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Eagle Fans Are Flying High (Again)
November 15, 2004
by Brendon McCullin

There are plenty of cities that have fervent sports fans. There are more than a few that understand the pain of continually backing losing teams. There is, however, only one Philadelphia. The psychosis and pathos of its sports fans are the stuff of psychologists’ wet dreams.

Philly fans not only believe that everything is against them – and carry around a lot of anger about it – but they also feel that even if they win there’s going to be something wrong with it. It’s a syndrome more pronounced there than anywhere else. After all, as a city Philadelphia has desperately tried to stay relevant while long harboring the sneaking suspicion that the rest of the country views it only as a historical monument, when they bother to think of it at all.

A
s is the case in a lot of cities with professional sports, football is the king in Philly. People all across the Delaware Valley live and die, almost literally, with their beloved Eagles. Happily, the Eagles are good at the moment. Very good, one of the best teams in football as a matter of fact. In what will someday be considered a golden age for the hometown team then, why are so many Eagles fans seemingly on the verge of a nervous breakdown?

Well, the biggest issue is that the team has been good for a few years now, which is an impressive feat in the parity obsessed NFL. Unfortunately, they haven’t been good enough to win a Super Bowl or even to play in the over-hyped game. The thought that the team’s best opportunity for winning a championship might slip away causes more stomach churning than an entire tanker of Pepto Bismal could take care of.

With this particular group of Eagles, led by their stoic coach Andy Reid and their wisecracking quarterback Donovan McNabb, fans could be excused if they sometimes wish for the old pleasant familiarity of mediocrity. The current Eagles have developed a habit of whipping the city into a Super Bowl frenzy only to rip out their collective heart and beat it to a pulp with a sledgehammer.

The team has been to the last three NFC Championship Games – one stinkin’ step from the Super Bowl – and has lost each time. The first year, they were the young upstarts that almost pulled off an upset over the powerful St. Louis Rams and that wasn’t so bad. The second year they were favored against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but could barely make a game of it. The fact that the Bucs went on to win the Super Bowl was no consolation – if anything it was worse, since their golden boy head coach, Jon Gruden, got his start as the Eagles offensive coordinator.

The piece de resistance, though, was earlier this year when the team lost in the Championship game again. Not only were they favored but their opponents, the Carolina Panthers, weren’t even expected to make the playoffs at the start of the season. The Eagles became the first team ever to lose consecutive Championship games with home field advantage. And they didn’t put up much of a fight in doing it either. Any Eagles fan that wasn’t already drinking suddenly needed a few shots to help dull the pain.

But then before this season began something amazing happened. The formerly conservative and budget conscious Eagles front office signed All-Pro defensive end Jevon Kearse and traded for All-Pro wide receiver Terrell Owens. Most Eagles fans needed three different media confirmations and one good pinch to be sure that it was all true.

Suddenly, the Eagles didn’t just have good new players; they had new star players. Kearse is nicknamed “The Freak” for his combination of strength and speed. Owens is one of the best receivers in the game and possibly the most controversial player in the entire league. Reporters swarm around him just waiting for the next outlandish claim or insult to spill out of his mouth. Philadelphia has always been a little uncomfortable with controversial superstars like Allen Iverson and Charles Barkley, but just the possibility of a Super Bowl trip has bought Owens a free pass with the ultra-tough fans and local media.

Now the Eagles are winning at a pace unseen by the franchise before. Accolades have poured in from all over the country. The team is getting more attention than it has at any point in its history. And all of it has Eagles fans more jittery than a 10-year-old on a sugar high. The pain from past failures is just too fresh. After all, even mice eventually learn to stay away from the cheese that comes with an electric shock.

In fact, when the Eagles lost their first game of the season, being beaten handily by the Pittsburgh Steelers, it was oddly comforting. It proved that there are still plenty of things to worry and obsess about. There are once again reasons to call up sports talk show hosts and rail about this statistic or that player. Having a team play poorly is more in a Philly fans comfort zone.

And yet, there’s still that nagging thought that maybe this time the Eagles really are as good as people think they are. Maybe they can do what only John Madden’s old Raiders team has done and come back from three straight Championship game losses and make the Super Bowl. Maybe the ball will bounce in their favor.

Things like that can happen, especially if the Boston Red Sox can win the World Series. The Red Sox made hope a reality and that makes anything seem possible…even in Philadelphia. Maybe, just maybe, this is finally the Eagles year.

Of course, on the chance that the Eagles don’t win it all, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for some enterprising young person to begin selling space on the Walt Whitman Bridge – it will cut down on the lines when everyone comes to jump off.

(Brendon McCullin is a volunteer staff writer for 2 Walls Webzine)


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