Monday, January 10, 2011

The Wild Card

Each year, when football season comes to the playoffs, I find myself muttering the words of Michael Corleone in the Godfather, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”  I say this because nothing makes my blood boil more than watching the Philadelphia Eagles play.  I think I raise my cholesterol, blood pressure and chance of seizure and stroke each time I watch an Eagles game.  As the years have gone by, I’ve tried to calm myself, grow slightly more mature and refrain from throwing items around my apartments/rooms as well as cursing and screaming at the top of my lungs so that I don’t sound like a total psychopath/wifebeater/serial killer.  This year, I thought I did exceptionally well in moving towards being a healthy fan of the Philadelphia Eagles.

In recent seasons, I have also tried to watch less football because quite frankly, football annoys me for a variety of reasons.  Watching football on TV drives me crazy.  Most of the time the games are filled with penalties that cause the flow of the game to become clunky and sporadic.  In addition, football as perhaps the worst and longest TV timeouts out of any of the major sports, which also takes me out of the game.  This often leads to many of those forlorn, tedious and terrible 4:15 late games on Sunday afternoons where you just want to say, as distinctly as possible, “This game is AWFUL!”

That just pertains to the game play.  What is really terrible about football is the media coverage.  Since football is such a short season and the egos and hyper-masculinity of the players are so great, the media coverage must be commensurate.  Football media coverage beats the following dead horses: “the quarterback position,” “being a man,” “doing your job,” “the team,” “one game at a time,” “being a man,” “man-ing up,” and “football is the greatest of all sports.”  The act of watching football obviously differentiates itself from viewing all other sports in that there are fewer games.  All of the games are played on two days out of the week (3-4 as the season wears on, but it is only one game per day on those outlying Thursdays and Saturdays) and you know they are played at either 1:00, 4:15, or 8:30.  There is a ritual to football that basketball, baseball and hockey don’t share.  That is what makes the Buffalo wings, the sandwiches, the beer, and the fat bellies have that much more meaning – it is the repetition of the ritual of the football mass, week after week.  However, the fact that this “glory of the game” beats us over the head during the week via all the football pundits is something that annoys me to no end. All other sports fall by the wayside during football season.  Now, you may call me a disgruntled basketball fanatic, but I think there is validity to my gripes with football season.  I don’t have a solution to the problem; I think the answer is to just watch less football and football coverage as I have been doing.  The fact that the essence of a football season is that it is made up of only sixteen games perpetuates the overblown media coverage; the melodramatic reactions to every single play and player; the intense focus on the thrown away words of players in the locker room.  There is no chalkboard material and a helmet or a hit doesn’t define manhood.  A dunk or a beautiful outlet pass doesn’t define it either, but basketball players and basketball media never claim that those things make a man in the first place.

All of this being said, last night, I was among the Philadelphia faithful packed into Lincoln Financial Field to watch the Green Bay Packers play the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card Round of the 2011 NFL Playoffs.  My dad and I sat at field level as the game began and the temperature dropped to an even 30 degrees.  I watched the fireworks go off and listened the drunken Philly fans banter around us.  I saw Swoop, the Philadelphia Eagles mascot, shoot fireworks off the top of his head.  And as those damn, beautiful, dark green Eagles jerseys ran around the field right in front of me, I turned to my dad and said, “Just when I thought I was out, they sucked me back IN!”

