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SHAWN ANDREWS was in Los Angeles recuperating from back surgery in October when the first scenes of bedlam flashed across his television. The Eagles' guard recognized the city of Philadelphia, but the rest of the images were unfamiliar: grown men jumping up and down on rooftops, children clicking cellphone cameras, office workers pressed against windows to watch Cole Hamels and the Phillie Phanatic go by. � As the weeks passed and the Eagles recovered from their midseason struggles, Andrews began to envision a different parade. He changed the color theme from red to green. He replaced Charlie Manuel with Andy Reid and swapped in Donovan McNabb for Ryan Howard. He added an extra million people and one large silver trophy.
"It would be a sight to behold," says Andrews, still convalescing but dreaming big after the Eagles' 23--11 knockout of the Giants in Sunday's NFC divisional playoff in East Rutherford, N.J. "I'm talking a 2009 Inauguration kind of crowd."
Thousands of miles remain between a second-round win at Giants Stadium and a second parade in three months down Broad Street, but the Eagles aren't questioning the details of their improbable winter march. Along with their goatees and Grizzly Adams beards—players are letting their facial hair grow in a gesture of team unity—the Eagles have fashioned an airtight defense built on the fundamentals of January football: Stop the run, create turnovers, advance.
On Sunday they outmuscled the defending champion Giants in their own building, forcing Eli Manning into throws off his back foot and stuffing New York's rushing attack late in the game. Twice in the fourth quarter the Eagles stopped New York on fourth-and-short, pushing Manning back on a sneak and pulling down running back Brandon Jacobs short of the first-down sticks. "Once we stopped [ Jacobs]," said Eagles defensive end Victor Abiamiri, "you could see the change in mentality on our whole sideline."
The win put the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game for the fifth time in eight seasons, this time in Glendale against the Arizona Cardinals, a team Philadelphia embarrassed 48--20 on Thanksgiving Day at Lincoln Financial Field. Before that game the Eagles were 5-5-1 and coming off a 36--7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens that was memorable for Reid's benching of McNabb in the second half.
Now both men sit just two victories away from sainthood in Philadelphia.
"A few months before the Phillies won the World Series, they were killing Charlie Manuel," says Hugh Douglas, the former Eagles defensive end who hosts a radio talk show in Philly. "Now he's the greatest thing since sliced bread. Everyone said Donovan is known for throwing up [in Super Bowl XXXIX] and choking in the clutch. Look at his numbers. He's a hell of a player. It's going to be interesting to see how this ride plays out."
Andrews, when asked about the criticism Reid and McNabb have faced throughout their careers from Eagles fans, pointed to the future. "You don't miss your water until the well runs dry," he said. "When the [fans] sit back whenever Donovan's done, five, 10 years down the road, they'll be like, Wow, that guy was great. They're going to miss him. Same with Coach Reid. They're going to miss him when he's not here."
While the hubbub over Reid's benching of McNabb simmered through December, the Eagles' defense was putting together its best performances of the season. In Philadelphia's last four regular-season games (three wins and a loss) opponents scored 14, 10, 10 and six points. At the same time, free safety Brian Dawkins, a 13-year Eagles veteran and seven-time Pro Bowl pick started to become more vocal in the locker room.
"You could just see the emotion," said strong safety Quintin Mikell. "He turned up his play and his speeches. He took us on his back. If for nothing else, we want to get him that championship."