The win would set up a NFC Championship Game match between the Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team who the Birds eliminated the previous two seasons and beat them easily in the 2002 regular season campaign.
Yet, this game was a much different story. No matter the result, it was the final Eagles game ever played at Veterans Stadium. It was supposed to be a fantastic day, a day where the Eagles would go to the Super Bowl for the first time in 22 years. Tampa Bay didn’t stand a chance, or at least we thought that way.
To tell you the truth, after the first drive, how could we not think that way?
Unfortunately though, that would be the highlight of the day for Eagles fans. After that, everything went down hill. A lack of a running game and an inability to stop the Buccaneers from making big plays, the Eagles lost the game 27-10.
The Vet was silent.
FLYERS: Improving, But Have a Ways to Go
The heartbreaking end for the 2002 Eagles was not washed away by Flyers success. With Ken Hitchcock now at the helm for the Orange and Black, they finished 45-20-13-4, one point behind the Devils for the Atlantic Division.
That put them at the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and a much tougher road to the Stanley Cup Finals.
This was a season where Jeremy Roenick led the team in goals and points, while Mark Recchi was the assists leader. Sami Kapanen and Tony Amonte were acquired at the trade deadline and Romy Cechmanek set a club record in net with a 1.83 GAA.
Yet, despite their talented team once again, the Flyers fell short for Lord Stanley’s Grail. In the quarterfinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Flyers won a gut wrenching seven game series 4-3, with three of the games going in to overtime (all three were in Toronto).
In the semi-finals however, inconsistent play by Cechmanek and the team led to them falling to the top seeded Ottawa Senators 4-2.
76ERS: Solid, But Not Good Enough
Following a disappointing 2002 campaign, the 2002-03 Philadelphia 76ers were looking to rebound. In a matter of speaking, they did. Basically led by the same core group of guys–Allen Iverson complimented by Eric Snow, Derrick Coleman and Aaron McKie, the Sixers finished 48-34, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference.
The only difference in this year's roster was Dikembe Mutombo was shipped to New Jersey for Todd MacCullough and Keith Van Horn, and Tyrone Hill returned to the squad during the season. Also, forward Kenney Thomas made himself an important force on the team and Greg Buckner as a defensive stopper.
One of the highlights of 2003 before the postseason was the 76ers played the Washington Wizards in Michael Jordan's final NBA game. It was an electric night in the then First Union Center as all of us Philly fans showed our class by sending Jordan off in style.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Sixers squared off against the New Orleans Hornets and beat them 4-2.
In the second round, the team battled the top-seeded Detroit Pistons. After dropping the first two games on the road, the Sixers won Games 3 and 4 in Philly. In Game 5, it came down to a last second game winning layup by Detroit's Chucky Atkins and then the Pistons pulled out Game 6 to win the series 4-2.
After the season, head coach Larry Brown stepped down from his position. Then, in a stunning move, he signed a deal with the Pistons. It sparked a lot of angry fans in the city even though Brown was instrumental in making them as good as they were in his five years as coach. The Sixers have not been as good since.
PHILLIES-Changing the Outlook in More Ways Than One
The 2003 season was one that changed the face franchise as before the campaign began, the Phils made a big move by signing first base slugger Jim Thome. They also brought in David Bell to play third base and traded Johnny Estrada to the Braves for Kevin Millwood. Maybe this was the year the Phils would break through and actually make the playoffs.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. They finished with a record of 86-76, good for third in the NL East. Also, they fell just short of winning the Wild Card, losing out to the eventual World Champion Florida Marlins.
The highlights of this season included Jim Thome hitting 47 home runs and Kevin Millwood getting a no hitter.
However, nothing compared to something with significance as big as 33 years–the final season at Veterans Stadium. On September 28, 2003, the last sporting event took place on that sacred ground and within those infamous walls of the Vet.
The Phils ended up losing the game to the Braves, but the result of the contest was unimportant. This day was more about remembering 33 years at Veterans Stadium...remembering all of the triumphs and heartbreaks. Here is some footage from that memorable and sad day, the last day inside of Philadelphia Veterans Stadium.
It all concluded with Tug McGraw reliving that magical pitch against Willie Wilson to win the 1980 World Series. Sadly, it was the final time we ever saw the Tugger on the ball field as he lost his courageous battle with brain cancer prior to the 2004 season. It was also the last time we saw Paul "The Pope" Owens in public. He unfortunately passed away due to chronic respiratory problems also before the 2004 season.
EAGLES: The Linc-New Building, But Same Story
The 2003 Eagles campaign started off with the opening of a new home facility, Lincoln Financial Field. On Monday Night Football to start the season, the Eagles faced off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team that broke their hearts to close to the Vet. Well, they did the same thing to open up The Linc. The Bucs won 17-0.
After starting the season off 2-3, the Eagles won nine in a row and finished the season 12-4, once again good for home field advantage in the playoffs. What set off that motion of events happened in the sixth game of the season. The Eagles were playing the Giants at the Meadowlands. Down 10-7 late in the fourth quarter, a punt return by Brian Westbrook literally saved the team from going into a 2-4 hole. Without question, this was one of the plays of the decade for our beloved Philadelphia Eagles.
What would proceed in the playoffs happened in the new year.