What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
As you are reading this, there are some football fans who know me looking for the 1-800 number for “Bullshit.” I’m one of the biggest trash-talkers I know, and many who know me would agree with that. I’d be willing to bet there are several regular readers of this blog who would like that phone number right about now. But I almost never talk smack when the Eagles are good.
Granted, that isn’t very often, but this year is one of those times. With last night’s 19-10 win over Oakland, the NFC road to the Super Bowl goes through Philadelphia; the Eagles don’t have to leave “The Linc” until the Super Bowl should they make it that far. That’s a legitimate question now that Carson Wentz’ season is over with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Having said that, there’s really no better time to answer a question several Cowboys’ fans I know have been wondering. With the Eagles looking like one of the best teams in the NFL, why was I not flipping more shade about it?
Being one of them for 50 years, I know all too well how things like this end for Eagles fans. Being one of them for 50 years, I know the football life of an Eagles fan is a vicious cycle of building up hope, getting the fleeting glimpse of the top of the mountain, followed by complete and utter destruction of the dream. If you want to get all “Zen” about it, the “Wheel of Karma” for Eagles’ fans is one of those “donut” spare tires that gets you off the side of the road…only to snap an axle five miles later.
In order to illustrate how long the NFL title drought has been for Philadelphia, the last time the Eagles were the king of the National Football League hill, the eight-team American Football League was just launched, which brought us the following franchises:
The NFL only had twelve teams:
That means twelve teams in the NFL today didn’t even exist the last time the Eagles won a championship.
That bring us to the best bragging point we Philadelphia fans have in terms of winning; the Eagles were the only team to ever beat a Vince Lombardi-coached team in an NFL Championship game. That was in 1960. That’s a pretty small hook on which to hang our collective hat. Not to mention, if you look at the list above, it’s pretty hard not to notice that almost every team in this league has won a league championship since the last time the Eagles did.
This is why Eagles’ fans are so tough. We have to be to survive the brutal ups and downs of our existence. We’ve lived through stuff which would kill a bunch of pussies like Colts fans. A life of Eagle fandom is like riding on the jet NASA uses to train astronauts how to deal with weightlessness; soaring toward the heavens rapidly alternating with death-plunges toward the cold, hard ground.
But in a perverse way only Philadelphia fans would understand, that’s also why we are fiercely loyal. To see this in action, all you have to do is watch what happens when two Eagles fans meet in a place remote from the “City of Brotherly Love.” They will instantly start speaking a language only Eagles fans understand. Whether it’s art, music, or literature, there’s a common saying that the best artistry stems from pain. That’s really the best summation of Eagle fandom I can give.
When you see somebody sporting their Eagles colors, you instantly know two things about them. First, you know they aren’t a “front-runner;” they aren’t the current Patriots fans who were all Jets fans 20 years ago. Nobody chooses the life of an Eagles fan; it’s a calling to a life of suffering and sacrifice like a cloistered monk. And like Carmelite monks, Eagles fans in general have a pure, if not quasi-religious view of football. Granted, every fan base has it’s mouth-breathing dim-bulbs who don’t know the difference between a punt and a kick, but the Philadelphia fan base has far less than its fair share.
That’s how you also know the Eagles fan can give you a view of the game most other fans can’t. The “front-runner” Patriot fan can’t tell you anything about a world west of Buffalo. The typical “fair-weather” Cowboy and Viking fan can only speak to football in a season in which their teams are contending, otherwise they “turtle-shell” into a level of self-loathing usually only reserved for Eagles fans. The difference is when you throw some shade at one those “fair-weather” fans, they will AGREE with you. I’ll never forget being in the airport in Dallas during a particularly disappointing season for the Cowboys telling me about what a talking pile of pig-shit Tony Romo was while HE’S WEARING A TONY ROMO JERSEY!
Even in the depths of the Rich Kotite era, if you shit-talked to an Eagles fan, you’d probably get your jaw broken. Even when our team is godawful, only people with “Philadelphia Clearance” get to smack-talk the Eagles. The reason for that is simple: you can’t talk about our team unless you’ve felt our pain; otherwise we’re more than happy to give you some.
Every Eagles fan has a tale of their own pain. For me, it all starts with the Joe Kuharic era. Kuharic is unfortunately not the last big-time college coach to usher in an era of complete futility in Philadelphia. My first decade as an Eagles fan is a lean one; I spend most of the 1970’s watching my team play “whipping boy” to the rest of the league.
Then came the “Miracle at the Meadowlands.” That was the moment we knew that Dick Vermeil, the flaky special teams coach who cried at the drop of a hat we got from the Rams was going to be the guy to end the fifteen-plus year long descent from the 1960 NFL Championship.
That November Suuday in 1978 begins a steady Eagle ascent which culminates with the 1980 NFC Championship Game. This is the moment Eagles fans had been waiting decades for…the goddamn Dallas Cowboys have to come to Philadelphia for a shot to go to the Super Bowl. The Eagles hit the Cowboys with a bag of chisels and walked over their collective corpse. Wilbert Montgomery had more yards from scrimmage than the the entire Cowboy offense. The collective body of the Dallas Cowboys hadn’t been hauled off to Boot Hill yet and all of Eagle Nation saw only the Oakland Raiders in the way of Philadelphia’s first Super Bowl win and the Eagles first NFL title in 20 years.
