Tonight is the 2018 NFL season opener between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons. That would be the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, by the way. Those words still look and sound so glorious, do they not?
The Birds and their fans will celebrate their title one final time with the raising of the first-ever Super Bowl banner at Lincoln Financial Field this evening. But after that, the game will begin. The football calendar will officially turn to a new season.
In that new 2018 season the Eagles will be defending an NFL championship for the fourth time in franchise history. It marks just the second time in the last 35 years that a Philadelphia major pro sports team will attempt to repeat as a champion.
Philly fans remember well the last time it happened Just nine years ago the Philadelphia Phillies played the 2009 season as defending champions of Major League Baseball.
The long playoff run and Fall Classic triumph had been punctuated by a Halloween parade around City Hall and down Broad Street to Citizens Bank Park.
The Eagles experienced pretty much the same thing. A long playoff run, early February Super Bowl, parade this time up Broad Street from the stadium area and out the Ben Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum.
There was a shorter than normal off-season as the Phillies did the banquet and awards circuit that winter and then returned to Clearwater for spring training in February 2009. The Eagles had a month shorter off-season as well. While the Birds and their coaching staff were prepping for the Patriots, the rest of the NFL was already getting a jump on 2018 preparations.
As far as personnel were concerned, the 2009 Phillies returned largely the same cast of lead characters who had won the crown. The only change among starting position players came with Raul Ibanez replacing Pat Burrell as the left fielder.
Those Phillies had to make a big injury adjustment when Brett Myers hit the DL for three months in late May. You probably won’t recall that they gave Antonio Bastardo five June starts, or that they signed Rodrigo Lopez and plugged him in for five July starts. But you will recall that they traded for Cliff Lee and signed Pedro Martinez in July, bolstering the rotation for August and beyond.
There was a World Series hangover at the beginning of the season. Six weeks in, the Phillies went through a stretch in which they lost six of eight games. On Friday, May 15, the 2009 Phillies woke up with a 16-16 record. And then it all changed.
Following that mid-May rough stretch, the Phillies went on a five-game winning streak. It began a stretch that saw the club capture 19 of their next 26, moving them to a season-best twelve games over the .500 mark and to a four-game lead in the NL East.
And then the bottom seemed to again drop out. A loss on Friday, June 12 began a horrendous stretch in which the club dropped 11 of 13 games. Despite falling to just three games over .500 they remained atop the division, but barely. With just a half-game lead, they once again turned things around.
From June 27 to the MLB All-Star Game break the Phillies went 11-4, hitting the break with their lead back up to four games. They didn’t let up when play resumed, winning their first five. It kicked off a 10-2 run that pushed their record overall to 58-40 and stretched their division lead out to seven games.
Though the team would drop eight of the next 11 contests, Lee had arrived to inject some life – not to mention a stopper to the rotation. He got the win in two of the three victories during that rough stretch.
The rest of the way, those 2009 Phillies were never seriously challenged within the division. Charlie Manuel‘s squad clinched a third straight NL East crown with a 10-3 romp over the Houston Astros at Citizens Bank Park on September 30 and then coasted through the final four games.
In the NLDS the Phillies faced a real challenge from the Colorado Rockies but fought them off in four tough games. Then for a second straight season, the club overcame the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS in five games.
For the first time in history the Phillies returned to the World Series for a second consecutive year. That is exactly what the Eagles will be trying to accomplish. It’s a tough road. There were ups and downs along the way. But the Phillies had the best team in the NL, and they proved it over the course of the long season and two tough playoff series.
The 2018 Philadelphia Eagles look very similar. The Birds are again one of the strongest teams in football, but there will be challenges along the way. They will take some hard shots. They might even go into a losing stretch of games.
But given health from most of the key players, there is no reason that in the end their talent cannot take them back for a shot at a repeat. The Phillies had that shot and came up just short.
In that 2009 World Series the Phillies ran into a talented and experienced New York Yankees squad. They even handed the Yanks a 6-1 thrashing in the opener at Yankee Stadium.
But New York got a gutsy performance from A.J. Burnett in Game Two to even the series, then out-slugged the Phillies to take two of three at Citizens Bank Park. Up by three games to two, the Yankees put the series away with a convincing 7-3 victory in Game Six back in the Bronx.
Thinking back on it, that World Series defeat was disheartening. The Phillies were no longer the world champions. But they were still a strong ball club. They would get a couple more serious shots at another ring. Though they came up short, it was a magnificent run.
This is what looms ahead for these Philadelphia Eagles. They are the champions, but there are other talented teams out there. The Eagles look right now to be the best team in the NFC East. Get into the playoffs, have Carson Wentz and most of the supporting cast healthy, and anything can happen.
The 2009 Philadelphia Phillies showed that repeating as a champion is not an easy task, even for a supremely talented team. But just because those Phillies came up short doesn’t mean this Eagles team will. It’s about fighting through a long season and earning a shot in the playoffs.
That’s all these Birds and the fans should be looking at right now. The game in front of them. The season ahead of them. Get that playoff spot and take a shot in January at the repeat. Fly Eagles, fly!
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