On Sunday, the Eagles completed the greatest comeback in franchise history with an ending that this team has seen twice before: the miracle at the Meadowlands.
The three plays will be forever etched in Philadelphia Eagles lore. They are so similar, in fact, that I must compare them to see which was the greatest.
First let’s review the miracles for those of you who are not history buffs.
The first miracle occurred on November 19, 1978, as cornerback Herman Edwards scooped up a fumble and dashed 26 yards for the game-winning touchdown in the closing seconds.
The second miracle happened on October 19, 2003, as rookie running back Brian Westbrook returned a punt 84 yards for a game-winning touchdown with just over a minute remaining.
And the third miracle took place on December 19, 2010, as receiver DeSean Jackson fumbled a punt, scooped it up, and darted 65 yards for the first walkoff touchdown in the history of the National Football League.
So which one is the third best? Second? And which is the best?
3) Miracle at the Meadowlands II (2003).
Quarterback Donovan McNabb suffered through one of the worst games of his professional career. He completed 9 of 23 passes for 64 yards and an interception. (In fairness, it’s worth mentioning that he was severely hampered by a broken right thumb for the first few weeks of the 2003 season.)
The Eagles were 2-3 and saw their season slipping away. While a 2-4 start wouldn’t necessarily equal no playoffs, it would mean the Eagles needed to likely win eight of the final 10 games to appear in January.
With 1:30 to play, the Eagles trailed 10-7 but the Giants had to punt. Rookie running back and return man Brian Westbrook fielded the punt on one bounce. I’ll let Merrill Reese tell the rest of the story.
“He gets it away, it’s a wobbler. Bounces across the 20. Westbrook takes it, looks for running room. Up to the 25, the 30, to the 35, 40. 45, midfield. 45, 40. 35, 30. Brian Westbrook! He’s going, he’s gone! Touchdown! Brian Westbrook 84 yards! I don’t believe it! Brian Westbrook has just exploded. This place is in a state of shock!”
The Eagles won the game 14-10 and improved to 3-3 for the season. They won eight more games in a row, ending the season with home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
Their season ended with a loss to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC championship game.
Westbrook’s punt return is fondly remembered as the play that saved the season for the Eagles in 2003. It is the signature moment of his NFL career and ranks as one of the greatest regular season moments in Philadelphia Eagles history.
2) Miracle at the Meadowlands I (1978).
The Eagles were 6-5 heading into the game. The Giants were 5-6. Both teams desperately needed a victory to stay alive in the postseason race.
The Giants took a commanding 14-0 lead and lead 17-12 with just 31 seconds to play. They had the ball with 3rd and 2 coming up.
Because Eagles’ linebacker Bill Bergey had charged into center Jim Clack, knocking him backwards into quarterback Joe Pisarcik in an attempt to force a fumble, the Giants didn’t want to risk kneeling the ball again and causing injury to their quarterback.
Offensive coordinator Bob Gibson called for a running play, much to the displeasure of the entire Giants team, especially running back Larry Csonka, who begged Pisarcik to not give him the ball.
As Pisarcik called the snap, he was distracted, and the ball bounced off his finger, cutting it open. He bobbled the ball but it bounced off Csonka’s hip and hit the ground.
Because defensive coordinator Marion Campbell had called an all-out 11-man blitz, cornerback Herman Edwards was in position to scoop up the football on one bounce and dash 26 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
The play resulted in the firing of Gibson, who has not coached at football since and refuses to discuss the play. Pisarcik needed a police escort to get to his car.
And the play vaulted the Eagles into the postseason for the first time in 18 years, while the Giants finished last in the division.
Two years later, the Eagles appeared in the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. The Giants’ franchise was set back several years, until the drafting of Lawrence Taylor, arguably the greatest defensive player in history.
1) Miracle at the Meadowlands III (2010).*
Sunday’s punt return concluded the greatest game and greatest comeback in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles.
DeSean’s punt return was arguably the greatest regular season play in Philadelphia Eagles history.
And for that, DeSean Jackson’s return must rank first among the three miracles.
However, for Jackson’s miracle return to stay at the top of the charts, Sunday’s game must turn into much more than a win.
The Eagles need to win the division, which is pretty much a given. They need to make a deep run into the postseason.
And the play should either signal the downward spiral of the New York Giants, or the upwards climb of the Philadelphia Eagles. or both.
It would help if Tom Coughlin was fired and the Giants struggled for several seasons. And the Eagles must keep the spark they showed in the last eight minutes of Sunday’s game to achieve a new level of success they”ve never reached before.
For this play to truly rank as the unquestioned best Miracle at the Meadowlands, the Philadelphia Eagles need to win a Super Bowl trophy.
And the fact that I kept this play at the top of the three should tell you exactly what I think is going to happen this season.
For the first time in my life, I have legitimate expectation for a Lombardi trophy. This season.