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Eagles Soar Into NFC Championship Game

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Philadelphia Eagles are just one game away from reaching the Super Bowl even though it's been an up-and-down year for the team. Coach Andy Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb have been the focus of fan ire, as Mike Pesca reports.

MIKE PESCA: As if Philadelphia needed another underdog, but this year a certain south paw known as the Italian Stallion was upstaged by the Eagles. The team's low point, the equivalent of Rocky having his locker cleaned out by Mickey, came in at week twelve at Baltimore. There was Donovan McNabb in his ninth year as starting quarterback. McNabb, who took his team to playoffs more times than not, who made the Pro Bowl more often than not, standing there on the sidelines, not the field, to the shock of the Fox announcers.

(Soundbite of baseball game broadcast, November 23, 2008)

Unidentified Fox Announcer #1: Wow, that's shaking up...

Unidentified Fox Announcer #2: This is huge. This is a storyline that is absolutely huge, in sitting down Donovan McNabb for the second half of the football game.

PESCA: The Philadelphia media and fans were exasperated with their quarterback and their head coach, Andy Reid. And yes, the team won a week after the benching, and sure, they won again the week after that and the week after that. But by all rights, this season was in the coffin. It was just like the Eagles to deny their fans the final nail. During that time, ESPN reporter Sal Paolantonio actually heard many of his fellow Philadelphians worrying that short-term success would just delay necessary personnel changes. He didn't buy that argument.

Mr. SAL PAOLANTONIO (Bureau Reporter, ESPN): I think all sports fans are unfair in general, not just in Philadelphia.

PESCA: Paolantonio knows from an objective standpoint the Eagles have been a very good football team ever since McNabb took over as quarterback. He also knows it's hard for Eagles fans to be objective.

Mr. PAOLANTONIO: They're invested emotionally and financially in a way that you don't find any many other places.

PESCA: And so, when the Eagles did sneak into the playoffs and win two games, it may have been hard for the players to believe the fans were back to stay. Eagles guard Shawn Andrews says the fans want to win and so does the team, but still...

Mr. SHAWN ANDREWS (Guard, Philadelphia Eagles): You have to have some thick skin playing here, or you won't survive. It's, like, we appreciate fans being at training camp and being so close, but even being that close, they really don't understand, I don't think, the hard work that goes in. Nobody - not too many fans have been here at the NovaCare Complex.

PESCA: Actually, there were a couple of fans at the Eagles NovaCare Training Facility early this week. Michael Fritz(ph) gained access as part of a promotion. He wore his Brian Westbrook jersey. He was a beaming believer in contrast to his state of mind a month and a half ago.

Mr. MICHAEL FRITZ (Fan, Philadelphia Eagles): Yeah, I was on all the blogs, the hate mails and everything else. I just couldn't believe at how the season was going. It was just going down the tubes. I had 'em - I left them for dead.

PESCA: Now, Fritz says he's come to love McNabb all over again. For his part, the quarterback seems happy, easily brushing aside the contention that he can't do the things he did five years ago.

Mr. DONOVAN MCNABB (Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles): None of us can do the things that we did five years ago, not even - including you guys. I mean, some of you are writing slower than you did five years. Stuff you're talking about in the paper just don't make sense. Some of you dressing kind of funny.

PESCA: If the assembled media weren't fully charmed, the fans seemed to be. The turnaround has been - well, there's a scene in "Rocky IV," when the champ, having just defeated the Soviet destroyer, addresses the Moscow crowd. Rocky says...

(As Rocky Balboa) If I could change and you could change...

You know, let's Mike Fritz sum it up.

Mr. FRITZ: Oh, yeah, I was definitely wrong. I mean, they've really turned around. I take back everything I said. Obviously, Andy knows a lot more than me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Well, then, until Monday morning. Mike Pesca, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: It's NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mike Pesca
Mike Pesca first reached the airwaves as a 10-year-old caller to a New York Jets-themed radio show and has since been able to parlay his interests in sports coverage as a National Desk correspondent for NPR based in New York City.