Eagles' Patterson a real crowd pleaser

Mike Patterson's improbable TD return sealed an easy Philly win and spruced up a boring afternoon by the bay, writes Wright Thompson.

Originally Published: September 24, 2006
By Wright Thompson | ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- How do you know you need more team speed? Easy. When a 300-pound buffet-killer jiggles down the sideline for 98 yards, that's how.

After Mike Patterson finally staggered into the end zone, with his teammates certainly in hysterics on the sideline, he didn't have enough gas left to dance. Picture a runway model being force-fed a sack of Krystal burgers. That's what it's like for a D-tackle to run the length of the field. It's just not natural. So, no, there wasn't any dancing.

"I was too tired," Patterson said.

Back near the bench, he finally got to thank his blockers. A Cali native, he had about 60 friends and family members in the crowd, going nuts with everyone else.

"I told him, 'Rumbling, bumbling, stumbling,'" defensive tackle Darwin Walker said. "He just started laughing."

It was that kind of day for the Eagles. After a disheartening collapse last game against the division rival Giants, and a week where the city of Philadelphia worked itself into a black funk, this domination set their world right again. The final score was 38-24, but that included second-half substitutions, a San Fran touchdown in garbage time and the Eagles ending the game by kneeling on the ball on the Niners' 9-yard line.

Hunter Martin/WireImage.comMike Patterson was all smiles after recording the longest fumble return in Eagles history.

It was that kind of day for the 49ers, too, who were booed by the home crowd coming off the field at the half. The Niners couldn't even score from the 1-yard line. First down, nothing. Second down, nothing. Third down, Frank Gore fumbled, for the third week in a row, on the goal line for the second week in a row.

"It concerns me," 49ers head coach Mike Nolan said. "He's on the goal line, he hits the pile, he spins and then he gets brought down."

Well, Patterson looked down to see the ball just sitting there. He picked it up and started running. Forty-five minutes later, he arrived. No, seriously, he was moving good for a fat guy.

"He looked pretty quick for a good 40-50 yards," quarterback Donovan McNabb cracked. "Then reality hit how big he was."

When Patterson looked up at the Jumbotron, he was struck by a scary fact: He was all alone. Understand that Mike Patterson has probably never been that alone on a football field in his life.

Just him, two blockers and a bunch of greens. No, wait, green. A bunch of green in front of him. Down at the other end of the field, Jeremiah Trotter laid in the grass and watched the show on the big screen. San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis, who fractured his right leg on the play, was sure he would have caught Patterson.

"Oh, yeah," he promised, "definitely."

Patterson got to midfield and was still alone. There was no one to even lateral to. This was the Baby Sapp Show. That's what they called him in college. Notice he wasn't nicknamed Baby Maurice Green. He rumbled on, led by an escort of blockers.

"He had a bunch of guys in front of him," head coach Andy Reid said, "so I thought he'd be OK."

It was the longest fumble return in franchise history and put the soon-to-be 2-1 Eagles up 31-3. From the flea flicker to open the game to receivers who were backyard open, everything worked. Of course, if you asked 49ers cornerback Shawntae Spencer, they didn't get manhandled. It was subterfuge.

"That's what they hurt us on today," Spencer said. "It's trick plays. Straight up football, you saw what happened in the second half. It was a whole different game in straight up football. We knew coming in that they had to run trick plays."

Uh, like not being able to tackle a 300-pound lineman? That kind of trick play?

After it was over, Patterson headed back to what is now his corner of the Monster Park end zone. This time, he walked slowly, and, as he got to the tunnel, the crowd went nuts. He gave 'em a fist pump. Smiles all around. It's always hysterical to watch a fat man run. Takes the bore out of a long afternoon on the bay.

"It was fun," McNabb said. "I was very happy for Mike. He had a lot of family here today. He put on quite a show for them."

Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at wrightespn@gmail.com.

Wright Thompson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Wright Thompson (@wrightthompson) is a senior writer for ESPN.com and The Magazine. He has been featured in seven editions of Best American Sports Writing and lives in Oxford, Mississippi.

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