"He said that? It was nice of him," Bunting said. "That's the key, isn't it? Good people. We don't do anything very fancy out there. We're not a blitzing team. Blitzing isn't sound defense. We play the run very tough and then we go into basic coverages."
Hanging over the Eagles' heads, though, is the shadow of two previous playoffs, the heartbreaking last-second loss to Atlanta two years ago and the roughing up by Tampa Bay last season.
There was speculation that the toughness of Vermeil's practice regimen, his routine three-hour workouts, had taken the zip out of his players' legs, had worn them down by the end of the season.
"No, I haven't cut down our practice time," Vermeil said Sunday, "but maybe I've lightened up on the intensity a bit. And there will be weeks that I won't work 'em that hard. That's a change."
Someone mentioned performances by Humphrey against the Eagles, and Vermeil smiled. Philadelphia had gotten Humphrey last year when it seemed that his best days in Atlanta were long gone, when he'd retired and been coaxed into coming back. Humphrey had cost two fourth-round draft choices. Vermeil's whole thrust has been toward defense. He has always used his first pick in the draft to go for defense (he had solved his quarterback problem by stealing Jaworski from the Rams for Tight End Charle Young, even up), but in Humphrey he got something special.
"He's playing better this year than he did last," Vermeil said. "You saw him out there today, you saw what he's capable of. It's exciting to me to see the way he's been playing. One of the rewards of coaching is having the opportunity of being around the kind of man Claude Humphrey is."
Stretched out on his back, wrapped up in his Jobst Cryotemp and staring at the collection of ancient leather helmets that trainer Otho Davis has hung from the ceiling of the training room, Humphrey philosophized about his role with the Eagles, his role in pro football.
"You know, when I retired I felt I'd only come back for this team," he said. "I wouldn't have gone anywhere else. I'd seen 'em play early in the year in '78 and they were a young football team, but they were good. They had talent on that defensive team. Carl Hairston, Charlie Johnson.... I said, to myself, 'Hey, I can play with those guys.' They were young and going places. At that point in my career I didn't want to wait around for Atlanta to build a team. I'd been through that about seven times already.
"People say I'm old now. Well, I never felt old and I never felt young. I just felt like me. I can do what I'm doing now because I don't have to go in on early downs and play the run. Last year when I had to go the whole way I just wore down. By the end of the season, by the time we drew Tampa Bay in the playoffs, my body was a wreck.
"Sixty plays a game, for 16 weeks...well, I don't think I could do it now. But this way, playing 60% of the time, with Dennis Harrison playing the run and pounding on those tackles, I feel I have a lot of football left.