The last time the Eagles visited Chicago’s Soldier Field for a playoff game, the Bears and their fans got a bit perturbed at Philadelphia defensive end Hugh Douglas.
“I think now … I probably would be kicked out of the league,” Douglas, an Atlanta radio host these days, said Friday, when asked to reminisce.
On Jan. 19, 2002, an Eagles team that went 11-5 in the regular season visited the 13-3 Bears in the final game played at Soldier Field before extensive renovations that resulted in today’s stadium, which gives off the look of a massive alien spacecraft settled atop an historic venue. Then, as is the case this Sunday, the Eagles were underdogs, though that day they were coming off a wild-card round victory over Tampa Bay.
A couple of minutes into the second quarter, the Eagles leading 6-0, the Bears were driving, when Chicago quarterback Jim Miller lofted an ill-advised pass over the middle, trying to hit Dez White for a 25-yard touchdown. The pass was intercepted by Eagles safety Damon Moore in the end zone.
As Moore ran the ball back, Miller briefly jousted with Douglas, who was directly in front of him. Maybe the QB thought he could get past Douglas to tackle Moore, who was quite a ways downfield. Maybe Douglas thought he was being called upon to block for his teammate, who was, again, quite a ways downfield.
The encounter ended with Douglas, then a Pro Bowl edge rusher with crushing strength, more or less picking up Miller and slamming him into the frozen turf on his passing shoulder. Miller left the game for good with a shoulder separation. Backup Shane Matthews came in. He completed eight of 17 passes for 66 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions.
The Eagles won, 33-19, advancing to St. Louis and the first of four successive NFC championship games, and no, we aren’t going to venture further down that well-trod path today.
Though no penalty was assessed, the NFL fined Douglas $35,000. In the offseason, the league tweaked the rule about what you can do to a QB after he throws an interception, stressing that he has to be engaged in trying to tackle the returner if you’re going to blast him. The video clip explaining the change featured Douglas and Miller.
Douglas still maintains he was within the rules at the time, and was doing exactly what he was coached to do.
“At the time, even Troy Aikman said in the broadcast that I did nothing illegal, because you’re taught as a defensive lineman to get after the quarterback,” Douglas said. “When a quarterback throws a pick … he should get off the field. I did what I was told to do, what [the late defensive coordinator] Jim Johnson coached us to do. Go get the quarterback. Make sure he didn’t make the play.”
But you did just happen to deposit Miller on the ground in such a way that his throwing shoulder hit first, Hugh.
“Yes, I did,” Douglas said, chuckling. “He shouldn’t have tried to resist. Resistance is futile.”
Miller – now a radio analyst for the Bears, and a Sirius XM NFL radio host, by the way, maybe he and Douglas should do a show together – offered a restrained take afterward, saying he didn’t think Douglas would try to hurt him on purpose, and he would have to see the video before deciding the legality of the hit.
Matthews, the backup, was more outspoken. “The shot that put Jim out was dirty,” he said. “It was uncalled for, and it’s a shame.”
There was chirping during the game from other Bears, but Douglas said that afterward, as players from both teams milled about the field, no one took issue.
“I didn’t care. They didn’t do anything about it when I was out there. That’s all it was, was talk,” Douglas said. “The backup quarterback, he had something to say [to reporters]. He had nothing to say to me on the field.”
Douglas agrees the reaction to his hit was a step along the road to where the NFL is today, with regard to hitting the quarterback. “You can barely touch him,” Douglas said.
And as someone who still derives part of his income from the NFL’s popularity (boy, were his listeners upset over his support of the Eagles over the Falcons in last year’s playoffs), Douglas more or less agrees with the QB emphasis. “He’s the guy that makes the teams go,” and drives the TV ratings, Douglas said.
Seventeen years later, when Douglas thinks about that Bears game, he remembers his impression that the Eagles were being overlooked, that the Bears were “disrespectful … thinking that we were going to be a cakewalk.”
Current Eagles safeties coach Tim Hauck forced a fumble on a kickoff return that teammate Quinton Caver recovered. Current Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley gained 66 yards on 18 carries and caught seven passes for 54 and a touchdown. Quarterback Donovan McNabb’s return to his hometown was a solid triumph.
Douglas said he fed off a confident pregame vibe from corner Bobby Taylor, who was bantering with the defensive line. “I knew this was going to be a special day,” he said.
Douglas said he sees parallels with this group of underdog Eagles.
“The similarity that I see is that nobody is giving ‘em a chance,” he said. “You’re talking about [an Eagles] team with a bunch of veterans on that defensive line. I look at guys like Chris Long and Michael Bennett. Those cats right there, that’s a prideful group of guys. On the other side of the ball – [Lane] Johnson, Jason Kelce … I can’t see them allowing Khalil Mack to go out there and do his thing.”
Whatever happens Sunday, wrecking crews won’t move in right after the game and start their work on stadium renovations, as was the case that evening in 2002.