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Some athletes do get it

Just when the Mitchell Report about drug use in baseball had sports fans wondering if there was anything noble any more about their heroes in jock straps, two football players proved there are professional athletes who get it. Sure, there are plenty of big leaguers who do good things in their community, whether it's giving away toys and food to needy families during the holidays, setting up charitable foundations or giving tickets to kids who are sick or just do well in school. But yesterday, two members of my beloved Philadelphia Eagles showed they get it on the field, too.

This has been a bleak season for the Eagles. They came into yesterday's game in Dallas against the arch enemy Cowboys just 5-8. For all intents and purposes, the Eagles season is over after losing the previous three games to three playoff teams by a combined 10 points. And with fans calling for franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb to be benched in favor of unproven rookie Kevin Kolb, things were getting ugly. Then the Eagles did the unthinkable. They went to Texas Stadium and handed the Cowboys just their second loss of the season, inflicting pain and injuries up and down the Dallas roster and silencing former Eagle Terrell Owens (his fourth quarter slip led to an Eagles interception that helped ice the game), the guy who is only slightly less unpopular than Osama Bin Laden in Philadelphia. But one play late in the game showed that sometimes those multimillionaires many of us tie our hopes, dreams and ulcers to do believe in doing what's best for the team.

There was a little more than two minutes left in the game when the Cowboys called their final time out with Philadelphia leading 10-6 and the Eagles at the Dallas 25. On the next play, running back Brian Westbrook took a handoff, went around right tackle and saw nothing but the end zone ahead. As he got inside the five, he slowed down to a walk. Watching at home, I thought the veteran was trying to take as much time as possible off the clock before stepping across the goal line. But when a Dallas defender finally got a couple steps away, Westbrook, now pretty much standing at the one yard line, dropped to the ground. Even Eagles coach Andy Reid looked in awe at Westbrook's heady move that let the clock wind down to the two-minute warning and then let the Eagles kneel the ball three times to wrap up the win instead of leaving anything to chance, even with what likely would have been an 11-point lead.

Now lemme give you some perspective on this. Having not won a championship since the pre-Super Bowl era, the Eagles and we fans have not had a whole lot to cheer about in the last 47 years. The greatest day since that last title was a bitter cold afternoon in January 1981 when my Dad and 60,000 other screaming Iggles fans watched the team beat the hated Cowboys and win a berth in the Super Bowl (which they lost). In Philadelphia, any time the Eagles beat the Cowboys, no matter how good or bad either team is, is a day to remember. I mean, the best Thanksgiving in years for Eagles fans is still the so-called "Bounty Bowl" in 1989 when coach Buddy Ryan supposedly offered a cash reward for anyone who got a good hit on former Eagle and then Cowboys kicker Luis Zendejas. Let's just say Buddy's bank account was a few hundred dollars lighter that night.

I even remember watching a game in the mid-'80s when with the game wrapped up against the Cowboys, the Eagles looked like they were going to kneel the ball to kill the clock. Instead, Randall Cunningham threw a long touchdown to Mike Quick to send a message back to "Big D" and send the Philadelphia faithful into fits of revelry. So to see Westbrook throw on the brakes with a touchdown less than three feet away yesterday was a shock. But it wasn't his idea. Westbrook told the Philadelphia Daily News last night that the idea belonged to right tackle Jon Runyan. Westbrook said when Runyan suggested to Westbrook that if he broke into the clear to go down at the one, Westbrook wasn't totally on board. But Runyan, who towers nine inches above the running back and outweighs him by about 130 pounds and is regarded as one of the toughest, dirtiest players in the game, made sure his point was made: "'Take a knee, Westbrook, take a knee." Then the play, behind Runyan's blocking, unfolded perfectly.

"I looked back and I saw all 6-7 or 6-8 of (Runyan) running toward me saying, 'Get down,'" Westbrook said. "So I got down."

Good idea.

After losing those three close games to top teams (plus a season-opening loss to NFC co-leader Green Bay in the waning moments), Runyan had to know there was no point taking chances, even if it meant missing out on a bigger margin of victory over a big rival. That Westbrook TD would have been nice and a deserving reward for the Eagles workhorse. But fate has not been on the Eagles side this year. So Runyan, and Westbrook following his heavy-handed advice, proved that sometimes players do understand the greater good of the team outweighs personal glory and statistics. And choosing not to score a touchdown against the Cowboys somehow makes it even better.

By: Kevin Wuzzardo

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