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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Leaving the Eagles’ Nest for Steelers Nation

          The Eagles will never win a Super Bowl in our lifetime.

          My buddy was paying off our annual over/under bet on the Eagles with lunch at Slack’s Hoagies, and he said those words to me back in December. (Obviously, I took the under.) They were said in a matter-of-fact tone, and rang as true as if he’d said grass is green.

          This isn’t meant to be just another rant about the Eagles. There have been plenty of them in my 40 years on this planet. Only once or twice have I toyed with the idea of abandoning my fandom of the Eagles, and those efforts were more like protests seeking change. As a kid declaring that I wouldn’t root for the team until they fired Marion Campbell during the second half of his final season was the closest I ever came to dropping the Birds.

          Yet, the only real only change that has come recently is in my interest level. I had more interest in watching the RedZone than Eagles’ games the last two seasons. I’ve grown to genuinely dislike this team. I can’t stand Andy Reid any more. I’ve never disliked individual players on a Philadelphia team as much as I dislike players on this team. Jeff Lurie and Joe Banner are two guys I haven’t liked in years, if I ever did.

          I have spent the last several years screaming for Reid’s head. I really didn’t even enjoy the Super Bowl run after the Tampa Bay debacle the year before, which was probably the true beginning of the end for me as an Eagles fan.

          Last summer scrub players like Jason Kelce made it almost impossible to root for them. After a lockout that threatened the season they had the stones to lecture fans who show up year after year despite a total of zero Super Bowl titles on how to support the team when they have been here for two seconds in comparison.

          Though I’ll never be believed, I wrote the rough draft of this post in late December when the Eagles were actually still mathematically alive to win the NFC East crown. Thanks to a friendly wager with a cousin after a couple of drinks back in June, I was quite happy they finished ahead of the Dallas Cowboys. Of course, the problem was that the so-called “strong finish” guaranteed Reid’s return.

          I had already decided that I was done rooting for this regime. If Reid had gone away after the season, I probably would have given the next coach a shot. If the new coach had been Bill Cowher, I would have been back on the bandwagon with both feet.

          I was hanging on by a thread, knowing all along Jeff Lurie was going to snip that thread with a pompous smirk when he came out of hiding to say Reid would return next year as if he didn’t understand why there would be a question about it.

          Lurie actually proved me wrong – but not by much. The Eagles’ owner obviously did keep Reid, but offered about a 15-minute rant questioning his head coach at a press conference after the season. It was almost more maddening than if he had simply kept Reid without any acknowledgment of the coach being questioned, especially when he added that he couldn’t imagine anyone better than Reid to coach this team.

          It only fed my hate for this frikkin’ team, coach, and ownership. I realized that it wasn’t even about Reid. Lurie’s a loser too, and will just hire another moron after Reid decides to leave. He doesn’t have the guts to hire a guy like Cowher.

          I grew up with brothers who were Cowboys fans, so it felt totally hollow to think about switching allegiances to another team. But I just couldn’t stand this Eagles organization any more. They’re clueless, smug, and, my friend is right, they will not win. Ever.

          Days before I originally wrote this post, I heard Mike Missanelli and Sal Paolantonio on the radio talking about how “you have to root for the laundry.” I’ve always agreed with Missanelli’s stance on Cowboy fans from this area being frauds. There’s something fake about picking the team that you’re going to root for because the home team stinks.

          I get it.

          But as Phil Collins once said, I don’t care anymore.

          Players have free agency. Coaches (usually) come and go. Teams even change cities. So I began wondering, why can’t a fan change his rooting interests?

          At what point is it not fraudulent to switch your favorite team? If you truly do not believe the ownership will ever produce a championship, why should you be sentenced to rooting for that team forever?

          I even consulted longtime Philadelphia sports talk show host, Jody McDonald, who survived on the air for years as a Cowboys fan, on the question. After receiving an unexpected birthday greeting via Facebook from the Mac man, I asked him if there was a legitimate way to change allegiance as a fan. He replied, “We’ve got space for you on the Jet bandwagon if you want to jump aboard with Buddy’s boy. Fellow green clad long suffering fans. You’ll feel right at home and not have to deal with the present Eagle regime that gives you adgeda!! Time and the deicision are yours!!”

          So, I figured my 40th birthday coming just after the Eagles and Steelers were done for the season was the perfect time to make the change. I decided enough was enough. I made the jump.

          I’m now a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

          I’ve already heard it all. Now that you’re off the bandwagon they’ll win the Super Bowl. No jumping back on. I’ve even been told I can’t change my allegiance, that I have to accept that I am “a Philadelphian. A born loser.” And that was from the same Eagles fan telling me that the team is more than Jeff Lurie.

          But as much as fans want to believe that, it’s just not true.

          Lurie will be 61 when the season starts. He could easily be around another 15 years. It’s not impossible for him to be controlling the path of the Eagles for another 30 years.

          Obviously, jumping ship as an adult means I can never return. Quite frankly, that was the only reason I hung on this long. I hoped against precedent that Reid’s failure with the so-called “Dream Team” would finally get him fired.

          I remember feeling trapped by Norman Braman. It felt like being freed as a fan when news broke that he’d sold the Eagles. We all thought we’d finally get a guy who wanted to win at all costs, an owner to whom money was no object. We had seen new owners in other cities do everything in their power to win a championship.

          Instead, we got Jeffrey. He bought the team with his mommy’s money after failed attempts to make movies and buy a different franchise. It was an investment, and a great one financially. But in the end, as reviled as Braman was in this town, Lurie wasn’t much of an upgrade.

