More Sports:

January 26, 2023

Eagles' history in NFC Championship Games

The Eagles are 3-4 in franchise history in NFC Championship Games ahead of their matchup with the 49ers.

As a kid in Philadelphia in the early 2000s, the Eagles playing in the NFC Championship Game was an annual event, complete with decorating windows with pull-out Philadelphia Daily News photos and having dress down day at Catholic school so that I could wear a Brian Dawkins jersey to class. 75 percent of the time, I was left destitute when returning to the school yard on Monday morning. 

In the 21st century, the Eagles have now made the NFC Championship Game seven times, more than any team besides the Patriots. Not bad company! The Birds, much to the chagrin of this city, are only 2-4 in those games so far ahead of the Eagles' matchup with the 49ers on Sunday. 

There's a ton of history at play here, from those crushing defeats to those rare triumphs, so let's look back at all of the franchise's conference championship appearances before the Birds and Niners square off. Depending on the outcome, I'll name a "hero" or "villain" for each game, too.

1980: Eagles 20, Cowboys 7

The Eagles' lone pre-21st century conference championship appearances stands as one of the top moments in franchise history. When discussing the greatest Eagles-Cowboys moments ever earlier in the 2022 season, here's what I had to say about Birds' triumph over Dallas:

Facing the Cowboys at home in the 1980 NFC Championship Game at Veterans Stadium for a chance to make their first ever Super Bowl, running back Wilbert Montgomery put the team on his back. 

Montgomery, battling through injuries, rushed for a team playoff record 194 yards and two touchdowns in the 20-7 win over Tom Landry and his big, dumb winter hat. The top highlight, of course, is Montgomery's 42-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to break things open.

Though the Eagles would come up short in the Super Bowl itself to the Raiders, this play stands as a swift kick in the teeth to all the Cowboys stand for. 

As I said, the Eagles would go on to lose in Super Bowl XV to the Raiders by a score of 27-10. Ron Jaworski tossed three picks. The Birds were actually three-point favorites in that. Ouch. 

In a pre-2017 world, however, the win over the Cowboys was the greatest modern-era Eagles moment. 

HERO: Wilbert Montgomery, 194 rushing yards, one TD

2001: Rams 29, Eagles 24

The first NFC Championship Game appearance for a new generation of Eagles fans was a back-and-forth affair, but ultimately a crushing loss that would sum up the early '00s Eagles. This is why the end of the run for the Rams' "Greatest Show on Earth" team that had won the Super Bowl in the 1999 season. St. Louis had three-consecutive MVP winners: Kurt Warner in '99 and 2001 and Marshall Faulk in 2000. Add in Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt and that was a handful for the late, great Jim Johnson's defense. 

To their credit, the Birds held Warner in check, allowing him to only throw for 212 yards and a single touchdown. Faulk, however, torched them on the ground in that dome with 159 rushing yards and two TDs.

This Eagles team was arriving ahead of schedule. They won their Wild Card Round game at home over Tampa Bay and then went on the road to Chicago in the Divisional Round to upset the Bears. It comes off as a valiant effort for a team ready to make serious noise in the next few years, but the fact that the Birds were up 17-13 at halftime stings in retrospect. Two second-half touchdowns from Faulk locked this baby up for the Rams. 

The Birds were 11-point underdogs in St. Louis for this one. Good teams win and great teams cover at least, right?

Villain: Marshall Faulk, 172 yards from scrimmage, two TDs

2002: Buccaneers 27, Eagles 10

This is the worst loss in franchise history. It was "the year" until it wasn't. In the last game ever at Veterans Stadium, the Eagles, as the favorites, had a chance to close out a place that had seen tons of losing and disappointment over the decades with a win that would vault to their first ever Super Bowl win. 

Things started perfectly. Brian Mitchell took the opening kickoff back 70 yards, setting up a 20-yard Duce Staley touchdown run on the second play of scrimmage. Nothing went right after that. 

A back-breaking 71-catch from Joe Jurevicius in the first quarter led to a 10-7 advantage for the Bucs. Things continued to deteriorate before Ronde Barber's infamous pick-6 off Donovan McNabb to make things 27-10 in the fourth quarter. The dream was dead.

When Barber had that interception, the Eagles were down 20-10 with just four minutes remaining. The game wasn't really in doubt at that point, but any shred of hope Philadelphians had left evaporated as Barber ran down the sideline to the end zone. It was more symbolic if anything. The Vet would close without ever seeing a championship team and the narrative began in earnest that this Eagles team could not win the big one (they never did!). 

Villain: Ronde Barber, pick-6 burned into people's brains

2003: Panthers 14, Eagles 3

The Bucs loss was more painful in the moment for Eagles fans, but this loss to a Carolina team quarterbacked by Jake Delhomme was demoralizing. For people I knew, it was the ultimate "they're never going to win the Super Bowl in my lifetime" event. 

