Hugh Douglas, co-host of the morning show on Atlanta radio’s 92.9 The Game, was watching the Super Bowl last year with his 14-year-old son, Hugh Thomas, who was born in Atlanta. The Falcons, maybe you’ve heard, built a 28-3 third-quarter lead over the New England Patriots. Hugh Thomas was excited.
“He said ‘Oh, the Falcons are about to win the Super Bowl!’ I said, ‘Son, that’s Tom Brady. It’s not over. It’s a lot of time left on that clock,’ ” Douglas, a three-time Pro Bowl defensive end for the Eagles, recalled this week.
Douglas was an Eagle for three of those four successive trips to the NFC championship came, and for Super Bowl XXXIX. Then he got his start in TV and radio here. Douglas was born in Ohio, but he understands the Philadelphia sports psyche, which is a bit like the Atlanta sports psyche right now, heading into the divisional round playoff matchup Saturday between the Eagles and the visiting Falcons.
“There were people down here celebrating!” at halftime, Douglas said. But the Patriots’ historic comeback killed the jubilation, as Douglas had feared it would.
“People down here were devastated. They were devastated. I told them, ‘I feel your pain.’ We lost by three points [to the Pats in Super Bowl XXXIX], but the pain is no less than what you’re feeling right now,’ ” Douglas said. “It’s something that people deal with on a day-to-day basis.”
Douglas, 46, deals on a day-to-day basis with his loudly voiced loyalty to the Eagles, while working weekday mornings on the Falcons’ flagship station.
“They understand,” he said of his listeners. “I’m always going to roll with my city [Philadelphia], but I’m always going to be fair.”
“This is a unique situation for me. Coming off the Super Bowl loss [the Falcons] had last year, and knowing what the city of Philadelphia has been through, it’s a tough spot to be in — if there was a perfect world, I’m pulling for both, but it can’t happen like that.
“I know what this means for the city of Philadelphia. I know what Carson Wentz meant. … I still interact with a lot of people from Philadelphia, so I feel like I’m still a part of it. I saw what he did for the city of Philadelphia, I know how that makes the people feel.”
Douglas was at ground zero of the Eagles’ 2005 implosion after their Super Bowl loss. Cut from the roster but kept in the building by then-coach Andy Reid as a “goodwill ambassador” — a position Douglas then often referred to as “badassador” — Douglas got into a confrontation with dissatisfied wide receiver Terrell Owens over Owens’ attitude, one of several incidents that led to Owens’ dismissal from the team.
Early this season, the Falcons might have been following the sluggish path familiar to Super Bowl bridesmaids in the year after, at 4-4. But they went 6-2 the rest of the way, then traveled to Los Angeles and defeated the Rams, 26-13, in last weekend’s wild-card round. Quarterback Matt Ryan, from Exton and Penn Charter High, didn’t come close to matching his 2016 NFL MVP stats, but he did keep gutting out wins.
“Down here, seeing Matt Ryan and what he has been through and how he has handled it, how he went through that [Super Bowl] and the way they lost it, that’s a tough spot to be in, too. For this team to be in the playoffs, after that year? That’s a huge accomplishment,” Douglas said. “He’s on a mission. … He’s ready to go. Him being from [the Philly] area, to get a win over the Eagles, I think that would be a huge feather in his cap.”
Many Falcons fans are also Georgia fans, and are reeling from the Bulldogs’ collapse against Alabama on Monday night in the college football championship game. Douglas said his thought as he watched, as a morning radio host, was, “[Expletive], we’re going to have to deal with this tomorrow.”
Douglas was always an outsize personality in the Eagles’ locker room. Once, during media interviews, he tried to relieve the tension of one of those futile playoff runs by exclaiming in a loud, squeaky voice, with an increasingly higher pitch: “It’s do or die. DO or DIE! DO OR DIE!!!!”
It was a refreshingly sane perspective. Of course, sports is never really do or die. It’s sports. Given the intelligence and humor he regularly exhibited as a player, Douglas seemed to be a natural for a high-profile media job, but his behavior got in the way.
In 2013, Douglas was fired from an ESPN job after an encounter with Michael Smith, then his co=host on a show called Numbers Don’t Lie, in which Smith said Douglas called him an “Uncle Tom” and threatened him. A few months later, Douglas was arrested for allegedly beating and choking a girlfriend – which he denied – but he ultimately served two years’ probation. The girlfriend later sued.
Douglas rebuilt his media career in Atlanta, at first working nights on 92.9 The Game, then moving to mornings with cohost John Fricke. Douglas said he now goes to bed at 8 p.m. and rises at 2:30 a.m. to prepare for his 6 a.m. shift.
Years ago, Douglas would have just been getting to the club at 2:30 a.m. “Different life for me now,” he said.
“When I first got here, people were like, ‘Go back to Philly,’ you know, ‘You got fired from ESPN.’ They were trying to say everything to hurt my feelings,” Douglas said. “I used to tell them all the time – ‘I cut my teeth in Philly doing Philadelphia radio. There’s nothing that any of you people down here can say to me that’s going to hurt my feelings.’ Seriously. If that’s the best you’ve got? … After we got past that, everything was fine.”
Talk radio is different there, Douglas said.
“They’re passionate. They’re not Philadelphia passionate. Atlanta is such a transient city. It’s a social city. If you come to the stadium, it’s a social stadium; it’s not built like any other stadium in the NFL. It’s built to socialize. … Women come to the game dressed like they’re going to a party,” he said. “It’s a different place.”
This week, Douglas said he has had to enlighten callers who believe Eagles’fans criticisms of backup quarterback Nick Foles mean they won’t be enthusiastic Saturday at the Linc.
“On [Saturday], when it’s time to play, they’re rolling with Nick Foles. They might feel a certain way about him, but they’re still rolling with him,” Douglas said. “Nowhere is like Philly.”
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