Losing my Team
September 2nd 2011 · 0 Comments
by Matt Christopher
December 31st, 1988. Not only was this the day of the NFL’s infamous ‘Fog Bowl,’ it was also the day that I, as an eleven year old kid, was cemented as the biggest fan of the Philadelphia Eagles there ever was. On the last day of 1988 I found myself becoming mesmerized with the athleticism of Randall Cunningham as he danced around and fired bullets to receivers. Of course no one could see the field (except the Bears who beat us) but that didn’t matter. A lifetime love affair with more peaks and valleys than a 50-year marriage was born.
Sunday to Sunday…the draft…free agency…training camp…It’s an obsession that goes year-round. It’s a religion. I followed the Eagles like my life depended on knowing every last guy on the roster.
I remember the summer morning that I woke to the news that Jerome Brown had died. Until then I didn’t think it was possible for a superstar to fall from the sky, but there I was, delivering newspapers and fighting back tears. Through the 90’s the excitement of football surrounded me. I learned to hate the Giants and loathe the Cowboys (as any Eagles fan should). How awesome was 4th and 1?
I remember playing Sega Genesis football games with my friends, always representing the Eagles with pride and devotion. My first NFL game wasn’t the Eagles. It was a Buffalo Bills Sunday night affair in October of ‘93. I proudly wore my Eagles hat, and when the score flashed that the Birds had clobbered the Jets earlier I was hi-fived and congratulated by a multitude of drunken Bills fans.
I followed Donovan McNabb’s career at Syracuse and was one of the few smart people that jumped for joy when the eagles drafted him in April of ‘99. I finally made it to an Eagles game in 2002 – the last year of the Vet’s existence, and witnessed a drubbing of the Houston Texans. And the 2004 Superbowl run? Greatest year of sports in my life. 16 years of highs and lows culminating to one game. We lost but that didn’t matter. It was MY team and no one could take that away.
August 13, 2009. Another date I’ll never forget. Living in Columbia, SC I couldn’t be further away from the cold battles of NFL East football, but I was counting the days until the season would be starting.
And then, I got the text message. At first I thought I was reading a cruel joke. But the heartbreaking news was not. The Eagles had, for some inexplicable reason, just agreed to terms with Quarterback Michael Vick.
Say what? Yes, Michael Vick. A terrific athlete but overrated QB and despicable human being, who had just gotten out of prison for his involvement in a dog fighting ring (that included torture and killing of dogs). And he was going to be wearing MY colors. The uniform of Randall and Reggie. Jerome and Donovan. It was like my entire sports universe was trashed in an instant.
Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid had always prided himself on having a team full of character guys. Damon Moore and Thomas Hamner were each cut by Reid, ironically enough, after being charged with animal cruelty. The same Andy Reid refused to draft first ballet Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss because he had been arrested for possession of marijuana in college, and the same organization that refused to draft first ballet Hall of Famer Warren Sapp for the exact same reason. The same coach and organization that rid themselves of the best wide receiver in team history (and a player they could ill-afford to lose), Terrell Owens, for no other reason than he was a jerk.
I’ll take stupid over evil any day.
Enter Vick and his laundry list of questionable acts. We were told it was just a chance to let him get back into the league. We were assured by the Eagles that he wouldn’t stay. Team owner Jeffery Lurie, avid supporter of animal rights and causes, assured us he was skeptical about the decision but he turned over football matters to King Reid who knows everything there is to know about the game.
I had no problem with him being reinstated into the league. I had no problem with him getting a second chance. I just didn’t want him on MY team.
The airwaves were flooded with debate on both sides of the issue. People complained that he did his time and deserved a second chance (all ex-cons should be so lucky). I was infuriated, and for me, race had nothing to do with it. I own only 2 NFL jerseys, belonging to my two favorite players; Donovan McNabb and Randall Cunningham. Both Eagle’s QBs. Both Black. I spent years rooting for a team that consists of predominantly Black players.
The race argument doesn’t fly with me. What does is the crime at hand. Some things just can’t be forgotten. I happen to be a lover of animals and an adorer of dogs. I find it difficult to root for someone like him while my adopted shelter dog is on the floor beside me.
