Considering the success of the Philadelphia Eagles since the turn of the millennium, it’s easy to forget the struggles they faced just prior.
They saw some success under head coach Ray Rhodes in the late 1990s after the notoriously loathed Rich Kotite was relieved of his duties following a regular-season collapse not even rivaled by the 2023 rendition of the Birds. Still, a 9-22-1 combined record from 1997 to 1998 for the former also led to his departure.
With the Philadelphia 76ers rapidly approaching contender status under budding star Allen Iverson at this time and the Philadelphia Flyers consistently competing for championships, it was not a great time for Eagles football.
Among other things, acquiring both head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb in the 1999 offseason changed the trajectory for the Birds.
How the Era Started
First, they looked to Green Bay to fill their vacant coaching void and — spoiler alert — got a young prodigy in Reid to take over. Having success as the quarterback coach for who ended up being one of the all-time greats in, Brett Favre, it wasn’t hard to see why the 40-year-old would be a coveted target of theirs.
A few months later, the Eagles landed their franchise quarterback with the second-overall selection in the 1999 NFL Draft in McNabb. Pairing one of the young coaching minds with an even younger player to be the face of the team was both bold and had a high reward at the same time.
Unsurprisingly, 1999 was a season of progress for Philadelphia. They went 5-11, led by three different starting quarterbacks, yet it was still somehow a progression from a three-win campaign the season prior. But this was only the start, and it was all up for the next half-decade.
In just his second season in the NFL and his first as a full-time starter, McNabb had a sensational 2000 campaign. His raw numbers don’t suggest he should have finished second in MVP voting as he did, he had an underwhelming receiving room aside from star tight end Chad Lewis who had a respectable 735 yards. Still building around the team, the Birds were ahead of schedule.
In the postseason, McNabb and a strong defense led the Eagles to their first playoff win since 1996. While they were defeated by the eventual NFC Champion New York Giants in the Divisional Round, hopes were finally high in Philadelphia again.
Eagles’ Rise and Fall Defined This Generation of Football
After that, the story is pretty well-known at this point — how they got there is all the more impressive. The Eagles made four straight conference championship games in what was arguably the greatest stretch in tea history. Finally headed to the Super Bowl after three consecutive collapses in the NFC Championship, they ultimately to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots 24-21 — this was the closest Reid and McNabb would ever come in Philadelphia despite being very young for NFL standards.
The Eagles had some up-and-down seasons afterward, highlighted by a miraculous run to the NFC Championship in 2008, sitting at just nine wins. In what was the last hurrah of the Reid-McNabb era, they were put to bed in a crushing one-score contest by the Arizona Cardinals.
From there, McNabb and Reid saw their final seasons dwindle in the City of Brotherly Love, with both of them being out of Philadelphia entering 2013. Despite this decade-plus saga not resulting in a championship of any sort, a new culture was brought to the Eagles.
The gloomy latter seasons of the 1990s were extinguished by arguably the best to ever do it at each of their respective spots in team history. This new culture paved the way for the team’s first Lombardi Trophy in 2017, changing the way the franchise is viewed. Even if it didn’t happen directly, the Reid-McNabb era changed the Eagles’ fortunes for the better.
Compared to where they were just two decades and some change ago, the Eagles are in a very favorable spot in the present. Playoff heartache is one of the most difficult things to stomach for both players and fans alike, but it is much better than the alternative: not competing in them at all. Reid and McNabb changed that for the Birds, putting together the winning culture they have today. Even the modern Eagles’ 11-6 campaign in 2023 was widely viewed as negative — it’s still important to acknowledge where they came from.
From rock bottom in 1998, the franchise has turned a corner — sixth in team wins since 2000 and holding a playoffs percentage of 75 in that span, the Eagles after both McNabb and Reid joined are almost a completely different organization.
As a result, football couldn’t be bigger in Philadelphia.