In the fall of 2005, a very lucky thing happened to me. There was a company United Way raffle in which the prize was a trip with the Eagles' organization to see the Birds play the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium; we bought a bunch of tickets -- and won! I went with my son, who nearly 11, and we had an amazing time. If you'll remember, the Eagles were coming off their three-point loss to the Pats in the Super Bowl, and no one thought that early October for one split-second that they weren't going back to The Big Game. For one thing, what could go wrong with the touchdown-producing duo of Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens together and healthy?
One of the Eagles' employees guiding our junket was an outgoing young blonde woman who was also visably pregnant. Over brunch before the big game, she blurted out her biggest worry with the pending delivery. "I talked to my doctor, and he said there's no reason why I won't be able to fly to Detroit in January!" There was no need to say more. Ford Field was the site of the 2006 Super Bowl. The Eagles would be playing there, and this young woman would be in the stands. Period.
Then the game started and the Eagles fell behind 24-6. For a split second, it was impossible not to wonder if we weren't deluding ourselves as to how good these 2005-06 Birds really were. Then they stormed back. T.O. caught a touchdown pass from McNabb. They won the game, 37-31. It was silly to doubt them. The Eagles were going to Detroit!
Except that they didn't. McNabb suffered a season-ending injury, and T.O. shot off his mouth and get kicked off the team. The year ended with Mike McMahon at quarterback and Owens in Moorestown, and the Eagles didn't even make the playoffs. In fact, they finished 6-10. The Birds have seen up and down moments since then and even made it to the NFC Championship in January 2009, but they've never really been the same team with the same swagger since that day at Arrowhead
I often think of that game, and also about that woman's tragic certainty about Detroit.
Some day, the Phillies will have their "Detroit moment," when the certainty of another World Series collapses like the 1929 stock market.
Is it now?
Some of this, undoubtedly, is simply frustration from coming to the ballpark day after day expecting his renowned lineup to break out and, day after day, being disappointed when it doesn't.
Some of it, though, appears to stem from a legitimate concern that some people are straying from the approach that made them successful in the first place.
"Now, if you get complacent and you get satisfied sometimes because you got a big deal or you make more money and you know that you're set. Or if you're a bench player and you come over here and you get a 2- or a 3-year deal or something like that and you feel good about yourself. There's nothing wrong with that, but, at the same time, we still want those people to have the same drive they've always had," he said.
"Success changes you. Winning changes you. People sometimes don't even know that. But you'd better stay the same if you think you're going to be as successful as you have been. Success is great, but at the same time knowing how to handle it and keeping it for a long time is even better."
Hey, things don't look so different for these Phillies from the last couple of years. The stands at Citizens Bank Park are still packed with rabid fans, and about half the people you see on the street or at the mall or down the shore are wearing some kind of Phillies gear. There's Ryan Howard batting cleanup and Cole Hamels on the mound and Charlie swaying back and forth in the dugout.
But I've seen teams get surprisingly good fast (remember the 2008 Devil Rays) and teams also get really bad really fast, too. Some key players appear to be shells of what they used to be in 2008 or 2009: most notably Raul Ibanez (in his case, a shell of what he was for only 2-3 remarkable months), Greg Dobbs and maybe J.C. Romero and Brad Lidge, while Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco seem prone to injury -- which may be no big deal except that they're not getting any younger.
On the other hand, there's Roy Halladay, and there's also no reason not to think that at least Chase Utley and Jayson Werth and probably Ryan Howard are all merely slumping at the same time. Maybe they all snap out at the same time, too, and J.A. Happ comes off the disabled list and Lidge is really healthy this time and any fans like me -- who are starting to doubt the 2010 Phillies -- will look really really silly.
The Phillies "Detroit moment" will come -- but hopefully not until the middle of this young decade.
But it could be now.
Note: South Jersey geography meltdown corrected from initial version.