What killed the Birds was that Brian Westbrook, during a breakout sophomore campaign that saw him have 945 yards from scrimmage and 13 total touchdowns, was knocked out for the playoffs in the team's regular-season finale after tearing a tricep muscle. 

Donovan McNabb, who would exit this game against Carolina late with an injury of his own, was left without his most dynamic playmaker and working with the likes of James Thrash and Freddie Mitchell. Not great! 

The organization really had the heat on them after this one.

Villain: Ricky Manning Jr., approximately 5,000 uncalled pass interference penalties 

2004: Eagles 24, Falcons 10

Hey, a win!

A snowstorm fell upon the Philadelphia area the day before the team's fourth-straight NFC Championship Game appearance. Cinematic. The Andy Reid-Donovan McNabb Eagles finally got over the hump and advanced to the Super Bowl, taking down future Eagle Michael Vick and the Falcons. 

Derrick Burgess picked up two sacks on Vick, Westbrook exploded for 96 yards and the ever-reliable David Akers came up clutch with two second-half field goals. 

Seeing McNabb hold up the George Halas Trophy, which goes to the NFC winner every year, was a weight off Philadelphians' shoulders. The Eagles were actually playing in the Super Bowl.

Of course, they lost in The Big Game to the Patriots, crushing some of those vibes in retrospect, but, before 2017, this was the finest Eagles team I ever saw. 

Hero: Chad Lewis, two TDs, including one that he tore a ligament in his foot on

2008: Cardinals 32, Eagles 25

Well, this one was brutal (aren't they all?). 

It's how they lost that made it so miserable.

The Birds, as the No. 6 seed in the NFC, won two road playoff games against Minnesota and the Giants before heading to Arizona. The Eagles played like crap in the first half, heading to the locker down 24-6. 

After Brent Celek's third-quarter touchdown that made things 24-13, I started playing "Psycho Killer" by Talking Heads on repeat to change up the vibes in my basement. They kept turning the tide of the game, so I left the song on repeat for two hours as the Eagles improbably came back and took a 25-24 lead in the fourth quarter. 

Warner, seven years after he first beat the Birds for a Super Bowl berth in St. Louis, resurrected his career with the Cardinals, and led a nearly eight-minute drive in the fourth quarter, killing the clock. By the time Warner found Tim Hightower for a three-yard TD, there were fewer than three minutes remaining and the Birds' momentum was gone. 

"Psycho Killer," perhaps the most iconic post-punk song of them all, now reminds me of Larry Fitzgerald. Rough. 

It would be the last NFC Championship Game for the Reid-McNabb Eagles. 

Fitzgerald absolutely destroyed the Birds here and continued to do so throughout his Hall of Fame-caliber career. I'm not sure any opposing player crushed a Philadelphia sports team quite like Fitzgerald did against the Eagles. 

Villain: Larry Fitzgerald, 152 receiving yards, 3 TDs (felt like he had 400 yards)

2017: Eagles 38, Vikings 7

"Anyone could've gotten it that night."

38-7 is a legendary score in Eagles lore and the Birds flat-out dominated Minnesota at every turn on that fateful night in South Philadelphia. 

The five-year anniversary of that massive beatdown was this past Saturday. I wrote a retrospective of the greatest Philadelphia sporting event I ever witnessed:

I'm not exaggerating when I say that Lincoln Financial Field was shaking. I had never heard anything louder in my life before or after. Sections and rows of Eagles fans turned into a First Unitarian Church-level mosh pit, as I started the play in my normal seat and found myself about 50 feet away by the time the Birds marched out to kick the extra point.

The crowd smelled blood and they got it as the Eagles poured on Minnesota the rest of the night, putting up 38 unanswered points, destroying Vikings fans' dreams of a Lombardi Trophy and letting the entire universe know that you can count out Philadelphia at your own risk. 

Foles. Dude.

The guy was slinging lasers all night. Touchdowns to Alshon Jeffery. Touch passes to Zach Ertz while he shook Vikings safety Harrison Smith into the Shadow Realm. A destiny-crushing flea flicker TD to Torrey Smith. The improbability of it all from a guy who almost burned out of football the previous offseason made it all that more magical. 

Chris Long. Patrick Robinson. Nick Foles. LeGarrette Blount. Torrey Smith. 

A win like this is how you go down in history in this city. 

What a night. What a team. What a world. 

Hero: Nick Foles, 352 yards, 3 TDs, 141.4 QB rating, the inspiration for Eagles fans to change the Vikings' "SKOL" chant and clap to "FOLES!"

Follow Shamus & PhillyVoice on Twitter: @shamus_clancy | @thePhillyVoice

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports

Add Shamus' RSS feed to your feed reader