As reunion games go, McNabb vs. Eagles and Vick highly anticipated
Like Favre vs. Packers, McNabb vs. Eagles is an intriguing matchup
T.O.'s return to Philly offers some clues on what McNabb should expect
Other memorable reunion games include Montana-Niners, McDaniels-Belichick
It's Donovan McNabb-goes-back-to-Philly week, and we do love our reunion games in the NFL, don't we? With as much player and coach movement as the league features these days, every season provides a handful of reunion games of varying degrees of significance and intrigue. But some of them, like this week's, really deserve the screaming headline treatment.
It could be difficult to keep this particular streak alive past 2010, but for two years running the NFL has been considerate enough to ensure a highly anticipated Week 4 first-time matchup between one of the league's most recognizable and successful quarterbacks and the franchise he led and became synonymous with over the course of beaucoup seasons. Then again, the NFL mandates twice-a-year divisional play, so Brett Favre and the Packers and McNabb and the Eagles have little choice but to cross paths once again with their old flames.
McNabb doing his thing back in Lincoln Financial Field is the juiciest reunion of the NFL season, but it's far from the only one. Julius Peppers and the Bears visit Carolina next week, the Patriots' Randy Moss faces Minnesota for the first time ever in Week 8 and, of course, we get another full dose of Favre at Lambeau Field -- "This Time It's, Well, Still Pretty Personal'' -- in Week 7.
But McNabb versus his former Eagles understudy, Michael Vick, not to mention the fascinating McNabb-Andy Reid divorce, commands our attention this week like no other game this year has the potential to do. Naturally that got us thinking about the most highly anticipated reunion games of recent NFL vintage. Here's our list of favorites. As always, your results may vary:
1. Minnesota's Brett Favre against Green Bay, Week 4, 2009 -- Someone actually asked me this week if I could ever remember a reunion game that was bigger than McNabb's first-time return to the City of Brotherly Love? Uh, yeah, I sputtered, not entirely sure if they were serious. Happened last year. NFC North, as I recall. It was in all the papers.
Even though Favre's return to Lambeau Field in Week 8 was in some ways the main event we were waiting for, the sight of a purple-clad No. 4 facing off against the Packers for the first time on that Monday night at the Metrodome in early October felt like the real deal. You know the rest of the story. Favre went nuts on Green Bay, throwing for three touchdowns and 271 yards in a 30-23 Vikings win, and then for good measure, he sliced up the Packers again 27 days later at Lambeau, tossing for four touchdowns and 244 yards on just 17 completions in a 38-26 Minnesota win. Vindication, and victory, was all his.
2. Dallas's Terrell Owens against Philadelphia, Week 5, 2006 -- I wonder if McNabb called T.O. this week for pointers on how to wear the enemy colors of an NFC East rival into the Linc? Yeah, probably not. I mean, given that it was Owens who tried to undermine McNabb every way imaginable in that memorable and disastrous 2005 Eagles season.
I was there for the game when Owens came back to Philly as a Cowboy, and who can forget the Philly fans serenading their former star receiver with chants of "O.D.'', less than two weeks after reports surfaced that T.O. had tried to commit suicide by overdosing on medication? Owens refuted the suicide attempt, claiming it was only an allergic reaction he suffered.
Alas, the contest didn't really live up to the pre-game hype. The Eagles rolled 38-24, with Owens being held to just three catches for 45 yards, with a couple drops mixed in. It was McNabb who got the last laugh, throwing for 354 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for another score.
3. Kansas City's Joe Montana against San Francisco, Week 2, 1994 -- I just covered a 49ers at Chiefs game last Sunday, but the one that unfolded 16 years ago had a little more juice to it. It was the first and only time in Montana's illustrious Hall of Fame career that he got a crack at the team that jilted him in favor of Steve Young. And Joe Cool, even at 38 and playing in his final NFL season, once again delivered when the spotlight was on.
Montana threw for 203 yards and a couple touchdowns in Kansas City's 24-17 win, besting his rival/replacement, Young, who would go on to lead the 49ers to their fifth and most recent Super Bowl title that season. Young wasn't bad against the Chiefs. He threw for 288 yards, but was also intercepted twice by K.C. It was Joe's day, but there weren't many more to come. He retired after the 1994 season, having gotten the Chiefs into the playoffs at 9-7, where they were a one-and-done wild-card qualifier.
4. New Orleans' Drew Brees against San Diego, Week 8, 2008 -- Just because Brees doesn't really have a reputation for spewing a lot of antipathy in any particular direction doesn't mean this one was just another game for him. He wanted this W, and he wanted it badly. The former Chargers starting quarterback was sent packing by San Diego after he blew out his throwing shoulder in the final game of the 2005 season. First-round pick Philip Rivers was ready to take over the Chargers offense, and clearly it wasn't a bad call San Diego made.
Then again, Brees does wear a Super Bowl ring these days, and I believe Rivers and the Chargers have yet to even make it to the big game. In case it has slipped from memory, the Saints and Chargers played this game before 83,000-plus at London's Wembley Stadium, as part of the NFL's annual international series. In his first game against his old team, Brees was money in New Orleans' 37-32 win. He earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors by throwing for 339 yards and three touchdowns on 30-of-41 passing, without an interception (121.9 rating).
