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Top 5 Eagles of the Decade

Top Five Eagles of the Decade

By Lance Epstein

Starting the new decade, the Eagles franchise is regarded as one of the top organizations in the NFL. For Eagles fans, this past decade was a golden era consisting of one Super Bowl appearance and five NFC Championships.

Granted the Eagles failed to capture a Lombardi Trophy in their trophy case but many place analysts placed them as the fourth best organization of the past ten years behind the Colts, Steelers and the Patriots. Numerous Eagles fans time and again complain about Andy Reid’s poor play calling and McNabb’s inability to win the big game (aka choke) but fail to realize the excellence the Eagles exhibited.

Fans overlook the fact that in 1990s the Eagles were not close to sniffing the Super Bowl. In fact, the decade saw more turmoil, less playoff appearances and not one NFC East title. To naïve Eagles fans the stroll down the memory lane for 90s is far more dreadful than these glory years.

The 90s began with the franchise losing the best defensive end to ever play the game in Reggie White to Green Bay via free agency. Before White bolted for the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, an enormous tragedy struck the Eagles as stud defensive tackle Jerome Brown died in a fatal car accident.

During the 90s the Eagles never advanced past the divisional round of the playoffs,. Also the organization found itself on the receiving end of not one but two thrashings by division rival Dallas in the divisional round and tallied a disheartening 2-4 post-season record.

If the lack of production in the post-season was not appalling enough, then consider some of the mediocre quarterbacks that starred for the birds.

The Eagles trotted out a has-been in Jim McMahon, a journeyman in Rodney Peete, the great false hype in Bobby Hoying and the forgotten man, Doug Pederson out of the tunnel on Sunday’s to start. Besides Randall Cunningham, the rest of the quarterbacks that put on the vintage kelly green jerseys were journeymen, run of the mill or horrific.

Frankly, the single greatest thing to happen during the decade was Jeffrey Lurie hiring Reid. Finally, Reid and Lurie established the “Gold Standard” and transformed the franchise from a laughing stock into a perennial powerhouse in the NFC.

While Eagles enthusiasts’ moan, groan and demand a regime change, the time has come to take a step back and recognize the top five players to bear a Eagles uniform for the past decade. Determining, which players made the top five were based on performance, influence on the team and staying power in Eagles lore.

With as much success as the Eagles boasted, there are a ton of players that unfortunately will not crack the list. Some of the Eagles’ honorable mentions were kicker David Akers who led the NFL in total points for the decade, sack artist Hugh Douglas, a dynamic left tackle Tra thomas, Pro bowl cornerbacks Sheldon Brown, Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent and safety valve in tight end Chad Lewis.

At five in the countdown there was a tie. At 5a of best Eagle of the decade is the man that everyone loves to hate, but he sure would “Love him some him” in Terrell Owens. Countless Eagles fanatics will scream and holler about why the man that single-handedly split a team apart and his greed are is considered in the top five?

The majority of die-hards, if not all, only remember the 2005 version of T.O.: A Owens counting the number of sit-ups he did in his driveway, taking a jabs at McNabb by stating “ I wasn’t the one who got tired in the Super Bowl”, and agent Drew Rosenhaus demanding a new contract for his client (who in the previous off-season signed a 7 year $49 million deal).

On top of that, Owens became the ultimate villain as he signed with the Cowboy. Despite those facts, take a step back and ask yourself this question: would the Eagles played in the Super Bowl without T.O. running McNabb’s record to a perfect 0-5 in NFC Championship games?

Yes, Owens did not step on the field during the playoff games against the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings but from day one he changed the attitude and provided a much-needed swagger to the Eagles.

Before their first regular season game, McNabb and T.O. were a huge hit. On the very the very first play together in the preseason, the two stars connected on an 81-yard touchdown. As soon as Eagles fans witness this dynamic duo strike, the hopes and dreams of a Super Bowl became semi-realistic.

Any of the disappointing memories of previous NFC Championship game defeats became as distant memory as the tandem connected for three touchdowns in the season opener against the hated New York Giants. The presence of Owens and his number one wide receiver skills supplied the Eagles with the explosiveness that had been lacking with Todd Pinkston and James Thrash.

