PHILADELPHIA _ It started in heat and humidity and the steep hills of Lehigh University. It wound through St. Louis and Atlanta, Seattle, and Miami, through frustrating losing streaks and a late _ possibly too late _ rally.
Nearly five months since the start of training camp, the Eagles' season now speeds toward what might be its final days, with the team and its players hoping to have at least one more meaningful game _ and ideally more.
It's possible, though, that they've played their last relevant snap of the season, because the playoffs could be out of reach by the time the Eagles kick off Saturday against the Cowboys at 4:15 p.m. A Giants victory over the Jets in their 1 p.m. game would end the Eagles' playoff hopes. But a Giants loss followed by an Eagles win keeps the Birds alive.
With the regular season winding down, some Eagles find themselves glancing back at what they have done as a team and as individual parts of the collective effort that has brought them to this point.
"You get your little down time, and you think about what else, what if the scenarios had been different," said defensive end Darryl Tapp. "You also think about the things you accomplished, because this is a rare opportunity that we all have, to play football, provide for your family, and enjoy yourself by playing a game. So you definitely look back on it and you appreciate. You appreciate the wins and losses, the opportunity to be in this situation."
Many players, of course, said there is no time for reflection. For them, there is only Saturday's game.
"Right now you're in the zone, you're worried about the task at hand," said guard Evan Mathis.
From the outside, though, we can see a blend of stories nearing possible conclusions. There is the team story, reflected in its record and final standing, and there are the individual roads of the players that make up the team.
Whatever the ending _ an improbable playoff run or a disappointing regular-season finish _ it will place a stamp of success or failure on the months of practice, film study, hits, and bruises that have built to this point.
For LeSean McCoy and Jason Babin, for example, these last four months have brought tremendous personal achievement, which will either make them the pillars of a great turnaround or shining parts of a disappointing whole.
For Nnamdi Asomugha and Cullen Jenkins, this season brought new starts in a new city. For rookies such as Jason Kelce, Casey Matthews, and Danny Watkins, it was an introduction to the league, with varied results.
The individual stories shape the team, and each players' personal experience is colored by the overall finish.
Kelce, a sixth-round pick, said he never expected to start or play as much as he has, and has been happy to watch his own play improve as the year has gone on.
"But if we don't make the playoffs," he said, "that would still be a bitter taste in your mouth."
Having fought through months of practices and games together, shared a locker room and flights and meals, the players are well aware that changes always loom, and some of their friends will be elsewhere when the next training camp opens. For some, these could be their final weeks as teammates.
"It's time to enjoy these moments," said safety Kurt Coleman. "You never know when you're going to get them again."
"In the D-line room, we're definitely aware that each year it's a brand new crew, it's a brand new group of guys," Tapp said. "So we're definitely taking heed of that, and we're playing for one another."
McCoy said he has enjoyed watching this group rally together in recent weeks.
"We're not happy how this thing's gone," he said, but added, "it's kind of fun that we're all together in this small locker room, trying to battle back to get a spot in the playoffs."
Whenever their season ends, the team will disperse, lockers emptied, some to be filled by new faces next spring, the 2011 season cast into memory.
"No matter what, we want to leave on a good note with wins," Coleman said. "That's the bottom line, and that's all we can control."