A few notes from the game:

- I am not a big jersey person.  When I watch sports games I don’t wear the jersey of the team I am rooting for. It’s usually in my soul and that’s all that matters.  I’m not actually on the team and besides, I can curse like hell to show my support anyway. I thought about wearing my McNabb jersey to the game, but I had a strange feeling that a McNabb jersey was off limits with the Philly fans.  I was right.  While my dad and I walked around the parking lot amongst the tailgating Philadelphians, I saw only ONE Donovan McNabb jersey.  There were Randall Cunningham jerseys, Brian Westbrook jerseys, Ricky Waters jerseys – I even saw a Michael Zordich jersey. Yet, the winningest and most decorated quarterback in Philadelphia Eagles franchise history was not represented at all.  Even though I live in New York, I am still connected to the Eagles faithful, and that fan base was all thinking one thing: we do NOT want the specter of McNabb floating over this game.  That is to say, we do not want to blow this game and any McNabb jerseys that are present will lead to that.  How strange is it that one of the best (if not the best) players in franchise history is a complete persona non grata?  I am continually fascinated by the McNabb/Philadelphia relationship and I think as the years go on, it will only become more fascinating.  Someone has to write a book about this.

- The Linc is a fantastic stadium.  It is immaculately kept and really easy to get around in.  The concession stand food is great and, although my dad and I had great seats (we wandered around before the game), there is a terrific view throughout the stadium.  It is a vast improvement over the Vet. Also, for those of you that care, it is going to be the first self-sustaining sports stadium. Starting next season, they are using wind and solar power to run the entire facility.  Very progressive down in Philly.

- The Philadelphia fans are both fantastic and horrible.  Everyone was so riled up for the game that there was a pervading drunkenness in the first quarter.  A Philly fan in our section actually yelled at another Philly fan for holding up sign, threw peanuts at him, and then threatened to “throw his ass out of here.”  Everyone else in the section saw that the peanut thrower was an asshole and started teasing him to get him into a better mood and the whole incident actually became a bonding/rallying point for our section.  The other thing about Philadelphia (and especially Eagles) fans is that the sense of dread that overtakes the stadium when something goes bad is so immense and palpable that it is hard to overcome.  The crowd was so willing to go dead when the Eagles looked flat in the first half (and most of the game) that it was completely discouraging.  Eagles fans love the team so much and rely on it for so much happiness, that they want them to be perfect – to succeed in any way because that success will some how validate their own lives.  When something goes wrong for the Eagles, it is like a personal affront or attack on these people and they take it so personally that they clam up.  They are so used to having their hearts broken that they almost expect the worst to happen at all times and so the dread builds and builds and infiltrates all parts of the stadium. Being a Philadelphia fan, I have had my fair share of heartbreak.  However, I was not willing to let dread overtake me.  I think I had a large part in keeping the spirits of our area high (although, I could be full of shit), which in turn kept the other sections into the game as well.  It was a tough battle and I think overall I lost it, but at those times of euphoria last night the atmosphere was off the charts.  And that’s why Eagles fans are great.  They get into the game, they know about the game.  There is nothing like an Eagles fan who recognizes you are a smart fan.  They will chat you up and stand by your side like you were their oldest friend.  Although, now that I think about it, almost any Philly fan will chat you up at a game because they are usually pretty soused.  Ah, well they’re all loveable until they starting hating themselves and the team.

- The harassment of Green Bay fans was at about an orange level.  Nothing too, too serious, but definitely present. It wouldn’t have been an Eagles game without some fairly high level of harassment.

- You have to see Michael Vick play in person.  When you watch him on TV you get a sense of his speed and elusiveness, but its another thing to see him evade those tackles in person.  He twists his body and then accelerates in a split second.  It’s remarkable.

- The Philadelphia fans hate Andy Reid.  They constantly call him “Fat Andy.”  After last night, I don’t blame them.  I’ve stood behind Andy through thick and thin, but the 4th and 1 call last night and some of the other management issues were just to egregious to let go.

- You also have to see Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin in person.  They are both insanely fast, especially Jackson.  It is unreal.

- And of course, it wouldn’t have been an Eagles game without a potential comeback that was thwarted by a late interception in the endzone.  The fans can leave those McNabb jersey’s at home, but something has to change in order to rid that stadium and these fan’s of the McNabb specter, which is the reminder of always coming up short.

Just another heartbreaking visit to Philadelphia and the world of the Eagles.

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