, would have kicked off instead of trying what became an unsuccessful onside kick with under two minutes left. The Eagles got the ball back with 46 seconds left on their own 4-yard line with no timeouts remaining and McNabb threw his third interception of the game.
McNabb’s one trip to the Super Bowl had been a disaster, but, despite public perception, not one entirely of his own doing. Terrell Owens, playing with a pin in his leg, became a Super Bowl hero for having nine catches for 122 yards. In less than a month he’d publicly turn on McNabb — “I’m not the one who got tired in the Super Bowl,” he said — and begin his quest for a new contract. T.O. refueled his feud with McNabb last week when he went on a Sirius XM radio show and said, “Me, personally, I don’t do well with two-faced people.”
Attempts to reach McNabb Monday were unsuccessful, but it’s a pretty safe bet that Super Bowl LII is not going to be any better for him than Super Bowl XXXIX.
Typically, a player of McNabb’s stature would be prominent during a Super Bowl rematch of a game that happened only 13 years ago. McNabb made an appearance earlier this season in the Eagles’ locker room after a game against Arizona, but he has disappeared from the public eye since being fired by ESPN after he was named in a sexual harassment suit by a former NFL Network employee in December.
No one needs to feel sorry for McNabb, but it would be nice if what actually happened in the last Super Bowl between the Eagles and Patriots was more about the facts than the myth of a quarterback puking and choking.