Eagles

Remembering the greatest football game Reuben Frank never saw

Eagles

Eagles owner Norman Braman holding a spur-of-the-moment press conference in a shower stall in the basement of Soldier Field was one of the stranger moments of a strange day.

It was 30 years ago today, New Year’s Eve 1988 in Chicago, and I was in my first full season as Eagles beat writer for The Burlington County Times newspaper in South Jersey.

The Eagles had won their first NFC East title since 1980 on the final day of the regular season, and that earned them the No. 3 seed in the old five-team playoff bracket, a first-round bye and a meeting with the top-seeded Bears at Soldier Field.

There was so much drama involved, this being just three years after Buddy Ryan had been carried off the field at the Superdome after his defense helped the Bears win Super Bowl XX over the Patriots, 46-10.

Now, he was the Eagles’ head coach, and to say there was no love lost between him and Bears head coach Mike Ditka would be putting it mildly. So this was personal.

There were still a lot of strong Eagles-Bears ties. Steve McMichael, Richard Dent and Ron Rivera were Buddy’s guys but seen with the Bears. Jeff Fisher, who had played for Buddy in Chicago, was his defensive coordinator, and Dale Haupt had come to Philly with him to serve as D-line coach. Todd Bell, one of Buddy’s favorites with the Bears, was a starting linebacker with the Eagles.

The Eagles hadn’t won a playoff game since 1980, and the Bears were just three years removed from that 1985 powerhouse, so Buddy really played up the underdog role, the same way Doug Pederson would three decades later.

 

The Bears were 5 1/2-point favorites, and the only thing notable about the first half was how many opportunities the Eagles squandered.

They fell behind 17-6 despite piling up 256 first-half yards thanks to a series of frustrating drives deep into Chicago territory. As you can see, the Eagles had nine drives to at least the Bears’ 25-yard line without scoring a touchdown.

Then, it was the two-minute warning and at first, it looked like a car was on fire just north of the stadium because we saw what looked like smoke start billowing up in the air.

It wasn’t smoke. It was fog.

By the time halftime arrived, an incredibly dense fog had enveloped the stadium. We were sitting in the press box, but we literally couldn’t see the field.

We thought maybe NFL officials would delay the game, but they didn’t. The second half began, and league officials allowed all the writers down onto the field so we could actually see the game.

But even then, we barely could.

I remember standing on the Eagles’ sideline on the west side of the stadium and being able to see the Bears’ sideline about 60 yards away but only about 15 yards either way down the field.

I vividly remember Eagles safety Andre Waters materializing out of the fog at one point and hitting Bears receiver Dennis McKinnon so hard I thought my teeth were going to fall out.

And I remember watching Randall Cunningham late in the game drop back and heave the ball deep into the soupy sky and then a moment later, seeing Bears safety Maurice Douglass emerge out of the fog, racing down the middle of the field with the football.

You would think neither offense would be able to function, but the Eagles actually gained 174 yards after halftime and the Bears, playing close to the vest with the lead, had 103.

But each team managed only a field goal after halftime, and the Bears advanced to the NFC Championship Game with a 20-12 win.

The Eagles didn’t lose because of the fog, they lost because the blew so many great scoring chances both before and after the fog rolled in.

After the game, the Eagles players were furious that the game hadn’t been postponed until the fog cleared.

That’s how Braman ended up in a shower stall. It was the only place in the antiquated stadium large enough to gather the media and express his outrage that the game had been allowed to continue.

After we were finished in the locker room, all the writers headed back up to the press box, which gave us a perfect view of the last thing we expected to see.

Clear skies.

The fog had lifted just as quickly as it came in, and it was a picture-perfect evening in Chicago.

 

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