Even though Cowboys safety Roy Williams broke Owens’ ankle just three weeks before the playoffs, his mindset carried on with the team. The Eagles discovered the toughness and cockiness to demolish their playoff opponents. Meanwhile the dedicated Owens did everything in his power to play in the Super bowl against the Patriots.

Just 6 1/2 weeks removed from breaking his ankle and nearly all analysts doubting the effectiveness if he suited up, he defied the odds. Owens took the field with two screws and a mental plate in his right ankle.

Not only did Owens take the field, he recorded nine catches for 122 yards. Without Owens, there is no telling whether the Eagles would have been blown out in the Super Bowl.

Albeit, the relationship between Owens and Philadelphia ended sourly (a big understatement), his contribution snapped the three consecutive NFC Championship game losses. Philly fans will always despise T.O., but his name is forever linked in Eagles lore.

Also at five is Reid’s first big free agent signing in right tackle Jon Runyan. A small amount of Eagles fans knew who Runyan was at the time the Eagles signed him in free agency in 2000. But his mean, nastiness and borderline dirty play altered the perception of the team.

His peers and the sports world particularly “Sports Illustrated” ranked him second in the NFL’s dirtiest players. San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman proclaimed Runyan as “one of the dirtiest players I’ve ever been against in my whole entire life. He was real good at being dirty."

Normally, a player might take offense to a comment like that but not Big Ol’ Jon Runyan. In fact, he embraced the accusation and criticized the players who did not appreciate his style.

"That’s the way the game’s supposed to be played,” Runyan said. “I think they’ve tried to change that over the years. It’s turned into a basketball game out there."

In 2008, players around the league gave Runyan another honor. They voted that being blocked by Runyan on screen pass was one of the scariest parts of playing in the NFL.

His personality and blue-collar work ethic is what made Runyan such a beloved figure in Philadelphia. His work ethic contributed to him setting a record 190 straight regular season starts for an offensive lineman (208 including playoffs).

Every time the Eagles took the field, fans knew he would be there anchoring the line. During his last season in Philly (2009), Eagles supporters fell more in love with him. Runyan preformed from mid-season with a right knee that required microfracture surgery in the off-season.

His blue-collar attitude and physical nature related well with the fan base. All the while his frame of mind changed a mediocre offensive line into one of the most dreaded to play against in the NFL.

Although he left to join the hate Washington Redskins, the Axeman never forgot his roots and places fourth of top Eagles of the 2000s.

The Eagles drafted the “undersized” Jeremiah Trotter in 1998 out of the small school Stephen F. Austin. In spite of this, he began his Eagles career with a bang; in his second season and first full season as a starter at middle linebacker, he recorded a 174 tackles. The following season (2000) Trotter finished with a 164 tackles leading the team in that category yet again.

In his first duty with the Eagles, Trotter totaled 361 tackles, nine sack, five interceptions and four forced fumbles. While his numbers were impressive, Trotter’s knees had begun to deteriorate and the organization moved in another direction.

After two-year hiatus with the Redskins and a blown knee, Reid called his former player to ask him how his recovery was coming along. Finally, the Eagles welcomed home Trotter in the 2004 offseason.

In 2003, the Eagles were ranked in the bottom half of the league in run defense in the NFL. Trotter’s first season back with the Eagles he proved his weight in gold by making the Pro Bowl and more importantly he solidified the run defense.

The eternally grateful Trotter thank the lord for leading him back to his home and brought a smile to Eagles fans when he proclaimed he was an Eagle for life.

"I am an Eagle for life," Trotter said. "Why would I want to go anywhere else?"

Trotter again made the Pro Bowl in 2006, but the following year a younger and more all around athletic linebacker named Omar Gaither replaced him. Despite his release, his leadership and class were on full display in his emotional news conference.

"Everyone gets to this point in their career at some point or another,” a teary eyed Trotter said. “Now it's my time. I'm just thankful that I spent this many years here in Philadelphia. I truly believe that if you were to cut me I'd bleed green. Even when I went away for those two years (in Washington) I was always an Eagle at heart, and I will always remain an Eagle."

Just as Eagles fans thought they saw the last of Trotter, Reid shocked them and the NFL world. The signing of Trotter this past season was due to the deficiency of leadership with the departure of Dawkins and the torn ACL that ended from All-Pro Stewart Bradley’s season. Trotter was used mostly on running downs but his leadership that the birds desperately desired.

