Super Bowl XXXIX rematch: Brian Westbrook quietly led Eagles


Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook runs the ball during Super Bowl XXXIX. (David Drapkin/Associated Press)

To celebrate Super Bowl 50, NFL Media's Elliot Harrison is looking back at each of the 19 Super Bowl rematches on the regular-season schedule in 2015, revisiting the clashes of the past as former Super Sunday opponents square off once again.

Reunites the combatants from:Super Bowl XXXIX (Patriots 24, Eagles 21).

Donovan McNabb throwing up. Terrell Owens playing with a miraculously healed wheel. The Patriots winning their third Super Bowl in four years. You've heard the storylines of Super Bowl XXXIX. Yet, one principal from that game a decade ago you don't hear about nearly enough:

Where have you gone Brian Westbrook?

Well, he's still around, of course, but why is this fantastic player never talked about? No skill player touched the ball more in the Patriots-EaglesSuper Bowl match more than Philly's super back out of Villanova. He was one of the most explosive, versatile players of the mid-2000s, and until it was announced he would be put into the EaglesHall of Famethis year, it seems like nobody talked about ol' No. 36.

Being a third-round pick out of a school like Villanova doesn't exactly put a player on the fast track to fame. Howie Long went to school there, but prior to Westbrook, the drop from Long to the next best alum to play in the NFL is precipitous. Frankly, 36 isn't exactly a Hall of Fame number, either. Jerome Bettis wore the number. Try to think of another premier running back to wear what is usually a backup safety's number. You know, a special teams guy from schools like ... Villanova.

Star power was aplenty on that 2004 Philadelphia squad. McNabb, T.O., Jon Runyan, Jevon Kearse, and to a certain extent, head coach Andy Reid. While the club also had tons of key contributors up and down its roster, no player was more important to the mid-2000s Eagles than Westbrook.

Super Bowl XXXIX bore witness to that, as Westbrook touched the ball 25 times in that game. Reid used him as his primary ball carrier, a primary receiver (11 targets), as well as punt returner. And while Westbrook's team would be on the losing end on this particular Super Sunday and it wasn't exactly a career day for him, this contest -- as much as any -- revealed the skill level of one of the 2000s forgotten stars.

The fact Westbrook was even out there returning punts is saying something. How many primary tailbacks do you see returning punts? Try none. More importantly, and pertinent to this Super Bowl, Westbrook's ability as a receiver was equally as special as his work on special teams. He couldn't just catch the ball, he often ran the same intermediate routes as the wide receivers.

On an evening the Patriots' run defense generally shut him down, Westbrook made Bill Belichick pay multiple times through the air. Down 14-7 in the third quarter, McNabb used his weapon out of the backfield repeatedly. There was a 15-yard completion the first play to get the Eagles near midfield. Later in Philly's march, Westbrook converted a key third-and-3 by snagging an errant McNabb throw with one hand to convert at the New England 10-yard line. Next play: McNabb hit Westbrook between two defenders in the end zone.

This is not to say Westbrook didn't run the ball. Earlier in that possession, he picked up first downs twice on handoffs. On the Eagles' first scoring drive back in the second quarter, Westbrook scampered for 11 yards to set up a first-and-goal. Tight end L.J. Smith scored two plays later.

Flash forward to late in the final quarter of Super Bowl XXXIX and trailing 24-14, Westbrook picked up another first down on a catch-and-run to the Patriots' 30. McNabb found Greg Lewis in the end zone moments later to pull within 24-21.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, that's as close as it would get. It's also as close as Westbrook would ever come to winning the Super Bowl. But before injuries derailed his career five years later, Westbrook became one of the best running backs in pro football. He rushed for 1,217 yards and caught 77 balls in 2006. In 2007, he was named first team All-Pro in a season that saw him pile up 2,104 yards from scrimmage -- far and away the most in the league.

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