Rivers was almost as good, but not quite. The Chargers' QB was 25 of 40, for 341 yards, three touchdowns and one costly interception deep in Saints territory in the game's final minutes.
5. Oakland's Jerry Rice against San Francisco, Week 9, 2002 -- After 16 stellar seasons as a 49er (1985-2000), Rice was now with the hated cross-bay rival Raiders, squaring off for the first time in the regular season against the team with whom he earned three Super Bowl rings and became the league's all-time leading receiver. The game was a doozy. The 49ers won 23-20 in overtime, on kicker Jose Cortez's 23-yard field goal, just minutes after Cortez had unbelievably missed from 27 yards on the final play of regulation.
Rice was pretty much a non-factor in crunch time, finishing with six catches for 74 yards. But some of that had to do with San Francisco running the final 30 plays of the game, with 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia methodically driving the ball at the end of regulation for more than 6½ minutes, and another 8:41 at the start of overtime. Terrell Owens, the guy who replaced Rice as the No. 1 receiver in San Francisco, had a monster game, catching 12 passes for 191 yards. That one probably left a mark on Rice's sensitive psyche.
What I remember most about the game was the treatment the 49ers got that day from the notorious hostile Oakland Coliseum crowd. It was the 49ers first regular-season trip to Oakland since 1979, and things got heated. Most of San Francisco's players kept their families at home rather than let them make the 32-mile road trip. Though the Raiders slumped to 4-4 with the loss, they would rebound and end up losing to Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl that season. The 49ers won their division, too, but lost in the second round of the playoffs at Tampa Bay. Maybe the Bucs cursed them both, because neither Oakland nor San Francisco have had even so much as a winning season since.
6. Arizona's Emmitt Smith against Dallas, Week 5, 2003 -- We tend to remember Smith as being one of the NFL's truly indestructible running backs, but such was not the case the first and only time he faced the Cowboys after spending 13 seasons in the Dallas backfield. Back on the old familiar turf of Texas Stadium, Smith's homecoming went badly from the very start. He lost four yards on his first carry and wound up rushing just six times for a career-low minus-1 yard before leaving the game with a left shoulder injury. It was a crushing tackle by Dallas second-year safety Roy Williams that wound up injuring Smith's shoulder in the Cowboys' 24-7 win, and Smith, who ended his Hall of Fame career with two desultory seasons as a Cardinal, would go on to play in just 10 of Arizona's games that season, running for a career-worst 256 yards and two touchdowns on 90 carries.
The 2003 Cardinals went 4-12 and fired head coach Dave McGinnis after the season, hiring Dennis Green to replace him. Under new head coach Bill Parcells, the Cowboys that season rebounded from 5-11 in 2002 to 10-6 and an NFC wild-card playoff berth. As it turns out, Smith was neither indestructible nor irreplaceable.
7. Denver's Josh McDaniels against New England's Bill Belichick, Week 5, 2009 -- This is the game where young Grasshopper (McDaniels) was able to snatch the pebble from the hand of Master Kan (Belichick), thereby assuring everyone that he indeed was ready to leave the incubating comfort of the New England coaching staff for his own head coaching gig in the Rockies.
Denver improved to a stunning 5-0 with a 20-17 overtime upset of the Patriots, getting the winning points on Matt Prater's 41-yard field with 10:09 left in the extra period. The Broncos scored the game's final 13 points to overcome a 10-point halftime deficit, and mounted a pair of remarkable 90- and 98-yard drives, both of which were capped by 11-yard Kyle Orton to Brandon Marshall touchdown throws.
In beating his coaching mentor and former team, McDaniels, the ex-Patriots offensive coordinator, became the sixth rookie head coach in the Super Bowl era to start his career 5-0. What I'll never forget is the sight of a beaming McDaniels racing around the field after Prater's game-winning kick, bear-hugging almost everyone in sight. Maybe not Belichick, though. I think McDaniels held things in check there with a good firm handshake.
8. Miami's Joey Porter against Pittsburgh, Week 12, 2007 -- The story of this much-anticipated game turned out to be the field, and the weather that descended upon Pittsburgh's Heinz Field -- not Porter's return to the city he starred in for eight years as a play-making and always-talkative outside linebacker. A daylong rain and the installation of new sod conspired to turn the field's surface into a quagmire, and what resulted was the longest stretch an NFL game had remained scoreless in a mind-boggling 64 years.
The Steelers won 3-0 on Jeff Reed's 24-yard field goal with 17 seconds remaining, giving the NFL its lowest-scoring game in almost 14 years, and the lowest-scoring Monday Night Football contest in the 38-year history of the series. Footballs stopped dead in puddles of water on punts, and players navigating their way around the field on the loose and muddy turf would have been better off in snow shoes.
Porter did have his moment, however, and didn't miss the opportunity to run his mouth about it. He intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger pass to end Pittsburgh's opening drive, and lingered along the Steelers sideline after the play to tell all his former teammates just how he did it. But Pittsburgh paid him little mind, even though he had helped it to a Super Bowl title less than two years earlier. The Steelers released him in March, and he signed a big-money contract with Miami soon thereafter. The Dolphins went just 1-15 with Porter aboard, while Pittsburgh coped just fine without him, winning 10 games and their AFC North title.
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