While the Axeman did not play at the same level Eagles fans came accustomed to over the years, but it gave them another chance to appreciate a man who poured his heart and soul to the franchise. His numbers with the Eagles were 116 games, 576 tackles, 11 sacks, seven interceptions, seven force fumbles and two defensive touchdowns. Trotter’s heart, leadership and talent easily earns him fourth spot on the list of top Eagles of the decade.

At number three you can find the most underrated running back in the NFL over the past decade in Brian Westbrook. In 2002, Reid drafted a smallish 5’8, injury prone running back from his own backyard in the third round. No one knew at the time that the Villanova product would become arguably the best running back in Eagles history.

If you ask any Eagles fan the exact moment that Westbrook arrived, they will all point to an Oct. 19, 2003 meeting against the Giants in the Meadowlands. With the Eagles sputtering and the team down 10-7 with about two minutes left in the game, Reid sent Westbrook out to receive a punt. Not only did he return the punt, he took it to the house for the win and the momentum of the victory carried all the way through the season.

In 2004, Westbrook finally got his opportunity to shine as a starting running back with an injury to Correll Buckhalter and Duce Staley signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The elusive Westbrook received Pro Bowl honors and led all Eagles in receptions (73) and receiving yards. Also, in his first season as starter the Eagles made it to super Sunday, where he combined for 104 yards and a touchdown reception.

Westbrook’s soon became the engine to the Eagles offensive with his game breaking talent and match-up problems with opposing teams' defenses. The 2006 season saw him rushed for 1,217 yards and he lead the team with 77 receptions and 11 touchdowns. He followed his 2006 season with a career high 1,333 rushing yards, a Pro Bowl appearance and topped the NFL total yards from scrimmage with 2,104 yards.

During this past season, Wesbtrook suffered two concussions and his Eagles career appears to be in jeopardy. Nonetheless, if he is released, Westy will finish the decade with 5,995 rushing yards. Only Wilbert Montgomery with 6,538 rushing yards has more than him in Eagles history.

His skills as a receiver made him the focal point of opposing defenses game plans, thus a distinct advantage over Montgomery for best Eagles running back of all-time. Furthermore, he led the Eagles in rushing for six straight seasons from 2003-2008, along with being third all-time in Eagles touchdowns with 68.

Over the last eight years, Eagles fans have been privileged to witness one of the best players to ever wear an Eagle uniform. If released or he decides to retire due to knee/concussion problems, Westbrook provided a plethora of thrills, memories and stats, which may never be duplicated.

On the morning of March 1, 2009, the city of Philadelphia collectively mourned when the second best Eagle of the decade, Brian Dawkins signed with the Denver Broncos. During Weapon X’s 13-year career in Philly, he devoted his heart and soul to fans of the city.

In return, he was deemed an icon, truth be told the fans viewed him as a football god. Drafted in the second round of the 1996 draft by the Eagles, Dawk started 182 of 183 games in an Eagles uniform. As an Eagle, he recorded seven Pro Bowl appearances, five All Pro nominations, 34 interceptions, 21 sacks and 898 tackles.

Late in the decade Dawkins joined the illustrious 20/20 club (20 interceptions and 20 sacks), which only nine players all-time in NFL history have ever accomplished. His most distinct admiration of his play came when “Sporting News” ranked him No. 1 on the list of “Guys You Don't Want Bearing Down On You.”

As his stardom grew and the legend of the infamous number 20 swelled with the fan’s recounting their favorite Dawk moment. Whether it was the memorable “flyin’ Dawk” tackle on a defenseless Giants receiver, the renowned “Dawkplex” on then ESPN’s Sunday Night Football or bone crushing below on Michael Vick in the 2004 NFC Championship game.

However, there were two sides to B-Dawk, the man on and the man off the field. Off the field he was a true gentlemen. A man of god, a man who was fascinated by the cartoon character Wolverine.

Once he hit the tunnel, Dawkins transformed into Weapon X: a headhunter, inspirational leader and the heartbeat of the Philadelphia Eagles defense.

Perhaps the game he is most remembered for is the one that made ‘Brian Dawkins’ a household name. In the 2002 match-up against the Houston Texans, he became the first and only player in NFL history to record a sack, an interception, a fumble recovery and a touchdown reception in a game.

