Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

I'm writing this for four reasons:

1) I haven't written much of anything recently since I'm at work from 8 - 8 everyday. Doesn't leave much room for anything else. At least I'm not working surrounded by Yankees, Mets and Giants fans. Oh wait...I am.

2) I just finished reading Bill Simmons' book Now I Can Die In Peace, a lovely novel that I suggest you read even if you hate the Red Sox (which I do). It makes you feel better about being a sports fan while still having you question why you care so much in the first place the entire time. It's really the perfect "sports fan manifesto."

3) The Phillies lack of urgency and crappy play has me seriously doubting this season. I'm aggravated that they finally traded for my favorite player (Roy Halladay) only to decide that they "aren't worried" and "won't start pressing" when it's painfully obvious that they're missing the same "desire" this year that carried them from '07-'09. Is the season over? Not yet, but another two weeks of lethargic play and it will be.

4) In an annual ritual that gets more exciting for me every year (which says more about my life than even I can comprehend) I purchased my first 2010 Fantasy Football magazine yesterday. (Sidenote: is Fantasy Football a proper noun? I say it is, but I'm not sure. So if you're an English major and you're reading this...let me know. Or someone just lie to me. Either works fine.) There is nothing quite like flipping through a fantasy magazine each July and beginning to think about how you're going to fuck up your draft this year. Last year, I took Matt Forte in the first round and Steve Smith (the old one who had about three good games the whole year) in the third...yet still managed to make the finals. This year? I bet I get the first pick, struggle to choose Peterson or C.J. and then whoever I choose breaks their leg in Week 2. How I've made the finals two straight years with bad luck from my top picks, I'll never know. Granted, I lost both times. I feel like the Jim Kelly of fantasy football.

Anyway, mix everything above, add lack of sleep and you get me thinking about the Eagles a little too much for July 20th. Currently, we sit exactly one week from the first Eagles training camp practice. Yes, it's only rookies and selected veterans (also known as players the coaches desperately want to prove weren't a wasted draft pick or players coming back from injury), but it's football so it's good in my book. Needless to say, I'm excited.

Why am I excited? Well, there are a number of reasons. Before every football season I get excited for a number of reasons. It's just that this year, the reasons are a little bit different than in past seasons. Actually that's the first reason.


1) This year doesn't feel like every year for the past 10 seasons. Is that solely because McNabb isn't around? Probably, but who cares? We're Eagles fans -- we are constantly grasping for reasons to be optimistic. For any other team in the NFL trading the best quarterback in the history of your franchise isn't a good thing. For the Eagles though, it was absolutely necessary. Trading McNabb liberates the franchise; we can finally move on past his antics, his lack of playing big at the absolute moment we need him to play big and no longer have to read this "is this the end of McNabb?" articles. But you already know all of this, so why do I need to rehash it here? I don't, but it sets up reason #2 pretty well...

2) It's our one shot at a Ewing Theory season. If you believe in the Ewing theory, that is. It isn't science by any means, but if teams like the Giants, Red Sox and Patriots can ride the theory to titles, why can't the Birds? McNabb was our Tiki, our Nomar, our Bledsoe...a player that we tied so much of our football identity to that it was almost always detrimental to our health. This year we're free of that and I really think the Eagles will be better for it overall. Will they win more games? That remains to be seen. But good things happen at weird ass times in sports. This is a weird ass time.

3) It's the Eagles Golden Anniversary of their last title. This isn't really a good thing, technically. But 50 years is a damn long time without a title, and I think the Eagles have built up enough bad luck and excruciatingly devastating NFC Championship defeat equity that the football Gods owe them. Spring it on us when we least expect it. At least that's how I'd do it if I were a football God. Think about what the Gods have done recently:

2005 - They make sure an all-around good guy, Jerome Bettis, gets his first and only title in his retirement season while playing for no better than the best 5th best team he ever played on.

