THE PHILADELPHIA EAGLES cafeteria was mostly silent on Friday afternoon until a stocky man with a booming voice strolled in and announced his presence. Hugh Douglas retired after Philadelphia cut him during training camp, but the boisterous three-time Pro Bowl defensive end still knows how to keep the team loose. Standing in the middle of the room, he blared that he had just been hired as the Eagles' official ambassador. "I'm the type of ambassador who will be out in the parking lot with the fans," Douglas proclaimed. "I'll be the ambassador of King Cobra and Courvoisier."
As Douglas proceeded to bounce around the room, slapping hands with old friends and introducing himself to stunned strangers, free safety Brian Dawkins sat in the corner, laughing. He loves the vibe Douglas brings to the team when he visits, the levity that helps ease tense moments. But even without the affable Douglas, Dawkins and his teammates have shown a knack for dealing with stress. Two weeks into the 2005 season, it's clear nothing can rattle the Eagles.
Though Philadelphia was supposed to be reeling after a 14-10 defeat at Atlanta in the Monday-night opener, there were no hints of that when the Eagles hosted San Francisco at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. The final score read 42-3 Philadelphia, but it wasn't that close. In dismantling the 49ers, the Eagles displayed all the qualities that made them so dangerous last season.
Donovan McNabb threw for 342 yards and five touchdowns. Terrell Owens caught five passes for 143 yards and two scores. And the defense--a unit that too often gets overlooked in the media free-for-all surrounding the team--flattened San Francisco. Philadelphia allowed the 49ers just 142 total yards while sacking the 49ers quarterback Tim Rattay three times and making three interceptions. "We were looking to make a statement with this game," said cornerback Lito Sheppard. "We had a lot of people who were looking to jump off our bandwagon after last week, but this game lets everybody know that we're back on track."
You really can't blame the doubters. The Eagles have encountered so much adversity over the last few months that it's hard to remember what's been going right. They've had to deal with season-ending injuries at the skill positions. (Running back Correll Buckhalter and wide receiver Todd Pinkston are done for the year.) One defensive lineman was shot during the off-season (end Jerome McDougle, who is out until at least Week 6) and another cut after a long run with the team ( defensive tackle Corey Simon, now with the Colts). There have also been public squabbles over contracts involving defensive tackle Hollis Thomas, Pro Bowl running back Brian Westbrook and, most notably, the maelstrom known as T.O.
Such problems would debilitate most contenders, but the Eagles take adversity in stride--as if their season wouldn't be interesting enough without some major hurdles to clear. "A lot of the things that have happened around here have been outside our control," Dawkins says. "Injuries happen. The business issues [ Thomas, Owens and Westbrook] take care of themselves. You can't worry about those things. All we've been focused on is making another run. I'm not saying this to be cocky, but I believe we'll be back in the Super Bowl."
Dawkins can be so confident because he understands how Philadelphia--a team that lost three straight NFC Championship Games before dropping the Super Bowl last February--responds to challenges. No team in the NFL has been better able to overcome distraction and disappointment. Consider the week leading up to the San Francisco game.
Though middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter had been ejected for his role in a fracas before the Atlanta game, he joked about the scuffle on his radio show the next day and to reporters in the days afterward. "I hope the commissioner takes pity on me," Trotter said in the locker room before receiving his punishment from the NFL last Thursday--a $5,000 fine. "I hope he sees that I didn't throw a punch."
Across the room Owens was conducting his own kind of media session. He stopped talking to the Philadelphia press months ago, but his first game against his former team had attracted a smattering of Bay Area writers. On Thursday, Owens became so tired of avoiding eye contact with the reporters that he covered his ears, turned his back to the media and hunched down in a locker, singing "la-la-la" over and over.
None of Owens's teammates acted as if anything strange was happening. This is what their world has become, and they've adapted to it. When the problems between Owens and McNabb festered this summer, Dawkins, a 10-year Philly veteran, reached out to both men to offer support. He didn't choose sides or judge. He simply made an offer: If either one wanted to talk about his problems, Dawkins was willing to listen.