Monday, January 20, 2003
They'll play host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Minutes after St. Louis beat Philadelphia last year in the NFC title game, Eagles coach Andy Reid gathered his team and delivered a simple message: "Next year, home field."
The Eagles went out and fulfilled Reid's goal, finishing 12-4 and securing home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Then, they beat Atlanta 20-6 in a divisional playoff last week. Now, they're set to defend their home turf against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
How important is it to have the game at Veterans Stadium? Consider, the home team has won this game nine of the last 13 years.
"We lost to a very good team," defensive tackle Corey Simon said of last season's 29-24 loss to the Rams. "It made this team stronger. It taught us about ourselves and what we needed to do in the off-season to go out there and try to get home-field advantage.
"If we had been playing in front of a crowd like the Vet crowd, we would have been in a better position to win. Now we're in a position we want to be in. We've pretty much accomplished all the goals we set earlier in the season, there's only a few more left and this is one of them."
Eagles are 7-1 at home
The Eagles were 7-1 at home this year, losing only to Indianapolis in November. They're 7-3 in playoff games at the Vet, including four consecutive wins. This will be the last game ever at the Vet, known for its boorish fans and hard turf. The Eagles move into the new Lincoln Financial Field in August.
Tampa has lost three in a row at the Vet, including first-round playoff games the last two years. But the Bucs made it clear this week that they aren't intimidated by the Philly crowd, or playing in the "Concrete Jungle."
"I don't really care if it's the Vet or the parking lot outside, the bottom line is getting to the Super Bowl," wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson said. "I don't think we're sitting around concerning ourselves with the football atmosphere in Philadelphia."
The championship-starved fans in Philly -- this city hasn't celebrated a championship since the 76ers won the NBA title in 1983 -- haven't witnessed a game of this magnitude since Game 5 of the 1993 World Series between the Phillies and Toronto.
The Eagles hosted just one other NFC championship game, beating Dallas 20-7 in 1981. The players remember how difficult it was facing the Rams in the Edward Jones Dome last season, and they expect it to be even louder at the Vet this week.
"That 12th man is going to be tremendous," cornerback Troy Vincent said.
"It's going to be loud like last week. We expect that to magnify about 10 times. It's going to be crazy. We need it to be that way. We need it to be a hostile crowd like it always is."