Ghosts of Brutal 1999 Season Don't Haunt Pederson

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. - They threw stuff at his family. They cursed his wife. They booed him relentlessly. 

Now they revere the ground he walks on and are counting on him to guide the franchise he leads to its first championship in 57 years.

Has anybody in Philly sports history experienced the two extremes of obsessive fan behavior more than Doug Pederson?

In 1999, Pederson was caretaker of the quarterback position until rookie first-round pick Donovan McNabb was ready.

The fans wanted McNabb. Andy Reid didn't. And Pederson struggled.

And it was ugly.

"Oh yeah, it was hard on my family," Pederson said this week in a chat with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "Yeah, it was. 

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"Because they're seeing me kind of being dragged through the ringer a little bit and it's hard to see it and hear it and live it every day, but you know what? It makes you tougher and you move on and learn from it and grow from it."

Pederson started the first nine games of the 1999 season, and the Eagles went 2-7 in those games, averaging 11.1 points per game on offense before Pederson was benched in favor of McNabb.

Pederson finished the season with seven TD passes, nine interceptions and a 52 percent completion percentage.

His passer rating of 62.9 was the worst by an Eagles quarterback who started at least half the season since Ron Jaworski had a 60.4 mark back in 1977.

The fans were very tough on Pederson. And his family.

"I remember the pre-game introductions and the fans being awfully hard on him," said Eagles safeties coach Tim Hauck, who played on that 1999 team.

"Doug was a leader in the locker room. He didn't let on that it bothered him. He had a job to do and he was going to go do it no matter what was being said about him. 

"As a teammate, you felt horrible for him. We all know how the Philly fans are. They can be as hard as anybody in the country. But Doug handled it the same way he handled everything. With a lot of class."

Pederson made his last start in an Eagles uniform in a 33-7 loss to the Panthers in early November. He completed just three passes for 28 yards before getting benched permanently for McNabb.

Nineteen years later, in an empty hallway at the Mall of America, he recalled how he got through such a challenging year.

"You learn never to get too high and too low," he said. "You stay right in the middle. 

"Let me tell you something. We're a faith-based family, and that has a lot to do with it. We stay grounded. You learn from that, you know? It's not who we are. 

"That might be me as a football player, but it doesn't define me as a person, and it's same way as a coach. Win or lose, this game (Sunday), it's not going to define me as a person. It's not going to change who I am. 

"I'm still going to be Doug Pederson. And that's how you get through it. You just remember that's not who you are as a person."

The Eagles released Pederson when that 1999 season was over. He spent the next year with the Browns - and threw for a career-high 309 yards in a loss to the Eagles in Cleveland - and then four more in his second stint with the Packers before retiring and eventually starting a coaching career.

Now in his second year as head coach of the Eagles, he's one win from coaching immortality.

The Eagles face the Patriots Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis in Super Bowl LII.

It's quite possible that some of the fans roaming the stands wearing German Shepherd masks are the same fans that gave Pederson, his wife Jeannie and their young sons such a hard time nearly two decades ago.

But if that irony bothers Pederson, he doesn't show it. He wants to win so bad for the very fans who nearly ran him out of town back in 1999.

"That's why you never get so high and so low," Pederson said. "Because if you stay in the middle with the whole thing, it doesn't bother you. It doesn't get to you. That's kind of where we're at. 

"The same people who were booing and throwing stuff at you, yeah, they're (still Eagles fans), but that's what Philly is all about. They're passionate fans, and it's a passionate city."

The stats say Pederson was one of the least successful quarterbacks in recent Eagles history, and they also say he's one of the most successful coaches in Eagles history.

And the way he's handled both situations speaks volumes about something more important than Pederson the coach or quarterback. It's all about Pederson the man.

"He handled it with class back then and he's exactly the same way now," Hauck said. "'It doesn't matter what the outside world says about me, I'm going to do my job to the best of my ability.'

"It's a great outlook on life."

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