THE MORNING after the parade, an airplane to Seattle beckoned. The Eagles were playing the Seahawks and I could not have cared less: physically exhausted, emotionally spent, didn't want to be there, didn't want to write about it. I had enough self-awareness to recognize that this might just have been me, my issue, after an extended period of baseball travel and baseball typing. But it focused me on the question and kept me focused for the rest of the football season.
And in the end, in the aftermath of the Phillies winning the World Series, I could not remember a more negative Eagles season when it came to my interaction with the people who root for this football team.
The bombardment was relentless - and that is the exact word, bombardment. For the first time ever, people fired coach Andy Reid in the newspaper. Day after day, the e-mails flooded in whenever a defense of Reid was raised. People in the Wawa were brutal. Callers on the radio were worse. I know, I know - it goes with the territory when you are the most popular team in town and you haven't won a championship since 1960. And, yes, this is all anecdotal.
But it was worse. And while there were a couple of contributing factors, including a maddeningly inconsistent style of play in 2008, it seems obvious that even if the expectations were not raised when the Phillies won the World Series - the Eagles' expectations were always high - the vocal manifestation of those expectations was louder, sharper and nastier. Especially nastier.
By contrast, we are about to embark on the Sixers and the Flyers in the playoffs, presumably. Each is its own special case and doesn't seem tied to the Phillies. The Sixers are in this extended limbo, unable to implement the vision of general manager Ed Stefanski because of the season-ending shoulder injury suffered by Elton Brand. Because of that, it is hard for anyone to make a huge emotional investment at this point. Their playoff appearance will be nice, but lacking real expectations.
The Flyers are different. Their fans are hockey fans first, almost to the exclusion of the other sports sometimes. They are a battered lot, criticized as a rabid minority, and they spectate with elbows raised and always have. They will embrace their team and its dreams from the drop of the puck in Game 1 to the final handshake line, wherever and whenever that is. It will take more than a World Series to change that.
But it is different with the Eagles. They continue to have the biggest fan base in the city. Their actions continue to generate the most news. It remains a football town - and the Phillies' success seems to be complicating the relationship.
There are no real standardized tests of this hypothesis. The Eagles have their own metrics - ticket sales, merchandise sales, television ratings, polling that they do among the fan base - and they will tell you that it just isn't true. Given the economic downturn, given everything, they will tell you that their numbers are fine. And I'm sure they are fine, the numbers.
But the point is, this might be out of the realm of the measurable. Again, you have to acknowledge two complications: the team's consistent inconsistency at the beginning of the season, as well as the notion that Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb have been here a decade now and there is a natural enough fatigue with the relationship between them and the fan base.
Even with that, though, that gleaming Phillies trophy came up in countless e-mails from critical fans, as well as in conversations. And there was just an edge to the criticism that hadn't existed before. I am willing to consider that some of it was media-driven, but I don't think that explains it all. I am also willing to consider that there are more outlets than ever for the disaffected to find a voice, thereby raising the overall volume to a level that wasn't possible in earlier years, but that isn't all of it, either.
If you have lived here for a while, you can just tell. It is a gut feeling, but it is different. Eagles fans wanted it to be their trophy. Eagles fans expected it to be their trophy a long time ago. Now that they have seen a parade, they have no time or tolerance for 5-5-1. That there was a healthy minority of fans openly hoping for the Eagles to lose down the stretch last season so that Reid might be fired was stunning but true.
It all followed the Phillies' parade. In Philadelphia, uneasy lies the head that doesn't wear the crown. *
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