Posted: Thursday January 20, 2005 11:43AM; Updated: Thursday January 20, 2005 12:27PM
Eagles fans fully expect their team to go to the Super Bowl this year.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
If you listen to the analysts and sages around the country, Philadelphia has been reduced to nothing more than a quivering dollop of marmalade, its denizens so wracked with anxiety they can barely flip off other drivers on the Schuylkill Expressway or fashion a good insult of Randy Moss. It's NFC Championship Game time again, and to other Americans, that means a plague of frogs is due in Tastykaketown, or at least a posse of receiver-grabbing Panthers cornerbacks.
With the loser clock having struck three and looking like it wants nothing more than to sound out four bells, one would expect the city to be in some catatonic stupor, paralyzed with fear and waiting for doom the way Andy Reid awaits his cholesterol reading.
Well, this is Philly, people, and that's not how it goes here. There may well be a healthy level of fear among Eagles fans, but the prevailing attitude in these parts is one of anticipation. It's like Christmas Eve, and Birds backers can't wait to bolt down the steps and find the whole cast of Desperate Housewives gift-wrapped under the tree. After three years of heartbreak and fate's dirty tricks, it's Super Bowl time, and Donovan McNabb and his mates are going. No doubt about it.
What did you expect? This isn't a town of Eeyores, glum mopes who wait for the next indignity or a dose of bad luck. Never has been. Say what you want about the abysmal behavior of Philadelphia fans or how they have been recently brainwashed into believing that somehow they "deserve" a championship. But don't accuse the locals of running away from a fight.
Two years ago, the sports world predicted a Cheesesteak apocalypse after the Birds blew the title game against Tampa Bay. Instead, they imploded Veterans Stadium, site of the debacle, and moved across the street, filled with optimism and delighted about the cup holders at each seat in their new home. But Philly lost to Carolina last January on the day of the faint-hearted receivers. Again, everybody forecast boom times for the area's psychologists, and pharmacies bought up all the Paxil they could find. Again, no meltdown. The community regrouped and looked to 2004 with a confidence that rivaled Terrell Owens' inflated sense of self. Sunday, they'll be ready, dressed in every combination of green and black possible, ready to make Raider Nation look like the Amish. They'll turn any Falcons fan stupid enough to wear his team's colors into a red-and-black snowman. Only they won't be putting the carrot in his nose, if you know what El Hombre means.
Take a look at any group of fans Fox shows Sunday. You won't find a single person who isn't absolutely convinced -- or has at least been persuaded by the effects of nine hours of tailgating -- that THIS IS THE YEAR! You'll see signs announcing the supremacy of Eagles over Falcons. Some of them may even be punctuated properly. Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell will be there, his expansive frame perhaps painted midnight green, his allegiances to Philadelphia out in the open, now that he has announced -- political correctness be damned -- that he'll pull hard for the Eagles, should they meet the Stillers in the Super Bowl.
Now that's Philadelphia. Rendell's telling the gum-band-using, Primanti-Brothers-sandwich-eating western PA crowd that his heart is green. Oh, and don't forget to vote for him in the '08 Democratic primary. And he didn't even grow up in Philly. Rendell's a New Yorker who went to Penn, served as the city's D.A. and learned that being a Philadelphia fan is like joining the mob. Once you're in, you can't get out.
That's what this Sunday is all about. No matter how many times the Eagles have stomped on the area's collective dreams, the people always come back. Always. We're talking about a team that has won a total of three World Championships in its 71-year history. Three! A team that could have had O.J. Simpson in the '69 draft but blew it by winning two of its last three games, after an 0-11 start, and ended up with Leroy Keyes, instead of The Juice. Talking about The Fog Bowl. The Joe Kuharich years. Rich Kotite. You want more football futility, you better go to Detroit, because the Eagles know how to mess things up.
And, yet, the fans keep coming back. They spit on past disappointments (and plenty of opposing players). They buy their tickets, fly team flags, wear their jerseys and paint their faces. Sunday, they'll be out in the snow, ready to go again. There will be some butterflies -- big butterflies -- but there won't be any dearth of enthusiasm or commitment. Their message will not be one of fear or angst. It will be one loud cry:
"The Eagles are going to the Super Bowl!"
Sooner or later.
El Hombre sez: It's a good thing the players and NHL reps are conducting those "secret" meetings, because folks are clamoring for hockey. Why, just last week, a couple of Nashville Predators fans stopped talking about NASCAR long enough to remember what icing was. ... Speaking of NASCAR, the field for the Daytona 500 is ... yeah, right ... You'll have to excuse the seeing-eye dog that did his business on the court earlier this week before the Pistons-Magic game. Seems the hound thought he was at a Hornets game.
And another thing: Fresh off last week's 4-0 -- 3-1 against the number -- prognostication performance, El Hombre is back with his five-star championship picks. (Note how the level of confidence grows after moderate success.) Webster's defines a catharsis as "the purifying or relieving of emotions." El Hombre defines it as "an emphatic Eagles butt-kicking of unfortunate birds of prey." This one could get out of hand early. Philadelphia 34, Atlanta 6.
Meanwhile, we're all supposed to believe that the mammoth case of the yips Ben Roethlisberger had against the Jets will be cleared up when he takes on Dr. Frankendefense and the Patriots. Right. Was El Hombre the only one who thought those one and two-man fronts New England was using at the end of the Colts win were just Bill Belichick's way of messing with the rookie's film study? "What the hell are they doing there, coach? Tell me!" New England 21, Pittsburgh 16.