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The Saddest of the Eagles’ Modern Days

November 29, 2012 2 comments

February 6, 2005 may have been the most frustrating day in this era of Philadelphia Eagles football. That close to a Super Bowl win. It may have been the most angering too, with many an NFC Championship dates qualifying for runners-up.

But this Monday, one on which the Birds appeared on the venerable nighttime football broadcast, was the saddest day of this Eagles epoch.

On a not-so-chilly late November night, the parking lots were practically empty just a couple hours before kickoff. Swaths of pavement laid bare with no portable grilling complexes to heat them. You could smell the apathy in the air, and upon emerging from the subway station, the absence of tailgating shenanigans in your sightline killed the mood before you even got to the stadium gates. “Is it too early to leave already?” I asked my friends as we walked down Pattison.

I only went to this game for the free food and drink. I was sitting on the shitter at work, when my friend texted me with the offer of an extra ticket. It’s a 12th row, 50-yard line seat that includes entry to the Touchdown Club, which gives you access to loads of free liquor and top-notch grub. And it’s free for me. Such a no-brainer that actually became a brainer the way things are these days. It warranted a debate in my head, and perhaps due to my vulnerable state, pondering my life on the toilet during a Monday afternoon at the office, a state from which things can really only go up, I convinced myself to go.

The feeble performance of the team, which has become too redundant to even evoke much emotion in me beyond facetious laughter and derisive jokes, was not the reason this was the saddest day of the Andy Reid era. It went well beyond that.

As I sat just a few rows back of the Eagles sideline, in the kind of seats from which you can see the sport and the players from a whole other perspective, I realized that I didn’t want to get such a close look at this team. No matter how many hundreds of Philly pro sporting events I’ve been to in the last couple decades, many sitting in the stadium’s last row but a number sitting right up close as well, as a heart-invested fan I still get that added excitement of being so near to the field. When you are that close, you can actually see when a certain player is operating on another level that given night. (From his first carries, I could see that Bryce Brown was “bringing it” in a way that teammates and opponents weren’t.) Great seats enable you to get a good look at the graceful way a running back turns the corner, but also actually see the expressions on his face when he comes off the field. It’s not only seeing your favorite players in the flesh, but being so close that you can pay attention to the nuances of their pre-game routine or observe which teammates they converse with to get pumped up. A whole other type of entertainment to enhance the experience.

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Why? Because they were free…well actually…because they came with free food and drink.

Yet there I was, drenched in the Monday Night Football lights, just feet away from a team I’ve watched religiously for a good 15-plus years, and I wasn’t starstruck in the least. I scanned the sidelines and found guys like DeSean Jackson and the recently-terminated Jason Babin. I got a good look at the uber-disappointing Nnamdi Asomugha, and later that night his post-blown-coverage dumbfounded face. (I also got to see Nick Foles’ uneasy Tom Petty resemblance, but that’s beside the point.) I probably got one last look at Andy and Marty. It was a sideline full of players and coaches that didn’t so much disinterest me but actually disgusted me. Even during the other low points of this Eagles era, I never felt that way.

Monday Night Football. The game hasn’t even started. We are playing a team that we actually have a chance to beat. And my expectations are already low enough to be standing on them. So instead of paying close attention to the team as the game began, I turned to my friend to swig some beers and make jokes in the I’m-at-a-crappy-football-game-but-let’s-get-drunk sort of way. After all, another reason I decided to go to the game was to see him. He doesn’t live in town these days, but he’s one of my oldest friends, and one who has joined me in countless spirited adventures to Eagles games both home and away.

It dawned on me that more was at stake than a lost season. Those people who weren’t tailgating in the lot this time around, probably weren’t even getting together to watch the game with their friends on the sofa. Why get together with the gang to watch this team? Might as well do some laundry at home and devote a half a pair of eyes to the TV as long as you can until your conscience says it’s time for a Monday night sleep before the game concludes. Might as well listen to your conscience this time around and go to bed.

There are near weekly emails that go around among my friends, and I assume many other groups, throwing out ideas for Sunday. The chain-initiating message goes something like, “I’ll host” or “What are people doing for the game?” or “Anyone interested in heading down to Xfinity?” Sometimes we meet up in the burbs, other times we rendezvous in the city. The Birds serve as an excuse to get together. Now they are just an excuse for a football team.

As our best player on the night, Bryce Brown, also lost us the game with his second fumble–the final nail of melancholy in a season long ready to be buried–I realized that I can’t expect to see those midweek email chains in my inbox in the weeks to come.

The product is no longer worth it. That is why Monday was the saddest day in a long long time for the Eagles franchise and its audience, and I hope Jeffrey Lurie understands how sad it truly is.

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Happy the Sixers Prolong the Playoff Season, But Not Drinkin’ the Philly Sports Kool-Aid This Time

May 12, 2012 1 comment

Andre Iguodala stepped up to the free throw stripe. He huffed and puffed a deep breath, and he calmly sank two foul shots in the final seconds of the game, hauling his Sixers team right into Round 2 of the NBA Playoffs.

Sounds like an excerpt plucked from a book in the fantasy section of Barnes & Noble. But it actually can be considered a piece of journalism, a factual account of how this professional basketball team advanced to the second round for the first time since 2003.

If this is Carlos Boozer’s face before Iggy stepped to the line, what do you think it looked like after he actually made both FTs?

If you were to have polled a slew of Sixers fans prior to that first foul shot, what percentage would you say would have predicted that Iggy would knock down both shots? 5 percent? 10? The pessimism bouncing around in the heads of the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center, and the negativity reverberating in living rooms throughout the Delaware Valley at the moment the ref raised his arm, were crucial to Iguodala’s metamorphosis into author of the latest chapter in the city’s compendium of playoff poetry.