          Braman was called cheap, and he was cheap without question. Lurie has coughed up some coin for better facilities and doesn’t charge players for socks. But he’s playing under different rules. In a way, Braman deserves some credit for seeing that free agency had changed the game and deciding that he didn’t want to play it. So he sold.

          Lurie can’t be called cheap, but he values things differently than fans. The organization recently won an award for their efforts in the community. Those efforts are commendable. But Eagles fans don’t really care. Football fans want Super Bowl victories – period.

          Do you think Lurie understands that? I genuinely do not. Worse, I don’t think he cares. I think winning the Super Bowl would be the cherry on top for Jeffrey’s wonderful investment, but little else.

          If that’s true, if you really believe that, what is the point of being an Eagles fan? Are we just supposed to hope for another miracle that the owner sells? The NFL just signed a 10-year collective bargaining agreement favorable to owners. He’s not selling.

          I’ve never suggested that people not go to games because they pay their good money for tickets. But I no longer understand how people can actually go to the Linc on Sunday and root for this team. After they brought Reid back despite last season, I don’t understand getting sucked in yet again next season or any other. I will have zero respect for fans who continue to go to games next year or in future years with Reid trudging the sidelines.

          With Reid back next season, buying a ticket simply makes you the idiot Lurie assumes we all are.

          It gets to the point where I have to question the motive of a guy like Missanelli proclaiming it our civic duty to root for the home team. After all, if the Eagles’ fan base finally said enough is enough and genuinely stopped rooting for the team, it would certainly decrease interest in his show. I’ve heard Missanelli scoff at the idea. You can’t, he tells callers. You won’t.

          Well, I did.

          If the Eagles win the Super Bowl, so be it. (I’ll give anybody odds on that!) I get it, there’s no turning back. I’ve watched 40 years of failure. (Ok, I’ve probably actually watched about 36.) Growing up as an Eagles fan I endured endless mocking from older brothers and a dad who were Cowboys fans. Another brother became a Rams fan when we were kids the year they went to the Super Bowl. Yet, it’s the arrogance of an organization that never wins and still thinks they are the “gold standard” that turned me away.

           I’m ready for all the abuse I’m going to take. No one will care that Pittsburgh was done when I turned 40 right after they lost to Denver, or that I went with the Steelers to keep some sense of a home team in my fandom as a Pennsylvania resident – a stretch even I won’t be selling. One of my brothers has already told me the Steelers are an aging team that is on a down slide, and I still know he’ll be calling me a frontrunner next season – with his Cowboys shirt on.

          No one cares that I can honestly say I always respected the Steelers. No, I’m not claiming some hidden fandom, but they are known for playing smack mouth football. They were the only team that could shut up the Cowboys fans in my house as a kid. And there’s no doubt that their history of Super Bowl victories, which I will never claim as a fan but will happily point out, made them attractive to root for.

          I’ve even heard the cackles that I have to give up the Phillies and Sixers as a fan. (Not happening.)

          That’s all fine.

          I even admit that I can probably never be a die-hard Steelers fan. Despite the fact that the internet, nationally televised games, and the Red Zone, will give me plenty of access to the Steelers, it won’t be the same. I can’t just put 97.5 on in the car or turn on SportsNet to get coverage of the team I’m interested in.

          In some ways donning the black and gold fan gear is about definitively distancing myself from an organization I just can’t cheer for any more in the Eagles and maintaining a rooting interest in the NFL with a franchise worthy of respect in the Steelers.

          Originally, I wrote that I would still blog about the Eagles simply because that’s the market I live in and have the most access to. I still believe that not being an Eagles fan would actually sharpen my objectivity of the team, and if I continue blogging the football focus will remain on the Birds. As I’ve written previously, I’m just not sure my waning interest in blogging will keep the Ink going.

          However, aside from the relief that has come from not caring about the Eagles especially when they’re being discussed in the media or dispensing their own propaganda, my new perspective has taught me something about Eagles fans.

          You don’t think they’re going to win, either.

          Caller after caller to the sports stations in town prove it every day. Eagles fans know Reid (not Howie Roseman . . . c’mon) is going to do something stupid in the upcoming draft. They knew the Eagles wouldn’t have the guts to go after Peyton Manning. They know the Eagles let veteran players who are productive go too soon and claim they were right when those players can’t produce in new situations, ignoring the fact that they could have continued their productivity with the team. The list goes on and on.

          Maybe they can argue that fans in every NFL city have the same type of angst. But Eagles fans also know they’ll be screaming for Reid to be fired next year – just like last year, and the year before, and the year before . . .

          And they know Jeff Lurie doesn’t really care.

          But they’ll keep rooting. They’ll keep that blustery passion that seemed so noble for so long.

          And nothing will change.

          Most fans probably can’t take that step back to seriously ponder the question of whether or not the Eagles will ever win a Super Bowl. But there’s really no reason to believe Reid can do it – the topic has already been exhausted. Only blind loyalty has some still believing.

          In late December, I wrote the following conclusion to the rough draft of this post:

The only question left is whether or not Lurie and Joe Banner have the ability to hire someone who can. They deserve some credit for giving Reid everything he asked for last off-season, but that is trumped by the fact that they haven’t had the guts to move on from the coach in the first place – a move that is now years overdue.

If they don’t do it this year, I genuinely believe it’s time to move on from rooting for the Eagles.

          The alternative for me was not to watch football, or to do so without a rooting interest beyond the picks against the point spread that I make for “fun.” (I’m pretty sure Roger Goodell will take care of us all not watching NFL football soon enough, but that’s another story.) And I’m not ready for that.

          So, I know I’m going to take abuse.

          But I’m also confident that I’m going to see “my team,” the Steelers, win the Super Bowl in my lifetime.

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