© St. Petersburg Times, published January 21, 2003
Before we move on to the Super Bowl and San Diego, one final look at the pain and suffering left behind in Philadelphia.
In the Philadelphia Daily News, which had tons of fun at the Bucs' expense last week, the front page screamed, "Why, Eagles, Why?" followed by "Fooled Us Twice: How many more chances will these Birds get?" on the back cover. Inside were such psychological comforters as the Top 10 Reasons to Cheer Up (including No. 6: Warren Sapp played like the Twinkiekilla we know he is) and a list of ways to cope with depression (including "women should leave home and stay away from men" and "keep away from bridges").
As for the writers, no amount of criticism was too harsh.
"The Eagles were supposed to mail this one in against a Tampa Bay Bucs team perceived by many as their concubine, a sniveling bunch of offensively punchless, warm-weather wimps who turned into abominable throwmen in gelid Veterans Stadium," wrote Daily News columnist Bill Conlin. "Well, this mortal lock of a mail-in job was returned to sender, addressee unknown."
They even rated the all-time Philly sports disappointments, giving Sunday's loss Five Broken Hearts (the highest). The only other lowlight receiving such high marks was the collapse of the 1999-2000 Flyers, who blew a 3-1 series lead in the NHL's Eastern Conference final to miss a return to the Stanley Cup final.
The Eagles didn't fare much better in the crosstown Philadelphia Inquirer, which echoed a similar headline, "Sigh, Eagles, Sigh: Birds' Super Bowl dream dies in Vet farewell."
Wrote Inquirer columnist Bill Lyon, "And so it ends, not with a bang or even a whimper, but with a numb, grudging resignation, and with a beating so thorough and convincing that Eagles fans could not even muster a good farewell boo. They were left in shellshocked silence. Vacant eyed and dazed, they filed out of Veterans Stadium for the last time in a retreat so early and so orderly that when the police and motorcycles and horses circled the arena during the two-minute warning, they looked up to find they really had nothing to guard.
"Everyone was gone. So, too, was the Super Bowl."
"NFL insiders didn't care how durable he was. They largely had tuned (Brad) Johnson out. He couldn't have been less cool if he was one of his father's 45s.
"A pocket passer -- I mean, how passe!
"The beat goes on. The groove is in the feet. The evolution of the game had rendered the likes of Johnson obsolete. ...
"The NFL had seen the future and it was Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb and Steve McNair. Johnson was the B side of a record nobody was spinning anymore. It wasn't until Sunday that the sporting populace opened their eyes and realized Johnson, 34, is no more passe than Eminem."
Karen Crouse, Palm Beach Post
"Never before in Super Bowl history has one coach had such a tremendous impact on both teams. It's not the first time a head coach is matched up against a team he used to coach, but it's the first time it's happened the year after leaving his former team.
"Dan Reeves faced Denver four years ago, but it was six years after the Broncos fired him. (Jon) Gruden knows enough about the Raiders after coaching them from 1998-2001 to turn it into a tremendous advantage for Tampa.
"Gruden helped build the Raiders. And he saved the Bucs."
Gary Myers, New York Daily News
"(Ronde) Barber was in the right place at the right time so often on Sunday, a few Philadelphia players suggested he must have been in their huddle. But it was the Eagles who often played into Barber's hands, quite literally on that final interception, by allowing him to roam the middle of the secondary. ...
"It was, (Monte) Kiffin noted, one of the most outstanding games the veteran coach had witnessed by a defensive back in a postseason contest.
" "He was,' Kiffin said, "everywhere out there. Everybody is talking about this cloning stuff. It's like we had 11 of him on the field.' "
Len Pasquarelli, ESPN.com senior writer
"I knew this franchise would eventually get here. You can't say enough about the foundation that Tony Dungy built here, but it took Jon Gruden to get them over the top. He is an amazing motivator, and he helped this team grow into a family. I'm happiest for John Lynch, because he's been here the longest, and because he's such a class act."
Scot Brantley, former Bucs LB, radio commentator