Maybe he is best remembered for the biggest interception in his career, which occurred against the legendary Brett Favre. The Packers won the overtime coin toss and elected to receive the kick-off. Weapon X sealed the Eagles’ third consecutive trip to the NFC Championship game with an interception on the very first play.

However most fans reflect upon the most recent inspiration of Dawkins. The team’s slogan down the stretch was “Let’s do it for Dawk”.

After a hard fought emotional win against the defending champion Giants, Dawkins broke down and wept. The reasoning symbolized the person he was; he cried tears of joy for his love of the city and teammates. That motivating, adoring leader willed the city, his teammates and coaches all the way to the NFC Championship game against Arizona.

Besides his play on the field, what really etched his name in the hearts of every Eagle fan was his enthusiasm, his unique ability to relate to them. Dawkins symbolized what the fans required, no demanded from their athletes, which was to give every ounce of their soul to the game: leaving everything on the field.

To understand how beloved of an athlete and how much this one particular player means to the Eagles, a person only needs to observe the day Dawkins signed with Denver.

On the day Dawk changed his home address to Denver, Colorado it seemed like the entire city of Philadelphia called up sports talk denouncing their fandom for the Eagles. Meanwhile, Dawkins attempted to thank the fans but before he could utter the words, he began bawling and ended the interview.

Without a doubt the most accurate quote on Brian Dawkins’ impact to the Eagles this past decade and to the franchise came upon his exit.

The Eagles will obviously miss Dawkins on the field, but his off-the-field contributions cannot be measured in dollar signs… Dawkins signed with the Denver Broncos on Friday — a day from which it will take the Eagles years to recover.”

In a blue-collar, no nonsense type of city known for its harsh treatment of athletes, his relationship with the fans truly defined “brotherly love”.

Finally, the top Eagles of the decade is also the player fans would blame if the apocalypse occurred. The best Eagle of the past decade is Donovan McNabb.

Hard to believe that with the second pick in 1999 draft, there was even a debate between selecting running back Ricky Williams or McNabb. It is even more incredible to think about the fans booing a player that transformed the Eagles into perennial winners.

At the end of 1999, McNabb started his first game as an Eagle and the franchise has never looked back since. During his first year as a starting quarterback, McNabb reached the Pro Bowl and finished second in the leagues MVP voting, largely due to the staggering 74.6 percent of the Eagles total offense.

The next season McNabb again reached the Pro Bowl. What was notable was number five guiding the Eagles to the NFC Championship game against the Rams: a height that the organization hadn’t seen since their 1980 Super Bowl run.

Heading into the 2002 season, analyst predicted the Eagles not only get to the Super Bowl, but also win the title. However, in week 11 at Veterans Stadium, the Eagles hopes took a gigantic blow on the third play of the game. McNabb’s ankle snapped backwards.

At the time, the Eagles taped the ankle saying it was merely a sprain. Little did they or Don know the X-ray would reveal a broken ankle. In one of the gutsiest performances of the decade, McNabb threw for one of his best passing games of his career. He finished 20-25 for 255 yards and four touchdowns.

McNabb missed the next six games but return and looked poised to reach the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, the Buccaneers closed out the Vet and the Eagles dreams with a 27-10 win in the NFC Championship game.

The controversy began to reach the national stage in 2003. First, McNabb had to deal with ESPN commentator Rush Limbaugh’s insensitive comments. Limbaugh asserted that McNabb was overrated because America desired for an African America quarterback to do well. Along with enduring those remarks, the Eagles found themselves at 0-2 to start the season.

Eventually, the Eagles and McNabb turned their season around by securing the number one seed in the NFC and reaching the NFC Championship game. Yet again, McNabb came up short as the panthers advanced to their first ever Super Bowl. Once more McNabb was in the center of controversy as a heated the debate in Philadelphia grew of whether McNabb could lead them to the promise land.

McNabb supporters argued that his wide receivers were awful and to blame (Pinkston and Thrash as starters). Considering his wide receivers combined for a total of five touchdown receptions (the fewest in a season since the expansion to a 16 game schedule in 1978), they had a valid point. Nevertheless, Eagles fans’ years of frustration put the blame on McNabb’s shoulders.