The Eagles hit “The Big Easy” to face the Oakland Raiders as the Vegas favorite. The Eagles had played Oakland twice already in 1980; a meaningless glorified scrimmage in the pre-season, and a defensive slug-fest on another cold, windy November Sunday in Veterans’ Stadium which ended 10-7 in favor of Philadelphia. That game took such a toll the Eagles dropped three of their next four, but a Week 15 win over St. Louis meant the road to the Super Bowl again went through Philadelphia.
Come the play-offs, the Eagles offense glowed white hot. They dominated the Vikings in the divisional round and I’ve already discussed what happened in the NFC Championship game. The “City of Brotherly Love” hadn’t been this stoked for a victory since the Declaration of Independence, and Eagles fans were so giddy for a victory that nobody saw the three interceptions Ron Jaworski chucked were just a preview of coming attractions. “The Polish Rifle” recreates his three-pick performance for the Super Bowl crowd in New Orleans, and what was supposed to be Philadelphia’s triumphant victory lap became a three-hour re-enactment of the Bataan Death March.
Eventually, Dick Vermeil would leave, and the Eagles would languish largely in obscurity for the majority of the early 1980’s. While the Buddy Ryan-coached Eagles would reach the play-offs in three of his five seasons between 1986 and 1990, it would a dozen years before the Eagles won in the post-season This brings us to the darkness known as the Rich Kotite era.
If you don’t remember, Rich “Decline the Penalty and Punt” Kotite is easily the worst coach in Eagles’ history. This is a guy who took a Super Bowl-caliber level team and started it on its Olympic luge run down the mountain which was finished by Ray Rhodes in 1998 in a 3-13 campaign. Kotite’s Eagles were the odds-on favorites to win the Super Bowl in 1991 until Randall Cunningham blew out his knee on Opening Day. To be fair, part of Kotite’s demise involved another Cunningham injury in 1993, but it was Kotite’s general buffoonery which lead to what I call the “Eagle Exodus.” This was a period started by the free-agent departure of Reggie White which started the Eagles’ descent of the 1990’s.
Once Ray Rhodes got fired, Eagles fans were treated to a never-ending series of “Lucy pulling the football” moments known as the Andy Reid era. Fucking guy gets them to five…count ’em… NFC championship games. His team is at home for three of them, and is favored in four, and the only one he wins earns a date with the sole team the Eagles had no shot at beating…The New England Patriots at the height of their “three Super Bowls in four years” run.
Somehow, Andy Reid finds a way to make this game in which the Eagles enter as double-digit underdogs as his ultimate “Lucy” moment. I had resigned myself to the idea this game was a formality; it was the “blind date” you go on taking out your buddy’s cousin as a favor and you know she’s so hideous her name will actually be “Hideous.” But then you find out she’s “ghost pepper” hot, and it isn’t until after you drop $300 on dinner and drinks at Chez Get-u-Laid you discover she’s joining a convent in the morning. That’s when the Carmelite monastery starts looking good.
That’s exactly what that Super Bowl against the Patriots was like. Every Philadelphia fan expected a drubbing, and somehow the Eagles find themselves near the end of the 4th quarter with the ball, time-outs, and a legitimate shot to win the game. All they need is a touchdown, but that’s well within the realm of possibility because Terrell Owens had been running through the Patriot secondary like a Panzer division through the Polish cavalry in 1939. But then, Donovan McNabb did what Donovan McNabb did for his whole career…he picks the biggest moment possible in a game to shit in his helmet. Except this time, he did it in a Super Bowl in front of a billion people, and I’m back to the blind date with “Hideous.”
The raised expectations and dashed hopes of the Andy Reid regime eventually gave way to the lowered expectations and non-existent hopes of another failed college coach in Chip Kelly Somehow, that talking turkey-loaf made a 6-10 season cause me more pain than Ray Rhodes’ 3-13 debacle in 1998. Whether it was white or dark meat, three seasons of Kelly-loaf left me with a case of worms so bad my asshole looked like a living sunflower. I hated Chip Kelly so much there was an unprecedented waiving of the “Philadelphia Clearance” rule; you could say awful things about Chip Kelly to me, and as long as they were true and/or I agreed with them, I wouldn’t hit you with a tube sock full of batteries.
That brings us to 2017. Here’s my team, rising bird-like yet again from the Phoenician ashes of burnt turkey-loaf. By the time the leaves were turning, it was clear this Eagles team had a future beyond 8 minutes per pound at 375º. 2017 started feeling like 1980; the dream was starting to take shape, unlike the abortive 1991 heartbreak.
I understand this seems like a circuitous route to answer a simple question, but if you’ve read this far, not only have you learned something, you’re about to get the philosophic “money shot” about the karmic beliefs of this Philadelphia Eagles fan. I can’t talk smack when the Eagles are good because as I’ve said, the “Wheel of Karma” for Eagles fans is decidedly broken.
Think about it. There’s a common saying today about “this is why we can’t have nice things.” Philadelphia certainly can have nice things; the problem is they get taken away. The City of Brotherly Love was the principal municipality of early America; then it was supplanted economically and culturally by New York City; then capitally by Washington, D.C. From a sports perspective, Philadelphia is the chronic “little brother.”
Sticking to the NFL, the Eagles have been on the top of the mountain three times; 1948, 1949, and 1960. That’s 57 years since the last time. After the aforementioned “close calls,” after the aforementioned “wheel of karma,” I’m keeping my mouth shut until either the Eagles win or they suck again.
But believe me, once one of those things happens, I will be making up for lost time, because no matter what, your team still sucks.