Reggie White slumped in a chair late Sunday afternoon, waiting to talk about his first game as a Packer at Green Bay's Lambeau Field. It was barely 30 minutes after the Pack's 20-17 loss to the Eagles, 30 minutes after former teammate Seth Joyner had hugged White and said, "I love you," and the shower White had just taken couldn't wash away the hurt or the exhaustion. He held his head in his hands, the picture of a defeated man.
"Ran it down our throats," said White, barely above a whisper. "Can't believe it. They ran it right down our throats."
Sunday was White's day, his first opportunity to perform in northeastern Wisconsin for his adoring new fans, but the Eagles got the better of him. Joyner and the Philly defense blitzed quarterback Brett Favre relentlessly, and Eagle signal-caller Randall Cunningham shredded a tiring Packer defense. Roger Ruzek's 30-yard field goal with five seconds left was the margin of victory. White had eight tackles, two forced fumbles and two sacks but was powerless to stop the Eagles when it mattered.
The day before, the thought of a loss was the furthest thing from anyone's mind in Green Bay, where the most popular T-shirt in town was the one emblazoned WE'VE GOT THE WHITE ONE BABY. On Sunday, when White was introduced with the rest of the starting defense—coach Mike Holmgren had his new star announced last, to build the drama, to intimidate the Eagles—the stadium shook with a level of emotion befitting the home debut of the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. "That was the toughest part of the whole day, seeing Reggie get introduced in another uniform," Joyner said.
Once the game began, playing on the left side almost exclusively, White made three big plays in the first half. On the game's first series he slashed through the guard-tackle hole, caught Cunningham from behind and stripped the ball from him. The Packers recovered, but the offense could not capitalize on the break. On the Eagles' third series White made a carbon-copy play, and the Packers turned that one into a field goal. Then late in the second quarter he powered past tackle Antone Davis and smashed running back Heath Sherman for a four-yard loss. Two plays later Ruzek missed a 31-yard field goal attempt. Through it all White was speechless. "Weird," Cunningham said later. "He never said a word. Reggie was all business."
"I read that everyone says Reggie's lost a step," Joyner said, "I can't see it. To me he's still the most dominant defensive player in the league."
Green Bay led 17-7 after three quarters, but the Eagles, despite all the commotion of the past week—they dismissed widely respected personnel chief Joe Woolley on Monday because they felt he had spoken too negatively about the organization—found a way to come back, scoring 13 points in the last 11� minutes in classic Philadelphia fashion. The Eagles blitzed, and they used Cunningham's legs on three scoring drives.
The Eagles are 2-0, and even with White gone, they can play vicious defense led by a player who is nearly White's equal—Joyner. And when Cunningham is on, they can beat anybody. To be sure, White is missed, but with Dallas and Washington a combined 1-3 and Phoenix and the Giants a combined 3-1, a healthy Philly team looks as though it might seriously contend in the NFC East.
As for White, this will be a tough year. The talent that surrounds him is not the equal of that he played with in Philadelphia. Opponents will be able to avoid him, and White will have difficulty building impressive stats. He did not have a sack in the preseason or in the Pack's opening win over the Rams, in Milwaukee. And the pressure of a four-year, $17 million contract is enormous. "Everybody keeps judging me by the amount of money I make, and that makes it tough," White said.