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"I didn't do a very good job coaching that first year," Vermeil says. "And I'm not trying to be a Humble Charlie about it. But I did get them used to the idea of hard work."
Ah, hard work. All those three-hour practices, the midnight oil. For a while the world tuned in to this reaffirmation of the work ethic, and then it became Vermeil's cross to bear. The Eagles came up flat in the '78 playoffs and lost to Atlanta. Last year they were flat again, and Tampa Bay ran them out. Were they really flat or were they simply exhausted, beat up, their legs weakened by too much time on the practice field?
The Minnesota game in the first round of the playoffs three weeks ago seemed to reinforce that idea. The Vikings stuck it to the Eagles, beat them off the line. Scott Fitzkee went down, Keith Krepfle limped off, so did Billy Campfield. Wilbert Montgomery, the heart of the Eagles' running game, kept hobbling to the sidelines, and they patched him up and sent him back in. Every time Harold Carmichael was tackled he had trouble getting up. This was Dunkirk, but where were the boats? On the sidelines there was Vermeil, a whipping, driving force, grimacing, smacking his fist into his palm. Dr. Vermeil and his pick-up-your-bed-and-walk school of medicine, or The Church of Vermeil Scientist.
Then, in the second half, the Vikings got a case of the oopsies and eight turnovers sealed their fate, but the Eagles were living on borrowed time. Just wait till Dallas shows up next week. The Cowboys had given the Eagles a thorough whipping in the regular-season final. They broke Wide Receiver Charles Smith's jaw; Dennis Thurman cheap-shot Carmichael out of the game and stopped his pass-catching streak.
But when they met again for the NFC title, the Eagles won going away. They dominated the second half. "That's what I say when people accuse me of tiring the team out," Vermeil says. "Tired teams don't come back in the second half like we did." The Eagles' offensive linemen, who had been scorched by Vermeil during the week because of the way the Vikings beat them, shoved the Cowboys around. Before the game, 37-year-old Right Guard Woody Peoples, who'd been a San Francisco 49er for 10 years, told the squad, "I didn't know what football was all about until I came here three years ago."
The Eagle wounded are on offense—Smith and Walters (bad back). Both should be O.K. for the Super Bowl. It's a solid enough offense, with Jaworski a slow starter but cool and confident once he gets the feel of the game, and the ground game can do great things if Fullback Harris runs and blocks like a madman, as he did against Dallas. But it's the defense that beats people. The secondary, with rookie Left Cornerback Roynell Young showing much more than was expected this year, has become one of the NFL's very best—ranking alongside Oakland's in that department. Robinson is capable of amazing plays from his right-linebacker position; the line keeps a lot of heat on the passer and nevertheless manages to shut down the run.
The Eagles don't figure to run much on Oakland; their passing probably will be respectable. It's doubtful whether they'll direct much action toward Hayes at the left cornerback. Back in November, Jaworski aimed five passes into his coverage, completed zero and had one intercepted. Hayes has had that kind of a season, and he's on a hot streak right now, with five interceptions in the playoffs.
Philadelphia's at its best playing against teams it doesn't like—Dallas, Washington—but the Eagles have nothing against the Raiders. "They've got this big reputation as intimidators," Jaworski says, "but I think that died when [Jack] Tatum and [George] Atkinson left. Oh, they'll hit you all right, but I didn't hear any of our guys saying they were cheap-shotters. No, they're a good, clean, hard team, a good team to play against. You have to give them credit, coming through as a wild-card team the way they did, playing three games without a week off. My God, if we'd have had to play the Vikings without a week's rest, we'd have been in real trouble."
There are also teams the Raiders dislike—San Diego, Dallas (no one likes Dallas)—but Philly isn't one of them. There's a different kind of emotion at work with the Raiders, and much of it has its origins away from the field. The fans scorned them as renegades because of their proposed move to L.A. (Oakland Traitors was the new nickname), but then fell in love with them all over again, 9,000 jamming the airport after the San Diego victory. Hold on to your wallets, boys.
Al Davis' war with Pete Rozelle has been a lively side issue—just wait till Pete has to give Al the trophy, etc. Most of the players brush it off as an amusing diversion, but veteran Left Guard Gene Upshaw, who's been Davis' public defender through the years, sees it as much more. "The league has taken shots at Al whenever it could, and it's taken shots at us, too," he says. "It makes you want to play harder—to stick it to the whole bunch of them."