Before Patrick Robinson became a folk hero, before the Philly Special became more well known than the Citywide Special and before Brandon Graham left Tom Brady bereft on the turf, the ending of the Miracle at the New Meadowlands stood as the pinnacle of my Eagles fandom.
There was despair, then there was hope. There was a 99.9 percent chance of defeat and then pure euphoria. There was a five-foot-nothin’ guy running across the field until he saw triple zeros on the scoreboard, a pantheon-level Merrill Reese call, my uncomfortably awkward and chubby 16-year-old body jumping into my dad’s arms, my dog barking her head off and my mom running down the stairs wondering what the fudge (she didn’t say fudge) we were screaming about. It sounds like a lost verse from Don McLean’s “American Pie.”
DeSean Jackson remains the most prominent figure from that legendary 21-point comeback against the Giants nine years ago. His unceremonious release at the hands of former head coach Chip Kelly in March 2014 did nothing, at least not initially, to lessen my most enduring memory as an Eagles fan. The 2017 Eagles changed everything for Philadelphians, but one unexpected aspect was the way it sort of altered my feelings on past Eagles moments I held so dear.
There was a strange part of me that was a little sad that Jackson wasn’t on that Super Bowl-winning team, as if it should’ve been him catching that flea flicker touchdown from Nick Foles in the NFC Championship Game, or that it took away from the former mystique of the Miracle at the New Meadowlands. The 2017 Eagles gave me a lifetime’s worth of magical moments in a six-month period. I get it’s all part of the climb to the mountaintop where the Lombardi Trophy stood, but I was left wondering why I was holding on so tightly to a random regular season game in 2010 when I just witnessed maybe the most improbable Super Bowl run in NFL history.
Jackson’s return to the Eagles yesterday via a trade with the Buccaneers is a homecoming five years in the making, yet another sly move from Howie Roseman to eradicate any thought of Kelly’s tenure in Philly from the NovaCare Complex. There’s an obvious on-field benefit from this: DeSean is the Eagles’ best deep threat at receiver since… well, DeSean himself. His speed, even at age 32, is unparalleled and will give plenty of space to Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert to work in the middle of the field on the intermediate routes that make the two tight ends so dangerous. There’s more than that though. In what is clearly a personality flaw, every Eagles move exists on a deeper level in my mind.
Jackson’s first stint in Philly, from the run to the 2008 NFC Championship Game during his rookie campaign to the wild ride of the Mike Vick era and that unforgettable afternoon in North Jersey to Kelly’s awe-inspiring first season where anything felt possible, is a bygone age in this franchise’s history. The Eagles now exist in a post-2017 world. Doug Pederson may have worked as an assistant under Andy Reid for four seasons while Jackson was still an Eagle, but the organization is now operating as if that championship last year is the new norm, severing any connection to the never-ending pessimism that surrounded the team for the better part of six decades.
Jackson now feels like a bridge between two distinct periods of Eagles fandom to me. There’s the misplaced optimism of my youth, starry-eyed watching playoff disappointment after playoff disappointment and getting increasingly more sure that I would never watch the Eagles reach the promised land. That’s contrasted with the less infuriating Eagles of my early 20s, where Pederson knocked off the greatest coach of all time in the biggest game of his life and Carson Wentz looks poised for a decade of star-level play. It’s so much easier to feel good about this squad with the burden of a Super Bowl victory off the fan base’s shoulders.
From his first go route this fall, Jackson will usher in a wave of romanticized nostalgia, but I’ll also have last February’s triumph fresh in my mind. DeSean connects these two lives I’ve lived as an Eagles fan together. Everything that was once old is now new. I’m already craving his fourth quarter punt return in Dallas this year, where I’ll be reminded of the wonder DeSean left me with when I was just 16 and then experience those emotions all over again.
Jackson’s punt return may no longer be my favorite play in Eagles history, but a 75-yard, play-action bomb from Wentz to DJacc on the first play from scrimmage this season in front of 70,000 strong at The Linc could be yet another installment in his midnight green legacy.
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