The lesson was jarring, and it was humbling, and it resounds all these months later, delivered by our ever-friendly and always-accommodating neighbors to the south. For one of the few times in recorded history, we can offer sincere thanks to the fair city of Philadelphia for showing us the way.
You will recall that the Phillies were doubly fortunate to even qualify for the baseball playoffs, taking advantage of the extra bid invented for the 2022 season and overcoming 5 ½ months of mostly uninspired baseball. But once they stamped their ticket, they adopted as their unofficial mantra the old New York Lottery slogan: Gotta be in it to win it.
More to the point:
They reminded everyone — specifically baseball fans on both sides of New York’s baseball chasm — that it really doesn’t matter how well you play in April or May, how many games you win in June and July, how complete you seem in August and September. It’s October that matters first, foremost, forever.
If you’re playing your best when the games matter most, that’s the best weapon you can own. The Phillies taught that lesson directly to St. Louis, Atlanta and San Diego, and indirectly to New York. If you watched the World Series you did so with steam leaking from your ears and envy lurking in your soul.
But maybe you took that lesson to heart.
And maybe this Saturday, we will see if that tutorial can be easily transferred to the field at Lincoln Financial Field, where the Giants will play the Eagles in the NFC semifinals after outslugging the Vikings, 31-24, Sunday afternoon at Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium.
“All we have to do,” Leonard Williams said with a smile inside a jubilant Giants locker room, “is go right down the street.”
And make no mistake: the Eagles know precisely who will report for work on Saturday. It will not be the team they ransacked at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 11, a 48-22 slamming that easily could have been worse. Nor will it be the walk-ons wearing Giants uniforms who merrily threw a scare into them in Week 18, a 22-16 Eagles win that seemed more uncomfortable than kidney stones for Philly fans.
No. What they’re going to get is the very best of the Giants, because the Giants are playing, right now, better than they’ve played all year which means it’s the best they’ve played in six years. Their offense is picking up momentum at the perfect time, Daniel Jones enjoying the game of his life Sunday (301 yards passing, 78 more running) and Saquon Barkley playing at an optimal level. The defense can be leaky, but damned if it didn’t rise up and smother the Vikings on Sunday, limiting them to three points on their final three possessions.
And you know that Brian Daboll, the coach who parts with every available ounce of sweat and blood every week, will have them ready to make it to Philly without the need for a plane, train, or automobile. His magical first year as a head coach keeps getting better and better. And now it winds up just down the Turnpike, in the Eagles’ backyard.
“I think we’ve got a lot of work to do, but it’s enjoyable work,” Daboll said, a few minutes after channeling Ted Lasso in a joyous postgame locker-room dance with his players. “We’re a scrappy bunch, we work hard and there’s a good amount of humility in that room.”
There’s also a better amount of belief, and a Big Gulp serving of confidence. They will need all of that in Philly on Saturday, but you have to believe the Eagles and their truest believers were hoping the Vikings would do everyone a solid and delete the Giants’ name from the NFC tournament brackets. Now they have to do it themselves.
And, look: they should. They didn’t win those 14 games in a raffle, and there have been many weeks the Eagles looked every bit as good as the Bills or the Chiefs over in the AFC. Just not lately. Jalen Hurts banged up his throwing shoulder. The Eagles lost consecutive games to the Cowboys and Saints. They barely eked by the Davis Webb Giants.
Now they get the Giants, and all the pressure will be on the NFC East champs, and the ever-difficult task of beating a team thrice in one season, and the Giants can’t wait to see what that’ll look like.
“See you next Sunday,” tackle Andrew Thomas said.
“I’m sure the atmosphere is going to be insane: Plenty of boos and middle fingers for us, but we look forward to it,” receiver Darius Slayton said.
“We want to keep putting on for the city and for each other,” nose tackle Dexter Lawrence said.
Saturday, they get the Eagles, and all of the history that includes. They get Philly fans, and all the color and profane pageantry that entails. And they get to play at the apex of their efforts. Coming together at exactly the right time of the season, hoping to prove something to both New York and Philadelphia:
January is the new October.
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