One dream of redemption ... one of dynasty
What it will take for the long-suffering Eagles to win the Super Bowl - and how the Patriots plan to stop them.
JACKSONVILLE, FLA. — In pregame practices this week at a local high school, the New England Patriots are preparing for potentially the biggest game in franchise history with a drill called the "dirty show."
As quarterback Tom Brady attempts to run the Patriots' offense, a special defensive squad is unleashed to do everything it can to disrupt and rattle the two-time Super Bowl MVP.
"We are playing a team with a great defense and great defensive coaches who always seem to have their players in the right place," says Brady. He says the game-time challenge for him in facing the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX will be to remain calm and confident in the center of the storm.
In a sense, the "dirty show" drill is an indication of respect for the Philadelphia Eagles' quick, stealthy defense. And it offers a preview of what New England's coaches believe could be a key factor in the National Football League's championship game Sunday.
The Eagles make no secret of their goal. "Tom Brady, he's the key," says linebacker Dhani Jones. "He's the guy you have to go after."
For the Patriots, Sunday's game is a defining moment for a football organization that has already won two of the last three Super Bowls. It is their opportunity to demonstrate just how good they are.
Both of New England's prior Super Bowl victories, in 2002 and 2004, came on the foot of kicker Adam Vinatieri. But what is most impressive about the Patriots is that when their backs are to the wall, they find a way to win. The team under Brady is 8-0 in postseason play.
In an era of free-agent stardom, Patriots coach Bill Belichick prefers to make stars rather than buy them. His is a work ethic that stresses teamwork, practice, attention to detail, perfection.
And his players seem to understand what many others in the NFL don't: Good players who work together have an opportunity to achieve something none could realize alone - greatness.
For the Eagles, meanwhile, Sunday's game marks a potential beginning of great things from a team loaded with talent. It is the first time in 24 years that Philly has made it to the Super Bowl. In 1981, the Eagles lost 27-10 to the Oakland Raiders.
Just getting to the Super Bowl this year was a significant accomplishment for a hungry Eagles club that knows how to win games - although often not the ones that matter most. Since head coach Andy Reid took over the 3-13 Eagles in 1999, he has racked up the highest winning percentage (66.4 percent) among active NFL coaches. But the Eagles suffered season-ending losses in the NFC championship game three straight years. This year was different, with Philly defeating the Atlanta Falcons through a combination of scrappy defense and solid offense led by quarterback Donovan McNabb.
"Whenever you get as close as we are right now, you can taste it," McNabb says.
McNabb was particularly effective during the regular season, in part because of the explosive play of wide receiver Terrell Owens. "McNabb to Owens" became a frequent refrain for Eagles announcers, with Owens snagging 77 receptions for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns.
But the all-pro wideout went down with a severe ankle injury in December. His doctor said he would need at least 10 weeks to recover - too long to play in the Super Bowl.
But Owens says he feels pretty good and plans to play if called upon. How effective he might be remains unclear. Another injury would not threaten his career, doctors say, but Owens will need all the speed and agility he can muster to elude New England's swarming defenders.
Owens says his fast recovery after only six weeks is not surprising to him. "This is what a lot of people don't understand," he says. "I am here because God has put me in this position to be here."
Although the list of potential tide-turning matchups between the Eagles and the Patriots is long, perhaps the most important face-off is between a group of individuals who will never set foot on the field of play. There is a reason why coaches are signing huge contracts: They are increasingly important to the process of winning.
If Philadelphia wins, it will come in large part because of the genius of Jim Johnson, the Eagles defensive guru. Johnson is a master of the surprise attack - the well-timed blitz that punctuates relentless pressure on the quarterback.
To counteract it will be the job of Charlie Weis, the Patriot's offensive coordinator, who is slated to leave to become head coach at Notre Dame next Monday. The "dirty show" drills the Patriots have been running this week are preparation for just this matchup.
Eagles defensive end Jevon Kearse says that given New England's balanced offense, the Eagles defense must attack from the start. "You have no choice but to go in and give them all you have," he says.
On the field, it will be up to Brady to maintain his composure and make the Eagles pay a price for blitzes and double coverage. Off the field, assistant coaches Weis and Johnson - and by extension head coaches Reid and Belichick - will be locked in a behind-the-scenes chess match of strategy and deception.
"We've really got our work cut out for us," says Eagles wide receiver Todd Pinkston. "It's going to be a dogfight, and may the best team win."