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Philadelphia Eagles veterans expected to be in NFC title game

PHILADELPHIA — Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown has played in three NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl. For him and other Eagles veterans, playing in the playoffs is hardly a new phenomenon.

That's why, moments after defeating the defending Super Bowl-champion Giants in last week's divisional playoff game, Brown's words remained measured and his emotions in check.

Meanwhile, less-experienced teammates justifiably celebrated with glee after making their first foray this deep into the postseason.

"You can tell a younger guy from a veteran that's been around here," said the 29-year-old Brown, drafted by the Eagles in 2002. "It's expected for us to win football games. It's expected for us to be in the NFC title game. Anything less is not a good season. These veterans have been around and had too much success."

There's just not many of those vets left.

For as many times as the Eagles have been on the verge of the Super Bowl in recent years — they've played in four NFC title games since the 2001 season — less than a quarter of a team's roster has participated in more than one championship game.

Just 11 of the 53 active players have played in multiple NFC Championship Games. A mere six have been in Philadelphia for each of the four recent seasons the Eagles have advanced this far (2001-04).

They are a vastly different team than the one that flirted with world championships on an annual basis earlier in this decade. But the players who made up the heart and soul of those teams remain. It is their job to impart on the next generation of Eagles what they'll be faced with in Sunday afternoon's NFC Championship Game at Arizona.

"It's having that mentality that you have to play mistake-free football and you have to go out and play at a high level in order to move on," said quarterback Donovan McNabb, a veteran of 14 playoff games. "You want to continue to express that to the rest of the guys. You want to continue to show that, during the week of practice, you're not changing anything that you're doing. You're still keeping the same attitude in practice, just having fun and playing around and getting guys loose, because you don't want any of the other guys to tighten up or catch butterflies and get out of their element."

McNabb will have some help conveying the message.

Offensive tackles Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas have been with the Eagles since before their string of conference championship appearances. Safety Brian Dawkins is a Philadelphia icon, drafted by the Eagles in 1996. Kicker David Akers joined the Eagles in 1999. The knowledge they share with their younger counterparts certainly is valuable, but there's an understanding that the veterans must lead the way.

"This is something that is storybook," McNabb said. "You've seen (Dawkins) play at a high level, Tra doing a good job, Runyan doing a good job, Akers has been here nine years. In order for us to move on and get where we want to go, we have to play at a high level."

Their coach is counting on it.

"I'll bank on that part, that some of the coaches and players have been there and understand," said Andy Reid, who has a 10-6 postseason record. "You have to understand that this game is going to be faster than the last game. That's the way it works every step you take in the playoffs. … You try and coach up the young guys as best you can."

The best advice, it seems, will come from their teammates who have been here before.

Philadelphia Eagles veterans expected to be in NFC title game 01/16/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 16, 2009 2:05pm]

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