Of all the sports teams in Philadelphia, none comes close to the Eagles in terms of fan enthusiasm and devotion. Games are invariably sold out, the team has its own “fight song,” and the connection between the team’s fortunes and the mental health of Philadelphia residents is clear. My brother recently returned from a trip there and commented, “Wow, that Eagles win on Sunday really has everyone in a good mood. It’s amazing.” “That win,” by the way, improved the Eagles record on the year to 6-6. Trust me, they’re going nowhere this year.
I still remember the Sports Illustrated NFL Preview with Randall Cunningham on the cover: “The Ultimate Weapon,” it declared him to be. Despite having a roster loaded with all-pro players, the Cunningham-era teams of the late 80’s and early 90’s never even advanced to a Super Bowl.
In fact, those teams are probably best known for the antics of their coach, Buddy Ryan, who notably once offered his players a bounty if they could injure the Dallas Cowboys kicker. His coaching style was colloquially referred to as “Buddy Ball.” What that means is still unclear. To me it meant, “make the playoffs every year and get destroyed in the first round.”
Ryan’s eventual replacement, Rich Kotite, forced me to endure such suffering that I will not comment further on his tenure.
Kotite’s replacement, Ray Rhodes, was a great motivator but a horrible coach. The highlight of his career was a lopsided playoff victory over the Detroit Lions in 1995. He famously motivated the team that day by telling them that the Lions were “breaking into your houses at night, pillaging your homes, fornicating with your wives and threatening your children.” Somehow that worked, and the Eagles demolished the Lions that day. Of course, they were equally demolished the next week by the San Francisco 49ers. I guess that’s a speech you can’t really give twice.
The team’s recent history has been tortuous. Head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb are among the best in the league, and an abundance of talent at other positions has allowed the team to have a sustained run of success…. and awful heartbreaks. Amazingly, they advanced to the NFC championship game 3 years in a row and LOST ALL THREE TIMES, including twice at home, including once in the final game ever at Veterans Stadium.
The next year, 2004, the team addressed its one weakness by bringing in Pro-Bowl wide receiver Terrell Owens. The McNabb-Owens combination was lethal and led the Eagles to the best record in the NFL. And then- miracle of miracles- they actually won the NFC Championship Game (4th time’s a charm) and advanced to the Super Bowl. The city was in a frenzy.
Then we lost to the Patriot in the Super Bowl.
Then Terrell Owens demanded a new contract.
Then Terrell Owens ruined our next season by being a jackass.
Then we got rid of Terrell Owens and started this season playing incredibly well. This year’s highlight was a win over Owens’ new team, the Dallas Cowboys, one week after Owens supposedly attempted suicide. One Eagles fan held a sign that read, “Terrell- if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Fans brought empty prescription bottles to the stadium and held them up. They chanted “O.D.” It was disgraceful.
Then McNabb tore his ACL, the team started sucking and now somehow everyone is thrilled that the team is 6-6.