Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Specialest?

The relationship between professional athletes and their fans has changed a great deal over the decades. As recently as forty years ago, and maybe more recently in some cases, it was not at all uncommon for Philadelphia Eagles players to work off-season jobs in the Philly area. They'd sell cars, or construction equipment, or men's wear, to varying degrees of success, and the companies they worked for would relish the clientele the  hired fame brought through the doors. And in the process, the players were all the more integrated into the community that rooted for them so ardently on Fall and Winter Sundays.

It's unnecessary to speak at length to what the team, and its successes and failures, meant to the Eagles fan base. Suffice to say, hundreds of thousands of avid fanatics based the outlook of their Monday mornings on what the Eagles did the day before. But by Tuesday, those same fans were wiping the slate clean and looking forward to the next game with at least a glimmer of hope, chatting optimistically about the ways to come out on top this time, even if in the next breath they were deriding coaches like Joe Kuharich and Ed Khayat, or quarterbacks like Pete Liske and and Johns Reaves.

But there's a big difference today. How many players, right down to the 53rd man on the roster, are working second jobs in the Philadelphia area? Sure, you see them on ads city-wide, and for the biggest stars, nationally. And yes, there's a great deal of community involvement through various organizations, but even that is a small drop in time, as the players today have to work well past a forty hour week year round in order to stay in condition and remain mentally and emotionally prepared for the coming season.

The fact is, it can at times be pretty tough for Average Joe Philly to relate personally to a multi-millionaire just because he's wearing an Eagles jersey. Often, because of the money they make, the players are under an intensely invasive microscope, with the fans critiquing every play, and often to the negative, made worse by the perception that someone pulling down that kind of scratch shouldn't be making those kinds of mistakes. We cheer with reckless abandon their successes, but we revile them for their failures. We've always taken poor performances personally, but it's at a new level today, because how dare Moneybags blow that coverage or fail to haul in that pass?

So here's my point, and this is in no way a dig at those fans who celebrated so deliriously in 1960, or suffered ignominiously through some of the worst seasons the NFL has offered over the last fifty-odd years: This Eagles team is at least as special to the fans, and maybe more so, as any in the past. The players have to be the kind of people we want to root for, 24/7, because the media doesn't miss a thing anymore. In fact, they have to be the men both on and off the field that, despite their hefty pay days, can still inspire a relationship with fans from a wide but bottom-heavy socio-economic spectrum. Yes, the coaching staff has a role in the overall image, but in the end, it's all about the players.

I don't know if Carson Wentz sees the Eagles and the fans as anything more than a splendid payday waiting to happen. I'm not sure if Fletcher Cox cares one whit about Philadelphia beyond his role on the football team. I can't say if Malcom Jenkins is truly and deeply invested in the city and its football fans. But even if they don't (which I highly doubt) they've done a fabulous job of making us all believe they are as fully sold on us as we are on them.

I believe they care as much as we do. And I believe that at least the majority of them understand what this game means to the fans and the city. And they are thankful and happy to have us along for the ride. They have to work harder than ever to keep us dedicated and rabid. They've done that.

For that reason- and the old timers can shoot me if they must- this just might be the most special team this city  has seen since Super Bowl became a thing.  Win or lose, they've captured our hearts.

But if they want to own those hearts forever?


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