Behind Enemy Lines

TGI now gives the floor to long-time friend Tug McErlain, who takes a look at the Giants/Eagles rivalry from the Philly angle.

What a way to end the regular season! When all seemed lost, the stars aligned perfectly. What was shaping up as a season-ending game against Dallas turned into a reawakening. Thanks to a little help from our "friends" from Oakland and Houston, destiny fell back into the Eagles' hands and boy did they ever take care of business, to the tune of a 44-6 stomping of their hated rivals from Big D.

Twenty-six years ago, the Eagles were faced with a similar scenario. A 57-day long players' strike had reduced the 1982 season from a 16-game marathon to a nine-game sprint. Because of the shortened season, the NFL expanded the playoff field from 10 teams to 16 (eight from each conference). Despite a 3-5 record going into the final week, the Eagles were in position to make the postseason due to the expanded playoff field and a late-season surge that included a victory at Dallas the week before. Like the 2008 squad, the 1982 Eagles would need a home victory over a division rival plus some help in other games.

With the early games going their way and a 14-3 lead at home against the equally desperate Giants, things looked promising at Veterans Stadium. New York responded with 20 unanswered points, putting the Eagles on the brink of elimination. Philadelphia fought back with 10 fourth-quarter points to take a one-point lead. If they could hold on and get some help in the later games, the Eagles would enter the postseason on fire with a three-game winning streak. It was not meant to be. Late in the game, Giants kicker Joe Danelo trotted onto the field and with two seconds left, his kick split the uprights like a stake through the hearts of the 63,917 fans in attendance. Giants 26, Eagles 24.

I wept the entire way from our seats in section 610 to the parking lot. My father tried to console his 11-year-old son by reminding me of Penn State's big victory the day before against Herschel Walker and the Georgia Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl, but I was inconsolable. Eight days later, a weeping Dick Vermeil shocked the city with the news that he was stepping down. Citing burnout, it would be 15 years before Vermeil would rejoin the coaching ranks with the St. Louis Rams. Three years later, he hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy after coaching the Rams to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Had things broken a little differently back on Jan. 2, 1983, who knows what would have happened. An improbable playoff run, like what the 2008 squad is experiencing now, may have been just what the doctor ordered for the burnt-out coach. Instead, Vermeil's resignation, coupled with Bill Parcells' ascension to the top post with the Giants, swung the balance of power in the NFC East 90 miles up the Turnpike. Twenty-six years later, Vermeil remains a beloved figure in this town – and I still can't stand the Giants.

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