With Labor Day—and the unofficial and lamented end of summer—now in the rear view mirror, the sting is lessened somewhat by the knowledge that the NFL season is just days away. Time to take stock of my collection of Eagles wear: Many of my jerseys, t-shirts, sweatshirts and lids are time-ravaged by the twists and turns that affected my weekly moods for countless falls and winters.
Will the 2010-11 season be any different?
I have been a diehard Eagles fan since the Eddie Khayat days (how’s that name for you?), but something just feels different about the 2010 NFL campaign. The feeling changed quite a bit on Easter Sunday when Donovan McNabb got traded, and just a bit more a few months later when the Eagles and the NFL decided to give Michael Vick a third chance without any suspension after his stupid birthday party scheme almost turned out to be stupid and tragic.
“It’s all about the laundry,” I try to remind myself, but so far I am saying so without any conviction. “It’s not about the name on the back of the jersey, but…”
I’m not sure where that laundry expression came from, but it was coined to emphasize that when you are a fan of your (hometown) team, that you are loyal to that franchise—and not to one particular player. Players come and players go, but the laundry remains the same, or something like that—whether it’s midnight green or Kelly green.
As a longtime Philly sports fan, I have seen my fair share of favorite players leave town, and I have continued to root for several of them. Charles Barkley, even more so than the revered Dr. J, was my favorite Sixer of all time. He was still “my man” when he went to Phoenix, but the feeling was different then for a few reasons.
For one, Barkley was fed up with management (and he was sick of playing with the Charles Shacklefords of the world), wanted out, and he was still very popular with the great majority of fans. Secondly, he went to Phoenix, who is hardly a rival, and thirdly, when he left, basketball was moribund around here until Allen Iverson took his unique hold of this town about seven years later.
I was a huge Eric Lindros guy, and easily took his side when the Flyers’ GM, Bobby Clarke, aired his grievances with Eric, Bonnie and Clyde (er, Carl) all over the press. I rooted for “88” in New York, and did lose a lot of feeling for my beloved Flyers, but I stopped just short of becoming a Rangers fan, and besides, the NHL is not the same as the NFL to me.
How about Randall Cunningham? I loved the guy, and I still maintain that no other player—and certainly no other quarterback—has ever looked so elegant in the open field. But when Randall left after 1995, he appeared almost disinterested with football, and was coming off a season in which he started only four games.
While Cunningham was enjoying that magical season with the Minnesota Vikings in 1998, the Eagles were busy tuning out lame duck coach Ray Rhodes to the dirge of a 3-13 record, and Minnesota became a secondary team to root for. It was not so much that the Vikings were no threat to us; the Eagles were no threat to anybody but themselves that year.
Back to 2010. McNabb, my second favorite Eagle of all-time (behind the wondrous Wilbert Montgomery) is now playing for Washington, and I’m thinking about doing the unthinkable and rooting for the Redskins. I’m not just talking about wishing McNabb well, but actually rooting for “5” to beat the Eagles, and for the Skins to finish ahead of my beloved Birds. (By the way, I don’t expect this to happen: While the teams will likely split in their two meetings, I see the Eagles dipping slightly to 9-7, and the Skins rising to an almost respectable 7-9.)
So, why’s the feeling so different, and why do I suddenly not know what laundry to wear on Sundays this fall? At the risk of airing my own dirty laundry, I’ll make my points quickly.
McNabb’s case is different for so many reasons, including:
1. Unlike my other favorites, he wanted to continue to play here
2. He was coming off a playoff season (as ugly as that playoff game was) and a Pro Bowl year
3. To be frank, he was somehow a much more polarizing figure with the fans than Barkley (a man who tried to be controversial), Lindros (controversial even before he entered the NHL, but still very popular with fans till the end) and Randall (who kind of faded the last couple years here, and was not the same lightning rod when he left).
I can certainly write several columns worth—and perhaps a book that mixes football, media relations, psychology and sociology—about why I believe that McNabb was unpopular with so many in the local media, and with so many of my fellow Eagles fans. But, for this space, I will simply acknowledge that there was a disconnect between large portions of Eagles Nation and McNabb that part of me did not understand.
Indeed, the part of me that did understand it did not like what that said about us as fans, and as human beings. (And yes, McNabb has led a pretty good, affluent life, and is hardly a pitiable figure. This is more of a sports fairness issue to me that only a passionate sports fan can understand—whether or not he/she agrees with me.)
So, where does this leave me on Sundays? As disenchanted as I am with the Eagles, I have no desire to root against them, and for what it’s worth, I happen to think that the likable Kevin Kolb—who has a little game, and has said all the right things so far— will be okay. It’s just that I don’t yet feel like he’s the quarterback of my team, and I’m not sure when that will change.
Looking ahead (if I do defect), it will be weird to not have my mood so influenced by the outcome of Birds games, and it will be surreal to not know what semi-clean laundry to wear on Sundays.
My best friend since college days is a DC native who has been a Redskins season ticket holder since childhood. I have been to many Eagles-Skins games with him over the years, often dodging taunts and beer showers while bedecked in Eagles green. Knowing my dilemma, he offered to: a) score me a ticket for the November 15 showdown; and b) buy me a burgundy-and-gold #5 if I promise to wear it to FedEx Field.
I’m already there for the Monday Night Football clash, and I’m giving serious thought to wearing the jersey. May the Sports Laundry Gods (to say nothing of my Philly readership) be kind to me.
For more of my take on the McNabb legacy, please also see: