Amid circus atmosphere, Eagles get act together

September 25, 1990|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

PHILADELPHIA -- The Pro Bowl tight end holds out 50 days in a contract dispute, comes back to town in a limousine, calls a news conference and shouts "conspiracy." The quarterback wonders aloud about the new offensive system. The coach, a gruff, round guy who wears a black hat and refers to human beings as numbers, declares the team is making progress toward the Super Bowl after absorbing a second straight defeat.

And this all occurs in one week.

Clearly, the Philadelphia Eagles are like no other team in the National Football League. They are a high-wire act, daredevils in a sport that rewards conservatism.

The Eagles went to the edge again Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams in Anaheim, Calif., swaying in the breeze without a net, seeking revenge against the team that knocked them off in last season's National Football Conference wild-card playoff game.

But tight end Keith Jackson was back in the lineup after an angry, unsuccessful holdout. Quarterback Randall Cunningham was freed from the pocket. And coach Buddy Ryan was on the sideline orchestrating another back-from-the-edge performance in a stadium two miles from Disneyland.

Somehow, the Eagles came away with a 27-21 win over the Rams. Philadelphia's first victory of 1990 raised its record to 1-2 and propelled it into Sunday's home game with the winless Indianapolis Colts. Not that the players care, but the radio talk shows, cluttered with Buddy-must-go talk, became a bit kinder yesterday.

"On our team, we have that 'I don't give a damn' attitude," Cunningham said. "Whatever it takes to do to win, we do. We might not be the most disciplined team in the league, but we're not dirty. We do have an attitude."

The attitude -- us against the world -- has fueled the Eagles during Ryan's five-year reign. Still promising to win a Super Bowl after all these years, Ryan dismisses critics with a scowl and maintains the team is on course for a title.

"I don't care what people think about the team," he said. "We're a good football team. We outplayed everyone this year. We're a good team -- we'll be there."

Even by Eagles standards, last week was weird, from Jackson's return to a tumultuous team meeting. Jackson's claim that Eagles management was conspiring to undercut Ryan was bizarre enough. But that Jackson made the statement while sitting next to Ryan was stranger still.

"I'm glad we don't have to deal with 0-3," wide receiver Mike Quick said. "Oh man, you don't want to think about something like that. Last week, you can't reflect on that. You can't keep rehashing things. You're spinning your wheels if you do that."

Still, the us-vs.-them attitude dominates the locker room. And it's not just the Eagles against their opponents -- it's players against management. Jackson's bid to renegotiate his contract midway through its four-year term may not have played well in the papers, but it played well in the locker room.

"In order to be a completely successful team, it has to start from the top," defensive end Reggie White said. "It becomes dollars, but it's not just dollars. It's egos. They've [management] got to do a better job with us and we'll have to do a better job with them. The relationship has to be better. But I'm tired of talking about that. I want to talk football."

The Eagles answered a lot of questions in their win over the Rams.

* Where was the new offense that was installed by new offensive coordinator Rich Kotite? Cunningham and company were unproductive in losses to the New York Giants and Phoenix Cardinals, but the offense performed wonderfully Sunday, as Cunningham threw for two touchdowns and scrambled for 44 yards, and Anthony Toney rushed for 103 yards (the first Eagle to rush for more than 100 yards since 1987).

"The coaches said be yourself," Cunningham said. "That gave me freedom inside."

* Can anyone on the Eagles' defense stop the run? You bet. After Philadelphia gave up 145 yards on the ground against Phoenix, Los Angeles gained only 35 yards on 15 carries, and quarterback Jim Everett was sacked twice and chased all game.

"Everybody knew what was up," White said. "We knew if we were 0-3 we'd be in serious trouble. We're digging our own way out. And we're doing it with pressure."

But was this a one-game turnaround, or are the Eagles up on the wire, ready to find the balance and the courage to go to the Super Bowl?

"The best way to answer it is to say we were 0-2 and now we're 1-2," Cunningham said. "No one is crazy or happy we won a game. It's just one stop. We're ready to get started."

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