It was a cold, January day during my freshman year in high school. My friends and I grew up in the country fields of Lebanon, TN during our younger years, so we were always outside despite the temperatures or conditions in general.
We were out exploring my buddy’s woods, feet crunching in the snow and breath as visible as the sun, when I realized what time it was.
“Oh shit,” I exclaimed to my friends as I looked at my digital, Wal-Mart bought (don’t hate!) watch that was cracked almost to the point where I couldn’t even tell the time, “the Bucs game comes on in five minutes!”
Being from Tennessee - especially after the Titans’ official arrival - it was hard to get anyone to give even a whiff of attention towards the Bucs. My friends just stared at me blankly, wondering why I was so excited for yet another Eagles playoff rematch.
“You know they’re just going to get their asses kicked again, right?” one friend asked. The other just laughed and told me I better get going.
We had hiked for about 20 minutes already to the point where we were deep off in the woods. I’d never ran so fast in my life. I got into my friend’s living room and in front of their big-screen TV just in time to see the end of the Eagles’ first drive.
Within seconds, I was wishing I was back in the woods. It took the Eagles less than a minute to score a touchdown on the opening drive of the game after Brian Mitchell returned the kickoff for 70 yards inside the Bucs’ 30-yard line.
At least my friends weren’t around to say “I told you so”.
The Bucs drove down and scored a field goal on the following drive before the teams traded out possessions a few times. It seemed like things were going to go the usual route with the Eagles until Joe Jurevicius hauled in a 71-yard catch-and-run pass from Brad Johnson that put the Bucs on their feet.
Tampa Bay would punch it in with Mike Alstott and take the lead from the Eagles, 10-7.
From that point forward, the Bucs were able to pretty much take control of the game. They held a 20-10 lead entering the fourth quarter and things looked good.
But in typical Eagles fashion, Donovan McNabb and co. weren’t anywhere close to done.
With under seven minutes to play in the game, McNabb drove the Eagles down inside the Bucs’ 20. The Eagles had ran just one play in Tampa Bay territory during the second half until this moment and McNabb was on fire during the drive, throwing for 65 yards on five completions.
What was even more alarming was watching the heralded Bucs’ defense get picked apart late in the game - something that didn’t happen often in 2002. But the theme of the defense was always bend, don’t break.
And that’s exactly what happened.
McNabb dropped back to pass from the Bucs’ 10-yard line and looked to his left for wide receiver Antonio Freeman. McNabb let it rip and Bucs’ cornerback Ronde Barber beautifully, gracefully, magnificently - whatever you want to call it - stepped in front of the pass for a perfect pick-six in Veterans Stadium.
Barber previously halted one of the Eagles’ drives in the second half when he strip-sacked McNabb at the 50-yard line for an Ellis Wyms recovery. He was all over the place that day.
I remember jumping off of my friends’ couch in pure elation and running around his living room screaming, “WE ARE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL!! WE ARE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL!!” over and over again until my face was redder than my hair.
The stadium was dead. Philadelphia was dead. The Eagles - were dead.
My friends and his family came running into the room - they didn’t even watch the game with me - upon hearing my excitement with a look of confused excitement on their faces.
“WE ARE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL AND WE ARE GOING TO WIN!”, I shouted before getting my dig in like they had with me out in the woods, “WE CAN AT LEAST GET A YARD!”
Ronde shut down the Vet and the Bucs went to the Super Bowl. Happy days.