As Eagles fans, we're a lot like my buddy's dog - loyal and desperate to believe in the team no matter how many times the organization disappoints us or pulls a bait and switch. From season to season, it doesn't matter if the Birds look more like fool's gold than the gold standard. All the Eagles have to do is dangle a few wins in front of us and the next thing you know our tails start wagging and we begin slobbering all over the floor.
I'm as guilty as the next person. Days after the Eagles beat the Giants and moved into first place in the NFC East, the carpet in front of my flat-screen TV remains drenched with drool.
This year has provided the perfect example of Philadelphia's conditioning. During the preseason, when the Eagles' offense was struggling to find the end zone, you heard a lot of predictions about the Eagles finishing with a record somewhere in the 7-9 to 9-7 range. People seemed OK with the idea of a step-back-and-regroup season, if only because finding out whether Kevin Kolb could play represented a pleasant departure from the frustrating and ultimately unfulfilling Donovan McNabb years.
So there we were, waiting for 2011 to roll around, when all of a sudden Michael Vick was thrust into the starting role and began playing better than he ever did before. We went from wondering whether Kolb can be an NFL quarterback to talking about Vick as the league MVP. We went from dreaming about the draft to hearing national pundits trumpet the Birds as one of the most feared teams in the league. We went from waiting for next year to hoping this might be the year.
The shift in expectations has everything to do with Vick, of course. Regardless of what you think about him or how the Eagles have handled his situation, it's impossible to deny Vick's impact on the Eagles. But no one - not even the most zealous Vick fans - could have foreseen what's unfolded so far.
The Birds are second in the NFL in both total offense and points scored. They are also 7-3. In the NFC, only the Falcons, a team the Birds already beat without Vick, have a better record. Last year, the Eagles didn't defeat a playoff-bound team during the regular season. This year, the Birds have quality wins over Atlanta, Indianapolis, and the Giants, all of which could end up in the postseason.
"We played the No. 1 defense in the National Football League [Sunday] night," Andy Reid said after the Birds dispatched the Giants on national television. "And when we had to run in that [final] four-minute period, we ran. And when we had to score, we scored."
Never thought I'd write this, but Reid was right. The Eagles did what they needed to do, when they needed to do it, and the Giants couldn't prevent it from happening. And if DeSean Jackson or Jason Avant (or both) had held onto passes in the end zone, the game could have looked a lot more lopsided.
None of which means the Eagles will deliver a parade to Philly in February. But if you're thinking that way and hoping for it, well, it's not nearly as crazy a concept as it would have seemed before the season began.
People are excited again. If Joe Banner stood outside his car right now with a leash and a picture of Cowboys Stadium (where the Super Bowl will be held) and said "Come on, boy, let's go for a ride," a bunch of fans would come running, and it would be hard to blame them.
Then again, getting people in the car is always easy. The hard part is keeping them happy during the trip. The best way to do that is for the Eagles to finally take the fans to Titletown. It would be a nice reward for all the years of loyalty.
Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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