In an attempt to revamp the Eagles roster, Reid and Joe Banner finally gave him the number one receiver in Terrell Owens that the media, fans and the nation had been urging the Eagles to do for years. The 2004 season turned out to be the best season of McNabb’s illustrious career. His 104.7 quarterback rating was the highest of his 11-year career and he threw for 3,875 passing yards along with a career high 31 touchdown passes.

More importantly, he won two playoff games and finally reached the elusive Super Bowl. Still, just reaching the Super Bowl was not enough for Eagles fans who had not seen a championship parade since the 1983 Sixers (in football 1960).

As the Patriots went onto win their third championship in four years, McNabb became the goat again due to his three costly interceptions. If being the goat by the fans was not enough, the following two season would be nightmares for McNabb.

First, in the 2005 off-season season began with a rift between he and Owens. Owens called out him out and pinpointed him for the Super Bowl loss. Eventually the turmoil became too much and Owens was dismissed from the team (later released from the team). Ultimately for McNabb things went from bad to worse, as a sports hernia on a Monday Night Football against Dallas ended his season.

The next season, the injury bug struck again but this time far worse. In a week 11 match-up against the Tennessee Titans, McNabb torn his ACL running out of bounce. What seemed bad at the time for McNabb got even worse as back-up Jeff Garcia brought the Eagles back from the dead and into the playoffs. This started a new discussion on whether it was time to let McNabb fly away from the Eagles nest.

Compounding the McNabb trade rumors was Reid shockingly drafting quarterback Kevin Kolb in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft. Reid and the Eagles organization said Kolb was an insurance policy incase McNabb’s knee never fully healed but Donovan was their guy.

Recovering from a torn ACL is tough but having to look over your shoulder at the eventually heir apparent made it even harder. The Eagles finished the 2008 season at 8-8 but McNabb showed glimpses of what made him a star. He led the team to three straight wins to end the season and built some momentum heading into 2008. Meanwhile, reports surfaced again that McNabb was on his way out and Kolb would be the starter in 2009.

Despite of the rumors, McNabb came back and eventually had a renaissance season in Philly. The Eagles gave him a new weapon when drafting playmaking wide receiver DeSean Jackson out of California. An acquisition, which helped put the Eagles on the brink of Super Bowl contention.

In week 3, the Eagles beat the eventual Super Bowl Champions at home without star running back Brian Westbrook. However, just as promising as the season started out to be, the Eagles had an embarrassing tie (which exposed McNabb’s lack of knowledge of the NFL’s sudden death overtime rule). The subsequent week had McNabb being benched in a 10-7 game at the half against the Ravens. As McNabb sat and watch, the media anointed the beginning of the Kolb era.

Reid proclaimed McNabb would be his quarterback for the next week and the foreseeable future. An angered McNabb soared over the last five weeks of the regular season. In the season finale, he and the Eagles dismantled the Cowboys 44-6 and clinched a playoff berth.

The red-hot Eagles shutdown the Minnesota Vikings and flattened the Giants in the playoffs. Although déjà vu struck again as the Eagles lost a nail bitter out in the desert to the Arizona Cardinals. Although McNabb could not be entirely blamed for the loss.

This past season, McNabb finally had weapons he and fans have been dreaming about: an up and coming wide receiving core consisting of Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. A legitimate threat at tight end for the first season since Chad Lewis retired in Brent Celek.

Entering the last week of the season the Eagles in control of their own destiny for a first round bye but the Cowboys shutout the Eagles. A rematch loomed the very next week in the playoffs, where Dallas again pummeled the Eagles.

Today, the question for what feels like the 100th time in McNabb’s career is, will he be back as an Eagles? Whatever the Eagles decide, the fans have been far to harsh on the quarterback that has brought them five NFC Championship games, one Super bowl appearance and the most prosperous era in Eagles football.

Through an injury filled 11-years, McNabb restored glory to the Eagles franchise. On his way to doing so, he surpassed Ron Jaworski as the best quarterback in the franchise history. McNabb holds Eagles records in touchdown passed (216), passing yards (32,873), wins and most playoff victories. Furthermore, McNabb has the second best touchdown-to-interception ratio of 216 touchdowns to 100 interceptions.

Before McNabb is dealt away like other Philly stars such as Charles Barkley, Wilt Chamberlain, Allen Iverson and Curt Schilling, fans should consider where would the organization be without him. McNabb might not have won the ultimate prize, but sometimes you do not realize how good you have it until it is gone…

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