PHILADELPHIA The Philadelphia Eagles were supposed to be here. The Atlanta Falcons weren't.
Playing in the past three NFC championship games gives the Eagles a significant edge in big-game experience. Losing all three of those games puts all the pressure on Philadelphia to get to the Super Bowl for the first time in 24 years.
''We lost. It's time to move on,'' Eagles defensive tackle Corey Simon said Thursday. ''Thinking about last year and the year before that will get you beat this week. We have to focus on this game.''
The Falcons, meanwhile, have far less to lose. A year ago, they were 5-11. Now they're a victory away from the second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history; the other was in 1999.
''We're just going to go up there and play loose and let it roll,'' Falcons rookie coach Jim Mora said. ''We don't feel any pressure. It's house money we're gambling with. So we're just going to go up there and fling it around and see if we can't stay on the field with them for a little while.''
The Eagles are all too familiar with this position: playing at home, against an underdog from a city with a warmer climate, an opponent that has trouble winning on the road and in cold weather.
It could be downright freezing when the Eagles host the Falcons on Sunday afternoon, with forecasters calling for snow.
Last year, Carolina came to Philadelphia, ignored the elements and stunned the Eagles 14-3. Two years ago, Tampa Bay closed out Veterans Stadium with a 27-10 win, its first playoff victory in temperatures under 40 degrees. In 2002, the Eagles lost at St. Louis 29-24.
''It's unfortunate what happened to us the last three years, but it's just a different feeling this year,'' Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said. ''We've had a special season. Things have really been moving in a positive direction. We're a fresher team. We have guys that have been anticipating this opportunity.
''We have a lot of key veterans on this team that have been in tough situations and have suffered through adversity. We know how to prepare going into this particular game. The main thing for us is we just have to be loose and just have fun and that's something that we felt we didn't have in the past couple years.''
The Eagles (14-3) can't afford to be uptight this time. They realize another loss would be devastating for a city that is starved for a winner. Philly hasn't celebrated a major championship since the 76ers won the NBA title in 1983, and the city hasn't had an NFL title since 1960. Fans have pinned their hopes on the beloved football team. But considering how often teams seem to come up short around here, no one is planning a parade just yet.
''I want to win this for myself, but I would love to see those people have a great time after that victory, because they have definitely supported us through some real tough times when we were trying to get to the position we're in,'' Eagles All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins said.
The Falcons (12-5) still have two players Pro Bowl linebacker Keith Brooking and backup defensive lineman Travis Hall from the franchise's only NFC title. Atlanta upset the Vikings in Minnesota to reach the 1999 Super Bowl, before losing to Denver 34-19.
One stat working in the Falcons' favor: Since 1990, the No. 1 seed is just 8-6 in the NFC championship game.
''I really don't think it's really sunk in how good we've done this year for the simple fact that we're not one of those teams that's 'rah-rah' like that,'' Falcons defensive tackle Ed Jasper said. ''We consider ourselves working class. We're still at the bottom trying to fight our way to the top. We've hit a lot of those goals, man. We really have. And it really hasn't sunk in yet because we want to keep going. We've got bigger fish to fry.''
The Falcons expect a rude welcome, and Mora knows firsthand how tough those notoriously boorish Philly fans are. He spent three summers in the city when his father coached the USFL's Philadelphia Stars in the 1980s.
''I love going to that city,'' Mora said. ''It's a great place to be. It's going to be awesome. They might throw batteries at us, throw beers. It's a perfect environment that you can't recreate in any other walk of life. You aren't only playing the Eagles; you're playing the 70,000 fans. I told the players to tell their parents, family and friends to wear green, or they're going to get beat up.''
On the other hand, if the Eagles don't win, they might not survive the walk off the field.
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