If you look at this story collection chronologically, Iguodala’s recently penned entry follows an epic Flyers chapter, its ink still drying and its impact still etched in the fan base’s psyche. Yet, at the same time, the hockey team’s victorious march through an emotion-heavy slugfest with its cross-state rival seems like a bygone tale from a distant past.

Thanks to the way the schedules are stacked, the Sixers have sort of played this role all year. They have been the team the city has turned to and dumped their hope into. Today I reviewed some still un-erased, midseason notes on my work station whiteboard, most likely from early February when the Flyers were slipping a bit and the Sixers were starting to convince their city:

Just when another team fades, the Flyers shortcomings perhaps weaning them off from the list of Cup contenders, another team emerges to inject that ever-persistent dose of hope to the town’s sports junkies. So Philly.

 Even the Sixers, counted on to be embarrassing in recent years, are now right back in the mix of this cycle. But fans really have a chance to detour away from Letdown City if they keep their expectations right where they were to start the season. Winning a playoff series was the goal at the outset and should remain the goal. The problem is teams around here rarely exceed the fans’ expectations because the passionate followers adjust those expectations midway.

And thus the Philadelphia sports samsara goes on. Put hope in a team, team wins. Put even more hope in a team, it loses. Don’t put much hope in the next team, team wins. Now put hope in that team, team loses.

For me, the Sixers have been tough to put much optimism into, as I find it difficult to get excited about a team you know does not have the tools to win a championship. Not even the divine intervention that placed Iguodala’s two foul shots through the hoop is going to change my stance on that. But the blessing of this position is the ability to step back and acknowledge that one of our teams reached its realistic goal. I have no problem putting the Bulls injury circumstances aside and enjoying the accomplishment. But I don’t want my tempered expectations to be misconstrued as dissatisfaction.

I have no problem clenching a fist over a Sixers playoff series win. But that’s about as far as I’ll go.

In the postgame minutes of Thursday night, I tweeted that I felt good for Andre Iguodala, and implied that I felt good for his team as well. However I also went on to post the following message on Facebook:

 The Sixers advancing is like being given a few extra drops of water as you are starting to cross the desert. You undoubtedly want them, but the impending doom of a whole summer of just Phillies is still staring you smack in the face and you know you’ll be out of agua soon.

A non-Philadelphian reacted to my comments and the supplementary comments of my fellow Philadelphians by calling into question our ability to be pleased. “Flyers out, obviously a bummer. Sixers move on, also a bummer?” he asks.

Quite the opposite, I say. I am happy and truly thankful of what the Sixers have accomplished. I will call their season a success with a straight face, and I will be rooting for them like crazy to take down the Celtics tonight in Game 1. I am just unwilling to recalibrate my scale of expectation this time around. I am heeding my own midseason advice this time, unwilling to roll up my sleeve and shoot up with what I know is another lethal dose of hope.

Cliff Lee. Say no more.

December 20, 2010 2 comments

How many times have you walked up to a friend this week and greeted him or her with these two words: Cliff Lee.

It’s now a legitimate alternative to hello, hey, or what’s up when you see a fellow Philadelphia friend whom you haven’t seen in a couple weeks or months. I went to a party on Saturday night, hosted by friends I specifically know from Sunday afternoon Phillies tailgates in the Linc parking lot. I walked in the door, gift bottle of booze in hand, and rather than greet each other with “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”, it was just a matter of who could say “Cliff Lee” first.

Have you ever seen someone so happy to drink Powerade. That's how much he likes being in Philly.

The signing floored the entire city, and began what turned out to be one of the most epic weeks in Philly sports. I awoke last Monday morning, did the old reach for my phone, and waiting in my SMS and BBM inbox were messages that once again simply said Cliff Lee, and nothing more. Every person in town tried to shake themselves out of dream mode when they awoke to the news. Those Philadelphians who battle an inferiority complex in the face of New York, went into clean up mode. For them it was a wet dream.

The question is whose dream was the wettest in town? It could have been Ruben Amaro’s, but the orchestrator couldn’t have been surprised enough to pee his pants. Charlie Manuel is a great candidate, but it would be tough to definitively attribute such an accident to the Lee signing as opposed to general aging. I think Carlos Ruiz has to take the prize here. While I’ve seen plenty of t-shirts on the market already referencing Lee and the rest of the juggernaut rotation, I’ve yet to see one that reads: “Mi sueño mojado“, with Ruiz’s Panamanian punim centered among the faces of the four starters. I think it would sell.

There’s no point in actually analyzing the Lee acquisition in this piece. Plenty has already been written about this remarkable move, and still none of it has such an eloquent ring to it as simply saying the guy’s name.

Cliff Lee.

As much as this cushions the Jayson Werth blow, some of the Phillies offseason talk is now shifting to the one gaping hole to address, right field. But I’d honestly rather the team spend the money they have allotted for that slot on a World-Class massage therapist with a shoulder/arm concentration. Keeping these four arms healthy is now the team’s most important challenge. But even if one of them is hurt come playoff time, we’ll still have the best rotation out there, especially because Cliff Lee won’t be suiting up for the opposition.

Forget a middle reliever. Can we just get someone who's really really really really good at taking care of these?

A couple star players have now demonstrated their affinity for putting on the same red and white pinstripes that fill the stadium seats game after game.  Sure we purposely throw up on other people from time to time. Sure we occasionally need to get our naked bodies on the field of play, but Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay have collectively said “Who doesn’t?” with their eagerness to forgo cash for this fan support. Some skeptics may have been able to diminish the role of the fan base in landing Roy Halladay, pointing to the chance to win as the major factor in his move to Philly. But considering the Yankees current roster and successful history along with the Rangers 2010 World Series appearance, Lee has really made it seem to the national audience like it could actually be about us, in a good way for once.

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