“Miracle” at the New Meadowlands

They are calling the Philadelphia Eagles’ 38-31 win over the New York Giants the game of the season. Others are calling it “a ‘where were you?’ game.”

I can answer that question easily. I was at home, not watching the game; by that point, I’d given up on the Eagles and decided to save myself the agitation of watching them play out the string while surrounded by annoying Steelers fans streaming into the sports bar where I was watching. (By way of background, I’d been getting more and more irritable throughout the game, beginning when the bar I was at, Silky’s in Squirrel Hill, decided to play the Saints-Ravens game with sound on, despite the dozen or so visible Eagles fans in the bar. I asked if the sound for the Eagles could be turned on, but was told it wasn’t possible. It’s not a big deal, except that Silky’s has done a brisk trade among Eagles fans all the time I’ve lived in Pittsburgh, and you’d think they would occasionally throw these patrons a bone, at least in this circumstance. The Steelers were not on until 4:15—none would dare ask that a Steelers game take second fiddle—and there were no fans in evidence watching the New Orleans-Baltimore game (presumably to “scout” the Ravens, or just to root against them). This resulted in the mildly absurd phenomenon of Ray Rice running up the middle for two yards on first down, with Dan Dierdorf calling it, and a bunch of cheers ringing out throughout the bar as something important happened in the silent Eagles game. I’m venting too much here, I realize, but it’s literally true that my first year in Pittsburgh, you could often hear “Fly, Eagles, Fly” after an Eagles touchdown. This is free extra money every Sunday for Silky’s, but their management seems not to realize it or not to care. If I owned a bar that was inexplicably patronized by a dozen loyal Broncos fans every Sunday, I think I might go with it.)

In any event, the Eagles’ first offensive success came with 3:56 left in the third quarter. Not “too little, too late” by any stretch, but the next couple possessions would determine whether the Eagles would come back or fall short. The Eagles held serve for a few possessions, and then, on a promising 30-yard pass play, DeSean Jackson fumbled. Replays of the fumble showed Jackson being touched by a Giants defender, falling to the ground, and the ball popping out, in that order. A slam-dunk reversal, especially for Andy Reid, a man who’s never been afraid to throw the red flag out on the field.

Except in this case; the cameras caught Reid standing with the flag beside the referee, holding it, holding it . . . surely about to throw it, right? The cameras moved back to the field, where Eli Manning was about to take the snap. Certainly Reid wouldn’t let them get the play off; a referee would run onto the field, waving his arms, blowing his whistle (silently, for those of us in the bar) and announcing (silently, again) that Philadelphia was challenging the ruling on the field that the play resulted in a fumble.

But no. Manning took the snap and handed off to Brandon Jacobs. Every Eagles fan in Silky’s—more of them than I had realized—groaned and yelled and cursed. I’d already settled my bar tab, already had my coat on against the draft. I couldn’t believe what a gutless and/or ignorant call Reid had made, so I left.

I’ve been kicking myself, of course, watching the highlights—especially the footage of DeSean Jackson winning the game, a moment that made me (and lots of others) think of this similar winning moment, courtesy of the great Brian Westbrook—and wishing I’d been a true fan and stayed ’til the bitter end. I’m quite sure, though, that if I were still in the bar several plays later, when Eli Manning threw to tight end Kevin Boss for a touchdown to make the score 31-10 with about eight minutes left to play, I would certainly have walked out then.

(Postscript: the similarities to the Westbrook game-winner are particularly eerie for me because I can remember suffering through that game—the Giants led 10-7 for the longest time, and the Eagles couldn’t do anything offensively—and finally deciding to pack it in. My Dad and I had to be at an aunt’s house for some kind of holiday event, and we figured we’d better get on the road. So we were driving, listening to the radio broadcast of the game, and caught Merrill Reese’s great call of Westbrook breaking free along the sideline to score. In that instance, at least, I can remember where I was when the play happened. For most of the scores on Sunday, I was sitting at my computer, clicking “Refresh” on Sports Illustrated’s play-by-play update, and have no idea exactly when any of these last big plays went off.)

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