My friend asked what the big deal was. His wife just gave birth to a baby girl and he was complaining about Casey Anthony’s acquittal. I asked him what he would do if she replaced Derek Jeter as the Yankees shortstop. He understood.
And it made no sense from a football standpoint either. At the time, Donovan McNabb, a consummate all-pro, was in the midst of a hundred-million dollar contract. The Eagles had spent a first round pick in 2007 on the QB of the future, Kevin Kolb. They even started building the team around Kolb.
And I loved my team. So I accepted the decision. Vick was behind McNabb and Kolb. He wouldn’t see the field. The 2009 season was underway with Vick roaming the sidelines like the cretin that he is. He was used sparingly on silly gadget-plays, designed more to cover the fact that Reid can’t coach.
They set him up for success in a game against his former team, the Falcons. Vick pumped his fist and pointed arrogantly way when he ran for a TD (not sure why he was upset, it was his illegal actions and despicable behavior that set the Falcons franchise back 3 years – kudos to Falcons owner Arthur Blank for having the integrity to cut him). The season came to an end.
I could breathe easy. The nightmare would soon be over. After all, it was what the management had said.
But he continued to stay. He stayed past the Superbowl and through the free agency period. Then, another explosion of text messages on my phone. Donovan McNabb had been traded to the Washington Redskins. My second favorite player of all-time was out and Vick had been elevated to backup- just one Kolb injury away from the field.
At Vick’s 30th birthday party in June, an altercation ensued that Vick was a part of. The antagonist of the fight was shot. I understand that Vick was not present at the time of the shooting, but come on. I’ve had dozens of birthdays in my lifetime. No one has ever been shot at one of them. The thought that someone less than a year out of Federal prison would put themselves in this situation is beyond belief. But it was great news for me. There was no way the good-soldier Eagles would be able to keep him now.
The calendar turned and I waited. Suddenly, the NFL was sweeping the issue under the rug. Andy Reid called Vick a “heckuva good kid” who just made some mistakes. It became apparent that Vick was not going anywhere. Kevin Kolb became my de facto favorite player. He had to be. He had to succeed. It was up to Kolb to perform well. It was the only thought keeping “It” off the field.
With McNabb gone, the division of fans grew. It became apparent that Reid wanted Vick to be the starter from Jump Street.
The 2010 season kickoff was underway and Kevin Kolb was set up to fail from the start. He was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the second quarter and the circle was now complete. The Kevin Kolb-era was over; hyped up for 3 years it lasted all of 20 minutes. The worst thing that could have happened had happened. Vick had a couple of good games and Kolb was all done in Philly.
The Eagles were knocked out of the playoffs in the opening round when Vick threw an end zone interception in the final seconds. But it didn’t seem to matter. Everyone got what they wanted and almost everyone wanted him to succeed. The NFL didn’t want to look bad after reinstating him. The Eagles didn’t want to look bad after they signed him. They brushed over the shooting. They blamed scheme for the season-ending interception (if McNabb had thrown that pass they would be calling for his head). The announcers and pundits were tripping over their tongues with his every mention, even lauding him in games the Eagles weren’t playing.
And here we sit. It’s the eve of the 2011 season and I couldn’t be further from caring about ‘my Birds.’ It’s been 23 years since the Fog Bowl. I pouted when that team lost but held my head proud in their support. Now? I’m embarrassed to say I’m an Eagles fan. I will not wear any Eagles gear or buy any Eagles merchandise until Vick and Reid are gone.
I know they don’t care. The owner’s a billionaire. They have millions of fans. They don’t need me as much as I need them. They turned their backs on me and they don’t even know it.
I found myself rooting for the lockout. At least I would be spared the devastation of having to root against my Birds. This year I’ll root the Yankees until October. Then? The Buffalo Bills. McNabb and the Vikings. Kolb and the Cardinals. Anyone but the Eagles. Even the…cringe..Dallas Cowboys…that’s what it’s become. I would rather root for the team that went 0-16 with guys I like than win it all with people I hate. You root for the laundry so in a few years when he’s gone I’ll be back. But what do I do if they win it all with him? I’ve waited almost 25 years, rooting for a team that’s never won a Superbowl.
And I really don’t want them winning it all without me.
By Mark Ziobro