As we count down the days until the kickoff of a new Philadelphia Eagles season, one that many fans have very high hopes for, I thought it would be appropriate to look back at another game that launched a season. A game that saw the Eagles come away with a decisive 41-14 win against a bitter division rival that was thanks to, in no small part, pickle juice.
It was September 2, 2000. Andy Reid was going into his second season the the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and this year he would open the season on the road against the hated Dallas Cowboys. Quarterback Donovan McNabb was going into his first full season as the starting QB and the team was coming off a 5-11 record that had expectations for the team running fairly tepid.
At kickoff, the temperature in Texas was 109 degrees while the conditions on the field felt like 150. In what many called a stroke of genius, trainer Rick Burkholder had the players drink pickle juice before and during the game, a trick that the team had used during training camp in Lehigh Valley. The thinking was that it would help the players combat cramping and dehydration and, by the time the game was over, everyone agreed it had worked very well. Ever since that day, most fans simply refer to this game as “The Pickle Juice Game”.
In a daring move that would come to define Reid’s early years as the Eagles coach, he made the surprise decision to attempt an onsides kick to open the game. Everyone, from the fans to the commentators to me sitting in my living room screaming at the TV, was shocked, stunned and thrilled when the gambit worked and the Eagles recovered the ball. They would them march down the field for 58 yards and finish with McNabb throwing a one-yard pass to TE Jeff Thomason for the score.
While the pickle juice and the onsides kick are the things the majority of fans remember most vividly about that 2000 season opener, there were a number of additional storylines that made that game one for the ages.
One was running back Duce Staley, who it seemed could not be stopped that day. Staley finished the day with 201 rushing yards on 26 carries including a TD in addition to 61 yards on four pass receptions. In all, Staley accounted for 262 of the team’s 306 yards from scrimmage that day. Unfortunately, Staley would be lost for the year in Week 5 against the Atlanta Falcons and totaled only 344 yards on the ground that season.
The other is the simple fact that the Eagles had not only beaten the Cowboys, but totally humiliated them on their home field.
Dallas QB Troy Aikman was sacked four times and eventually left the game with a concussion in the second quarter. He finished the day having not completed a single pass and threw a pick that was returned for 6 points. RB Emmitt Smith was able to gain only 29 yards on the ground and WR Joey Galloway had four receptions for 62 yards but suffered a season-ending knee injury late in the game.
And as everyone knows, nothing makes Eagles fans happier than seeing Cowboys on the ground, wincing in pain.
The Eagles and Andy Reid would go on to finish the 2000 season with a 11-5 record and a wild card playoff win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That season would be the start of a period of true greatness for Eagles football that saw the team regularly make the playoffs and eventually reach a Super Bowl.
Will 2015 prove to be the start of something just as special for the team Chip Kelly has assembled? Who knows. But there can be no denying that the 2000 season opener was a game that not only came to define Andy Reid and his Eagles, but it was also a dramatic turning point in the history of the franchise.
Who knew pickle juice could have that effect?