By: Bob George/BosSports.net
February 14, 2005

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This is right up there with Howard Cosell and Was He Sick Or Was He Crocked.

Fittingly, the famous Cosell Sick-Out happened in Philadelphia. During the inaugural campaign for Monday Night Football at Franklin Field (this was a year before Veterans Stadium was built), Cosell had to leave the game in the middle of the broadcast after mumbling throughout much of the telecast. It became the defining moment of the oft-troubled first Monday night season for the verbose Cosell, who suffered a great deal of downs as well as ups as the groundwork of this sports television institution was being laid.

Cosell claims he ran laps around the University of Pennsylvania football facility before the game with Tommie Smith, he of the black power salute in the 1968 Summer Olympics, and at the time a former Cincinnati wide receiver who was trying to catch on with the Eagles. During the game, Cosell was overcome with dizziness and eventually threw up on Dandy Don Meredith's cowboy boots. He left the game, took a taxi from Philadelphia back to New York, and was diagnosed as having suffered an attack of vertigo.

This is how Cosell explained it in his 1973 autobiography. Most fans beforehand assumed that Cosell was feeling no pain and disgraced his profession by doing a game drunk. Some fans may still not buy Cosell's explanation, perhaps because they don't like him and don't want to believe what Cosell says is the truth. It may be that we will simply never know the real answer to the sick or crocked question.

Now we come to Super Bowl XXXIX, and Was He Sick Or Was He Unaware. By "unaware", we mean unaware that his team trailed by 10 points late in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, and didn't feel the urgency to hurry things up and score quickly. The central figure is Donovan McNabb, the Eagle quarterback who wound up on the short end of a 24-21 final score in the biggest game of his six-year NFL career.

Here the Eagles were, in only their second Super Bowl, trying to win their first NFL championship since 1960. They played the defending champion Patriots, who were favored by seven points, tough and even for most of the way. Just after the start of the fourth quarter, Corey Dillon scored on a two-yard touchdown run to make it 21-14 Patriots. After an Eagle three-and-out, the Patriots tallied again on a 22-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri. It was 24-14 Patriots with 8:43 left in the Super Bowl. It was the first double-digit lead for either team, and for the first time one of the teams had to go into "urgency mode" and score quick in order to stay in the game.

The Eagle comeback started well enough. McNabb found Terrell Owens for 36 yards down the left sideline on the second play of the ensuing drive. But McNabb's next pass was a wobbling duck which was intercepted by Tedy Bruschi. Still, the Patriots, who scored zero points off four turnovers, relinquished the ball on only four plays. Now Philadelphia had the ball at their own 21 with 5:40 left, plenty of time to get two scores.

And score they did, only that it took 3:52 of that 5:40 to do it. By the time McNabb found Greg Lewis in the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown pass, nearly four minutes had been squandered in the process. At a time when a hurry-up offense was badly needed, the Eagles instead took their sweet time to score with no sense of urgency whatsoever.

The drive itself was an unthinkable 13 plays. Four-yard pass to L.J. Smith, 30 seconds. Four-yard pass to Lewis after a replay overturned an incompletion, 18 seconds. Five-yard pass to Owens, 33 seconds. Two-yard pass to Josh Parry, 34 seconds. Incomplete to Freddie Mitchell. Ten yards to Owens, six seconds. Incomplete to Owens. McNabb scramble for no gain, 33 seconds. Eleven-yard pass to Mitchell, 35 seconds. Incomplete to Brian Westbrook. Thirteen-yard pass to Westbrook, only 13 seconds because the clock hit the two-minute warning. Incomplete to Owens. Thirty-yard pass to Lewis, touchdown. Five of these plays took 30 seconds or more, totaling 2:42 of game time and seventy percent of the time consumed on that drive.

The Eagles got the ball back with 46 seconds to go after the Patriots recovered an onside kick and punted after three runs. The Patriot drive purged the Eagles of their two remaining time outs. The first Eagle play, from their own four-yard line, was a one-yard toss to Westbrook which ate up 24 seconds and placed the game into a situation where only Hail Marys were in order when only a field goal was needed to tie the game. Two plays later, Rodney Harrison clinched the championship for the Patriots with an interception.

This is what happened. What we want to know is not what happened, but rather how and why. If you are an Eagle fan right now, you are probably thinking about what Mitchell said on Monday ("Four turnovers and we only lost by three points...the Patriots aren't really that good!") and gnashing your teeth that, but for bad clock management, Mitchell may be correct.

First of all, Mitchell is wrong when he says the Patriots aren't good. Most every Patriot fan understands that the Patriots played their "C" game in this Super Bowl. Because they won anyway, they are good. But again, if you root for the Eagles, this loss has to be killing you.

The prevailing opinion is that McNabb was dry heaving and dehydrated at game's end. McNabb denies this claim rather vehemently. Center Hank Fraley says he was helping McNabb call plays. Mitchell says that he was doing much the same thing. There are those who think that the game got too big for McNabb, and he was not able to control his health down the stretch, and thus the slow pace of the game when it should have been fast.

Forget McNabb. The first rule of leadership is this: Everything is your fault (watch A Bug's Life and catch Hopper chewing out Princess Atta). This loss falls squarely at the feet of Andy Reid. He was outcoached by Bill Belichick going into the game, and he was outcoached coming down the stretch of Super Bowl XXXIX.

Assume McNabb was really sick. If McNabb was as sick as everyone contends, then where was backup quarterback Koy Detmer? A healthy Detmer would have been better than a sick McNabb with the world championship on the line. This is Reid's call, and he chose instead to leave a sick McNabb in the game with reduced capacity to run the Eagle offense, if indeed McNabb was sick.

Now, what if McNabb was telling the truth and was at full capacity? Do you blame offensive coordinator Brad Childress for lousy play calling? If Childress has his own agenda, Reid has discretion as head coach to "take over" and call the plays that should be called. But calling a slow paced, clock-killing drive which eventually resulted only 46 seconds and no timeouts left to gain about 60 yards to get David Akers into field goal range was simply bad strategy which is the head coach's responsibility to either insist that the right plays be called, or call the plays himself.

Another angle on this coaching hiccup by Reid involves McNabb's dehydration. Taking this on a larger scale, reports came out that Belichick insisted that his players be hydrated all week long, and planned on warmer weather last Sunday night at game time. Reid made no such allowances. Was this why McNabb was reported as either sick or sluggish? Some Patriot players noticed that the Eagles were all listless down the stretch and not just McNabb. This is another case, albeit rather exotic, of Belichick outcoaching the pants off his opponent.

Manifestly, the bottom line is that the Eagles totally mismanaged the final six minutes of the game, and it cost them the world championship, if not at least overtime. The Patriots were indeed unable to capitalize on four turnovers and blow out the Eagles. Several foolish penalties were also detrimental to the Patriots, one of which wiped out an interception by Asante Samuel. But it was the Patriots who played smart down the stretch, and it was the Patriots, not the Eagles, who became world champions and deserved it.

Sick or unaware? Leave McNabb alone. It was the Eagle coaches who were unaware, and it happened at the worst possible time. It is why Reid once again saw his team fail on a big stage.

Meanwhile, Belichick is the new Vince Lombardi. It's the coaching, man.


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