Judge Jeff Andreasen loves his sports teams as much as the next guy, but geez! It's only a game!
The Philadelphia Eagles are the Buffalo Bills of the '00s NFC: the class of the weaker conference and a football team in search of their first championship since the 1960s. It was forty-four years between the Philadelphia Eagles' last NFL Championship, in 1960 over the Green Bay Packers, and their breakthrough 2004 season, when they went 13-3, their best record ever, conquered all their divisional opponents by the combined score of 164-71, swept through the NFC playoffs like a Philadelphia blizzard and…didn't win an NFL Championship. Yes, it's now forty-five years since the Eagles' last NFL Championship. And counting.
2004 NFC Champions: The Philadelphia Eagles begins on a wretched note, with everyone from Ron Jaworski, starting quarterback on the Eagles' 1980 Super Bowl team, to former Philly mayor Ed Rendell, to sports psychologist Dr. Joel Fish, all bemoaning Philadelphia's futility in sporting success. The pall that seems to descend over the lives of the entire population when their sports heroes whiff in crunch time is, indeed, psychotic. There's a particularly pathetic bit with Joe Eagle fan Ernie Clark and his beleaguered wife, Anne, on the NFC Championship extra. It will make you cry.
Many cities have experienced sporting heartbreak over the last few decades, but none seem to take it as hard for as long as Philadelphia. Being from Upstate New York, I consider myself something of a Buffalo man, and tell me that city hasn't experienced some sporting woe. But Buffalo doesn't dwell on four consecutive Superbowl defeats or the Sabres being robbed in the final game of the '99 Stanley Cup or…well, okay, maybe we dwell a little. The point is, after falling short so often or being really bad for a prolonged period, you'd figure a city would get used to it and not fall into a self-pitying coma for weeks following yet another stellar choke. Let's face it, if Cincinnati and Cleveland can give "Oh, well" shrugs after a playoff or World Series defeat, Philly doesn't have much to cry about.
Mercifully, the whining is set aside quickly and we get into the meat of the video presentation. And it is spectacular. From the awesome video quality, to the thunderous sound, to the humorous (and often unintelligible) sideline chats between players, to Harry Kalas's expert narration, this DVD is yet another stellar entry in the NFL Films vault.
Each game is encapsulated in Eagle-friendly synopses, which always make me chuckle. Not so much the "Eagle-friendly" part of it, but that, somehow, NFL Films has to come up with a script that waxes complimentary for every seasonal highlight video they produce. I remember viewing the "highlight" reel of the 1989 Dallas Cowboys and thinking, "How do you candy coat a dismal 1-15 season that had no silver lining?" Anyway, at least there's plenty of positive material for the script in this case and each game is capped by the final score, which usually favored the Eagles. By a lot.
This being a football video, the highlights are pretty generic: Long bombs, shifty runs, stupid celebrations. All are present in copious quantities. A few highlights stand out and are replayed ad nauseum, such as Brian Dawkins's way-overplayed hit on Falcon tight end Algee Crumpler in the NFC Championship game. Donovan McNabb's incredible scramble against the Cowboys at Texas Stadium on Monday Night Football is played in NFL Films' standard slow-mo and then replayed using the original MNF footage from the skycam. It's an energizing spectacle and worthy of a few revisits on the DVD.
The main presentation, the 2004 overview, runs just under an hour, and includes all the regular season games and the Eagles' three playoff encounters. This being a team highlight reel, there is nothing mentioned of the Eagles being out on their feet at the climax of Super Bowl XXXIX, wherein the New England Patriots won their second straight championship and third in four years. There are numerous extras on the DVD, with one being almost as long as the main feature itself.
"The 2004 NFC Championship" is a representation of the NFL Network's weekly "Game of the Week" segment. The video quality is every bit as sharp and vibrant as the feature presentation, and uses full-field camera shots on numerous occasions to spotlight how particularly significant plays developed. Harry Kalas doesn't narrate this segment, but the guy who does is pretty solid. Narration is everything in these highlight videos.
The rest of the extras are three to four-minute segments featuring Eagle players in various "Under the Helmet" snippets from Fox Sports' pre-game show.
