Time for that annual Philly ritual: Eagles tanking in NFC title game

THE BALTIMORE SUN

I FEARED IT might come to this. The Philadelphia Eagles are going to host another NFC title game on Sunday at The Linc, and you all know what that means.

The Eagles should have to wear little yellow safety tags that say, May Present Choking Hazard.

Napoleon had Waterloo. Robert E. Lee had Gettysburg. The Eagles have the NFC championship game. They have been there over and over, and the same thing keeps happening.

Of course, if you're an Eagles fan (and, if you are, I'm guessing you stopped reading this column a couple of months ago), you're thinking that it can't possibly happen again. If the Red Sox can win the World Series after 86 years of futility, what's one lousy football game against the Atlanta Falcons?

Well, I've got news for you. The Iggles were heavy favorites yesterday and they covered the eight-point spread, but the Vikings had plenty of opportunities to knock them back on their heels - the kind of opportunities that a more resourceful team might just cash in.

The Falcons looked like that kind of team in their lopsided victory over the St. Louis Rams on Saturday, and flashy Michael Vick will be watching film all week and trying to improve on the things that mobile Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper did right yesterday, though it will be just as important to avoid the things he did wrong.

Don't get me wrong. I've got no rooting interest in the game (except for wanting the Eagles to lose really, really bad), but I think Donovan McNabb and Co. will have to play a lot better than they did yesterday to get to the Super Bowl.

Eagles receiver Freddie Mitchell poked a little fun at Vikings bad boy Randy Moss yesterday, celebrating a touchdown with a reverse of the Pant-O-Mime that earned Moss a $10,000 fine last week. Mitchell feigned pulling up his pants, much to the delight of the fans behind the end zone.

The Fox broadcast crew had plenty to say about the brief TD celebration, but - inexplicably - Fox did not show any replays. Apparently, the network is taking its duty to protect America from humor more seriously than Sun media columnist Ray Frager.

Stupid football tricks: The Vikings blew a chance to score an easy touchdown when Moss wandered off the field during a fake field-goal attempt in the first half, apparently unaware that he was the primary receiver in the trick play. Moss' mind cramp and a horrible decision by Culpepper in the second half - when he threw an interception over the middle with another receiver wide-open downfield - were just symptomatic of a self-defeating Minnesota game plan.

The Vikes didn't have the market cornered on dumb football. The Eagles let the clock run out at the end of the first half with the ball on the Minnesota 5-yard line, wasting the chance for a chip-shot field goal, and Mitchell turned a touchdown into a touchback with an ill-advised lunge for the goal line that resulted in a fumble.

I'm not making this up. The giant inflatable helmet that the Eagles run out of at Lincoln Financial Field is sponsored by Levitra. I guess the team wants to make sure it stays inflated for at least four hours.

News item: Figure skater Michelle Kwan won her record-tying ninth U.S. title on Saturday.

My take: That's terrific. Too bad we live in a sports world where she would have gotten more publicity for mooning the judges.

Here we go again. I took a lot of heat a few months ago for questioning whether figure skating is really a sport, and I haven't changed my position. Kwan is an amazing athlete, but I still have trouble getting my competitive juices flowing for any event where one of the major factors in the competition is what kind of music is playing in the background.

Final thought: Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart announced last week that he'll return for another season at USC, which is great news if you're one of those people who get a big charge out of watching the Trojans roll up 50 points a game against their hapless Pac-10 opponents. So I guess what I'm saying is, it's great news.

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