For himself and his Philadelphia Eagle teammates, Frank LeMaster delivered the eulogy for this strange, sad season: "The man upstairs is testing us, for some reason. I hope I'm around long enough to find out why."
Soaring above the National Football League at midseason, an Eagle team that made the Super Bowl last year limped into the playoffs and then out today, for reasons mortals probably are unable to fully explain. Even bad teams rarely sin in the ways that led to Philadelphia's late-season follies.
Fumbles and muffs, against too many toughs. John Sciarra couldn't hold the snap from center on a chip-shot field goal for the likely winning points against the Redskins one week and bobbled a pivotal punt catch against Dallas the next. Wally Henry fumbled the Eagles into a Giant upset in the NFC wild-card playoff here today.
"There's gotta be better ways to play football than the way we do," LeMaster said. There surely are.
Poor Henry is a class fellow who had the right stuff at the wrong times this dank day. He fielded postgame questions infinitely better than he did New York Giant kicks. He did have one kick of his own. On that first fumble, the one that got the Giants off to a 6-0 lead, the man who caused it should have been called for interference in Henry's prejudiced opinion.
"Lawrence Taylor definitely didn't give me enough room to make the catch," Henry insisted. "He hit me before I caught the ball."
Henry did not say Taylor hit him before he touched the ball.
"I saw it all the way," Henry said, "and as I was getting ready to tuck it away, he hit me. Separated me from the ball. And that was it."
Two significant, though subtle, mistakes hampered Henry. First, Taylor should not have been as close to Henry as he was, the wondrous rookie having been double-teamed on the return. Somehow, he still broke free. Seeing that, Max Runager, the Eagle in charge of such things, should have yelled from the sideline for Henry to fair-catch the punt.
If Runager did, Henry could not hear it.
"It was a low kick," Henry said, "and I knew the sprinters (outside coverage men) were supposed to be taken to the outside. I was gonna take it to the inside. But all of a sudden Taylor flashed in front of my face. He wasn't supposed to be there, but he was. He gets paid, too, I guess."
Communications soon became more bungled. On the kickoff that followed the second Giant touchdown, Henry and Booker Russell acted like two eagles screeching at one another instead of Eagles who often had practiced what should have happened but did not.
As the deep return man, Henry decides who catches each kickoff. And when Joe Danelo hooked this one toward Russell, Henry said he yelled, "You, you, you!" and started upfield to block.
"I heard noise," Russell said, "but whether it was 'you' or 'me,' I don't know."
The kick was fluttering, knuckleball-like.
"Over my head, anyway," Russell said.
"I had to come back for it," Henry said. "Somebody had to field it, and when I did I got tagged (by Giant Mike Dennis)."
This blunder was even more nightmarish than the first. The Giants at least had to work a bit for their touchdown after that one. In fact, some Giant luck came in handy. This time, the ball took a little Giant bounce and ended pressed against the chest of Mark Haynes in the left corner of the end zone.
Eagle Coach Dick Vermeil admitted those disasters "just shook us. . . We lost our poise and concentration a bit." He added, as a compliment to the Giants: "But nothing real good happens by accident."
Facing yet another wave of reporters asking the same whys, Henry admitted: "Our special teams have had some good games this year, and some real, real bad ones. This is something I'll live with for a few weeks, but we win as a team and lose as a team. So much indecision."
The Eagle defense was not as heroic as it had to be.
"First touchdown," said linebacker Jerry Robinson, "they picked me (and running back Leon Bright was uncovered on a nine-yard pass). Picked me like a turkey. The Giants were very hungry."
Hungrier than the Eagles?
"It looked like it early. It looked like they were starving when they came in here." Smiling, he walked toward the shower, paused for a moment and said: "I'm going to shoot myself now."
More luck on that first Giant scoring pass? Nearly everyone in Veterans Stadium except the officials could see that New York left tackle Jeff Weston blatantly held Eagle defensive end Greg Brown as he dashed for a seemingly certain sack of quarterback Scott Brunner.
"Snatched me from behind," Brown said. "He (Weston) hadn't even gotten out of his stance before I was by him. I woulda hit him (Brunner) before he let the ball go."
Quarterback Ron Jaworski volunteered that the Eagles, not the Giants, played as though this game was their first playoff experience in 18 years.
"I felt the fans hung with us," he said. "That was sort of a surprise, 'cause they usually bail out pretty quick."
There had been considerable booing, somebody said.
"You haven't been here too often," Jaworski replied.
Often or not, a frighteningly familiar Philadelphia postseason scene took place in the final two minutes: police on horseback stalking the playing field and two more on foot in the stands, whacking a fan with their sticks. One of the steeds lifted his tail and perhaps offered a commentary on the ugliness.
"Before the game," LeMaster said, "I felt the whole team was excited about the challenge. The way we'd played the last five or six weeks, everybody saw this as the start of a new season, a four-game miniseason. We have too much talent to lose like this."
In truth, the Eagles lately have had just the talent for such a defeat.