"McNabb Football Camp"—Wherein a gregarious Donovan McNabb and company (his father, mother, and various NFL personages including Jerome Bettis, Eddie George, and Jevon Kearse) host a football camp for youngsters. Everyone looks to be having a great time and it's nice to see the NFL guys having genuine fun, too. Donovan McNabb is the best quarterback Philadelphia has ever had, and one of the best public figures the team has had the good fortune to speak for it. It seems a long time since the spring of 1999, when former Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell declared that if the Eagles didn't draft Ricky Williams then he'd lead the masses in dismantling Veterans Stadium. Andy Reid and general manager Tom Modrak went ahead and drafted McNabb anyway (the Vet was a pile of crap and needed razing, anyway), and Donovan endured the hisses, boos, and BS from Eagles yahoos everywhere. Ricky Williams went on to become the spokesman for pothead culture and ruinous desertion, while McNabb has stood in for the Eagles on broken limbs, with crushed ribs, and despite the wagging tongues of babbleheads and wannabe sportscasters alike to lift the Eagles to dominance. When Eagles fans cheer their lungs out for him now, I wonder if any of them feels even an instant of contrition and the most profound gratitude to Andy Reid and Tom Modrak for scoffing at their ignorance and drafting a leader, or to Donovan McNabb himself for leading a bunch of nobodies to prominence and the Eagles to the top of the conference.
Anyway, there are other extras as well…
"Douglas Pass Rush Tips"—Hugh Douglas reveals some of the tricks of his trade with Fox-guy Ron Pitts. Nothing earth-shattering here.
"Trotter Car Wash"—When Jeremiah Trotter returned to the Eagles from Washington, he wanted his old number, 54, back. The guy who had it, Nate Wayne, offered to give it up if Trotter would wash his car. This segment is a laugh. "Get ta workin' ya big dummy!"
"Reno Mahe Hosts Dinner"—The Eagles' punter works as a busboy and greeter at Chickie's and Pete's, a renowned crab leg eatery in Philly and gives a tour. The guy certainly has a good attitude!
"Dhani Jones Football Camp"—Linebacker Dhani Jones hosts a football camp that is a little more serious than McNabb's. Real drills. Real hitting. Real serious. More "football is life" philosophy, but at least he tries to get the kids to keep things in perspective.
"McNabb Goes to School"—Donovan McNabb carts NFL "Take a Player to School" contest winner Andrew Butler to school in Philadelphia in his limo. At first the kid seems terrified, but he quickly warms up when he realizes that he's the Man at school for the day. McNabb's a good sport and says all the right things, but he seems pretty relieved when the limo whisks him to safety.
"Eagles Build a Playground"—The whole team, from head coach on down, turns out to help build a playground and paint a mural on the playground wall. It's humorous to see the paint-by-numbers guide on the mural as the gang fills in the colors, and it's nice to see all the Eagles pitching in. Most seem happy to give a day or two of their time to this worthy cause, but Terrell Owens acts like someone just told him he wasn't starting the next game. Go figure, Owens being an insufferable prick. What a surprise.
All in all this is a great recap of the Eagles' near-championship season, another stellar offering from NFL Films—which keeps getting better at this year-end highlight stuff—and a must for any Eagles fan's video shelf. The DVD format allows the studio to pack in more material than on a traditional VHS tape and to show many of the characters that make up a football team. Most of the sideline swagger is the same empty-headed bravado and astute command of the English language that's always displayed on highlight shows ("We gonna hit 'em all day!," "That guy cannot cover me!," "Now we havin' fun!," "Boy I awesome!" and so forth). On DVD, however, more time can be focused on some of the more personable sideline exchanges, and on this disc the most memorable personality is Hollis Thomas. Watch this video, particularly the Baltimore highlights, and tell me you don't think he's a pretty cool character.
As the main feature closes, there's a lot of "We got a taste of the big time and we'll be back…this time to win" assurances from the Eagles and the narrator, if not this year, then certainly in the near future. Let's hope there's enough Prozac in Philadelphia to keep its woebegone citizens alive till then.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Game of the Week -- 2004 NFC Championship
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