The 2003 Eagles had high expectations going into the playoffs. Anchored by the three-headed monster throughout the season of Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook, and Correll Buckhalter and another good defensive team, what could stop the Eagles? Injuries. In the last game of the regular season at the end of December of '03, Westbrook injured himself against the Redskins and was done for the season.
This showed in the playoffs. In the Divisional Round against the Packers, the Eagles had to struggle, claw and fight off an early two touchdown deficit. With the season in the balance late in the fourth quarter down 17-14, the Birds offense faced a 4th and 26. If they failed to convert, the season was over. Here's what happened.
Clearly one of the greatest plays in Eagles history, this led to a David Akers field goal that tied the game and forced it into overtime. After a Brian Dawkins interception in the extra session, Akers once again kicked another clutch field goal in the swirling winds of the Linc to win the game 20-17. Onto ANOTHER NFC Championshiop Game and ANOTHER NFC Championship DEFEAT.
The next week against the Carolina Panthers, Donovan McNabb injured himself in the contest and the Eagles receivers were non-existent against the Panthers secondary. The team only scored three points and lost 14-3. This left fans angry. This left them frustrated. And this led to the trading for Terrell Owens. What would follow happened on the other end of 2004.
FLYERS: Su-Primeau Almost Takes the Orange and Black to Lord Stanley's Grail
In Ken Hitchcok's seond season at the helm, the Flyers encountered one of their more successful campaigns of the decade. With Robert Esche as the full-time starter now, the team finished 40-21-15-6, good for first in the Atlantic Divisiona and third in the Eastern Conference.
Winning the Atlantic was key because the New Jersey Devils, who fell to second on the last day of the season, were the sixth seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Obviously, they faced off in the first round.
What transpired in the 2004 playoffs was one of the greatest postseason performances by any Flyer. That is the play of captain Keith Primeau.
In the opening round against Jersey, the Flyers won in five games.
Finally, the Orange and Black had those stinking Devils number.
In the semi-final round, they squared off against the Toronto Maple Leafs. This is where Primeau really came out of the wood works.
With the series in favor of the Flyers 3-2, Game 6 in Toronto was legendary. The contest went to overtime and in the extra session, it looked like the Maple Leafs were going to tie the series. Darcy Tucker put an absolutely nasty hit on Sami Kapanen, leaving him confused and lost. The Leafs had a clear advantage.
But Primeau was able to lead him back to the bench. Not to soon after, Jeremy Roenick got the puck on a two on one break away with Tony Amonte. This is what happened.
After this thrilling win, the Flyers squared off against the top seeded Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Orange and Black dropped the first two games in Tampa Bay, but then tied the series with Games 3 and 4 in Philly. Primeau continued to be a magician on the ice.
The Flyers lost Game 5 in Tampa Bay. Game 6 back in Philly could be considered the game of the decade for the Flyers.
Even after this goal by Primeau, the Flyers found themselves behind late in the third period 4-3 with the season on the brink. Who came to the rescue though? I need not to say his name.
In the extra session, the Flyers had all of the momentum and as the first overtime nearly concluded, this happened.
Sadly, Game 7 was not as joyous. The Flyers fell behind 2-0, scored in the second period to make it 2-1, but the Lightning were just too good. The Orange and Black's season unfortunately came to a halting end and Tampa Bay won the whole show.
However, even in defeat, Primeau's play in the playoffs was majestic. In 18 games, he score nine goals and had seven assists for 16 points. He was sensational.
This would mark the last season for John LeClair in a Flyer's uniform and the last full season for Keith Primeau in a Flyers jersey. He would get a concussion that ended his career two years later. As we will learn in the next post, there was no hockey in 2005 due to the lockout.
76ERS: A Down Year
To replace Larry Brown, general manager Billy King hired assistant coach Randy Ayers as the new head honcho. This would not last very long as poor play by the 76ers led to his firing mid-season and promoting assistant coach Bob Ford as interim coach. However, Ford and Allen Iverson did not see eye to eye. Although there was no "practice" press conference, the team did finish 33-49 and did not make the playoffs.
Eric Snow was dealt in the off-season and Philadelphia native Jim O'Brien hired as the new head coach.
PHILLIES: A New Home
In March of 2004, one of the most beloved venues in the city's history was imploaded. Veterans Stadium, sadly, was no more.
The Phillies moved into beautiful Citizens Bank Park across the street. It changed the entire persona of the franchise. More than 20,000 people showed up each night for a ball game because going to a game became socially acceptable.
The 2004 campaign also sported Jim Thome's 400th home run and the debut of Ryan Howard. Not to mention, Billy Wagner was acquired in a trade prior to the season.
Even with all of these new happenings and being in first place at the All-Star break, the team still could not get over that postseason hump, finishing second in the division at 86-76 and six games behind the wild card winning Houston Astros.
Larry Bowa was fired with two games left in the season. Bench coach Gary Varsho took over as interim manager. In the off-season, the Phillies hired hitting guru Charlie Manuel.
EAGLES: One Team, One City, One Dream...One Big Play Away
The San Francisco 49ers were looking to deal their star wide out Terrell Owens to another team because he was becoming a major problem. They actually made a deal with the Baltimore Ravens, but T.O. flat out made it clear he did not want to go there. After a few trials and tribulations, the Eagles were able to acquire the star and pull off the deal.
The addition of Owens at wide receiver and Jevon Kearse at defensive end put the Eagles as one of the front-runners once again for a Super Bowl championship.
In the first home pre-season game of the season, the first chance for the Philly fans to see Owens in Eagle green and white, this is what happened on the Birds first play from scrimmage.
Without any doubt, it was going to be a great year.
T.O. lived up to all of the hype.
The Birds started off the season 7-0 with Owens receiving nine touchdowns and Donovan McNabb playing the best football of his career. No. 5 threw 31 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions, good for almost 4,000 yards. Owens finished with 77 receptions and 14 touchdowns. One more touchdown, Andy Reid would have been in tights due to a bet him and Owens made at the beginning of the season.
But, in Week 15 against the Cowboys, Owens suffered a high ankle sprain, forcing him to miss all of the NFC Playoffs. The team finished 13-3, once again with home field advantage and an ENORMOUS MONKEY on their back.
The team went into the playoffs with the slogan "One Team, One City, One Dream." What was going to happen?