Sunday, January 19, 2003

Eagles eager to savor football's best feeling



By KEVIN ROBERTS
The (Cherry Hill, N.J.) Courier-Post

PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia Eagles this week find themselves so close to the Super Bowl that, even with a team-wide insistence on focusing only on the game right in front of them, Ike Reese dared himself to dream a little.

What's it like to win this game? What's it like to reach the Super Bowl?

In the Eagles locker room, Reese only needed to turn to his right, where Levon Kirkland sits just two lockers down.

"I've asked Kirk what it's like to play in the Super Bowl," Reese said. "Sometimes you don't have to ask. He'll tell you. He wants you to know."

Here's what Kirkland told him:

"It's the best feeling in the world," Kirkland said. "Ever since you've been working on this dream, playing in college, getting to the pros, that's it. It's nothing like you've ever felt in football.

"I'm not comparing it with getting married, having kids, being saved, whatever. As far as football goes? It's the best. It makes everything you did in the offseason, working out, training camp, all of it, is worth it."

The Eagles are hot to get that feeling, and that begins Sunday against Tampa Bay. Troy Vincent was talking about it Friday, facing a conference room full of reporters when he was asked what it would be like to beat the Buccaneers in the NFC championship game and advance to the Super Bowl.

"I've never won this game, so I don't know what it feels like," Vincent said, with a shrug.

The Eagles this season brought in several players who do know what it feels like. Last year's team had a handful of players who'd been to the Super Bowl - Brian Mitchell, Sean Landeta, Mike Bartrum, Jeff Thomason and Jon Runyan. To that mix, the Eagles this season added Kirkland, Antonio Freeman, Blaine Bishop and Dorsey Levens.

They wanted experience and veteran leadership. But lots of players have been to the Super Bowl and were available to the Eagles this summer. Only a few fit the mold head coach Andy Reid wanted.

"Number one, they're good guys," Reid said. "They're good football players, but they're good people. They have been there. I know that doesn't hurt. I don't know how much it adds. I hope it adds something. But I know it doesn't hurt.

"Those guys have stepped in and done a pretty nice job for us."

The thing is, the Eagles didn't seem to need a great deal of advice from players with Super Bowl experience. Freeman, for example, has 231 receiving yards in two Super Bowls and holds the Super Bowl record for the longest reception - 81 yards in a Green Bay Packers victory over New England in Super Bowl XXXI.

Freeman knows what it takes. But, when asked if he felt a responsibility to pass along that experience in the Eagles clubhouse, Freeman shook his head.

"Not necessary," Freeman said. "Losing the NFC championship game last year was the best thing that ever happened to this team. They learned. They know they're good enough. They know they could have won, maybe should have won. That's the difference in this locker room. That was the attitude from the minute I walked in the door here."

Kirkland agreed - the Eagles are happy to have this kind of veteran presence in the locker room, but the team didn't necessarily need it to get here.

"It would be different if this was a young team that hadn't won and didn't know what it took to get here," Kirkland said. "This team is pretty mature."

Still, these are good people to have around - just in case.

"You need guys like that," Reese said. "Guys like these, when they talk, people listen."

All four players joined the Eagles as free agents. All four chose the Eagles for the same reason - this team gave them the best chance to play for a winner. That's turned out to be a pretty good choice.

"I knew this would be a good team," Levens said. "You could see, as an outsider, how good the Eagles were last season. Once I got here, it was pretty obvious just by looking around the locker room."

Bishop, a four-time Pro Bowl selection with the Tennessee Titans, signed a three-year deal. Levens, Kirkland and Freeman all agreed to one-year deals.

"I'm not even thinking about what happens in the future," Freeman said. "I made the right decision. I knew when I signed here, this team expected to win. I'm just glad to be a part of it."

NFC quick hits

Line: Eagles by 4.

Record vs. common opponents: Tampa Bay 2-0 (beat Chicago 15-0, beat St. Louis 26-14); Philadelphia 2-0 (beat Chicago 19-13; beat St. Louis 10-3).

Last time they met: The Eagles beat the Buccaneers 20-10 at the Vet Oct. 20.

Game-time forecast: Partly cloudy, high 28, low 26.




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Xavier 86, UMass 73

OTHER COLLEGE BASKETBALL
No. 16 Kentucky 88, No. 10 Notre Dame 73
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No. 18 Indiana 84, No. 8 Illinois 66
No. 15 Louisville 87, TCU 74
Miami 77, Ohio 65
No. 17 Maryland 87, No. 1 Duke 72
Top 25 roundup
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Flanagan's 31 pace Norse women's win
Women: UConn sets win streak record

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Coach endured lengthy search but got the job
Daugherty: Team must rethink scouting
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Matchups for AFC championship game
Eagles eager to savor football's best feeling
Bucs savor opportunity of NFC showdown
Matchups for the NFC championship game

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OSU seniors have trouble saying goodbye
Senior Bowl: North 17, South 0

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