2006 - They vindicate the best player in football (Peyton Manning) by allowing him to win a title while vanquishing his nemesis (Brady and the Pats) in the AFC Championship game.

2007 - They make sure the evil Patriots, who cheated their way to three titles (this isn't true but whatever), don't go undefeated and lose to a team (the Giants) that looked dead in mid-December.

2008 - They had the Cardinals less than three minutes away from winning the Super Bowl. Okay, they didn't win, but honestly how much more could the gods have done here?

2009 - They allowed the Saints to win the Super Bowl. Something something Katrina.

See? The Gods have impacted every season since 2004, when the Juggernaut Eagles met the Invincible Patriots and lost. Looking across the NFL, only three teams make sense from a karma perspective this year - the Browns (helping to revive the city of Cleveland that just got LeBombed), the Lions (two years removed from 0-16, that's the kind of karma that sticks around for a half decade) and the Eagles (50 years exactly from their last title with a minefield of past losses and futility that has beaten the fan base into insanity). I would include the Vikings (if Brett Favre didn't come back) and the Redskins (McNabb finally leaving the Eagles and winning a title) but neither make sense since Favre WILL come back and the Redskins aren't a tortured franchise. So we're in the top three and I don't know if the Browns or Lions are realistically good enough to swing the turn around necessary to win a Super Bowl. When the Saints won last year, it wasn't that ridiculous -- they were a great offensive team that got hot defensively and was only two seasons removed from the NFC Championship game. The Eagles could do this. Really.

4) Nobody believes in them. I think we all believe the Eagles are a good team, but do any of us really believe they'll win a title? Of course not, it just doesn't seem feasible. Their starting QB has started only two games in his career -- both at home. Their best player weighs about 145 pounds wet and is one nasty hit over the middle from...well...I don't even want to think about it. Their most important defensive player is coming back from major knee surgery. Their coach refuses to run the ball, was outcoached by Wade Phillips THREE times last year and still thinks employing Marty Mornigwheg is a good idea. Their GM, the guy "technically" in charge of football decisions, isn't a football guy at all. He probably doesn't even know what Tecmo Super Bowl is.

Basically, no matter how you slice it, this team doesn't "look" like a champion. But, after all the championship caliber teams we've seen the Eagles field over the past 10 years, wouldn't it make sense that the one that doesn't look like a champion would finally won? Maybe not, but it's an interesting concept that I can't stop thinking about.

5) We aren't healed yet. When the Phillies won the World Series I thought I was healed. I thought we all were healed. I really did. But we weren't. And we won't be until the Eagles win a Super Bowl. In Now I Can Die In Peace Simmons includes a column from when the Patriots won a Super Bowl in 2002. Here's an excerpt that stuck with me:

Now it all makes sense.
You bleed for your team, follow them through thick and thin, monitor every free-agent signing, immerse yourself in Draft Day, purchase the jersey and caps, plan your Sundays around the game...and there's a little rainbow waiting at the end. You can't see it, but you know it's there. It's there. It has to be there. So you believe.

Without the Eagles winning, we'll never be whole as sports fans. The Phillies served their role; they made us all believe that we could win again...that we aren't a city of losers anymore. But what an Eagles championship would do, well that's on a different level. A level that even I can't describe accurately in words. We love the Phillies, we all bleed red. But our heart is green. And we know this. We plan our entire fall around the Eagles. We read every blog and every article, we go to training camp by the thousands. Hell, we'll even watch NFL Live if we have to just to get our Eagles fix. We're obsessed...in a good way. We crave a title, that little pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And our ultimate fear, as Simmons puts it later in that same article, is "that we may never get there."

So that's why I'm excited. Cause this could be the year. Maybe all the reasons above don't make sense to you but they do to me. On Tuesday, July 20, 2010 they make sense to me. And that's all I care about. I just hope this season is different than all the rest. I hope this isn't another year where we almost get there. I hope this is the year we finally win.

It has to be. No more horseshoes. No more hand grenades.

Go Birds.

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