Eagles fans still hope after all the decades

Nick Foles has emerged , like an ugly duckling becoming a graceful swan, as an exciting Birds backup. YONG KIM / Staff
Nick Foles has emerged , like an ugly duckling becoming a graceful swan, as an exciting Birds backup. YONG KIM / Staff

Fifty-two years, 11 coaches, 800-plus games, and they still show up.

Posted: September 09, 2012

Bill Lyon

is a retired Inquirer columnist and the author of "Deadlines and Overtimes: Collected Writings on Sports and Life"

And so, because, well, because they are determined to do it until they get it right - and no snide remarks about aerial porcines and figure skating in Hades - they are presented once again for your viewing pleasure, the professional football team of Philadelphia, whose fans, resolute and loyal beyond all reason, prepare yet again for one more assault up Super Bowl Mountain.

The tally currently stands at 52, that being the years that have passed since last their beloved Iggles won a championship. In that dreary span they have endured five owners and 11 coaches and more than 800 games, and all the while one generation has been born and handed off to another generation, which in turn has sired another generation, and still we wait . . . asking, plaintively, what doesn't strike us as an unreasonable request, and that is: When does it get to be our turn?

Take a number.

The run-up to this season's curtain raiser, Sunday at Cleveland, has been awash in turmoil and tragedy. On July 4, an ironic date, it seemed, the owner and his wife, Jeffrey and Christina Lurie, announced that they were dissolving their marriage of 19 years. Shortly afterward, Joe Banner, the Eagles' consigliere and salary-cap maven, abruptly bolted for Cleveland. So then, in one jolting swoop, Lurie lost a wife and his best friend. And then came the crusher - Garrett Reid, eldest son of Andy and Tammy Reid, was found dead in a dorm at training camp.

Football suddenly didn't seem all that important. But the schedule, and reality, came rushing at them, and grief had to be handled on the run.

They went 4-0 in exhibition games, but the preseason is pretty much meaningless, and even then there was trouble. The man who has them at his mercy got hurt (this is a recording) and then got hurt again. Thus did Michael Vick begin and end his preseason with the paltry sum of an even dozen snaps.

He assured us that, nonetheless, he would be ready. With Michael, ready is not the problem. Staying ready is the trick. Analyzing these Eagles is a matter of simple is as simple does - if the quarterback stays vertical, they can be winners, legitimate contenders, even. But if he runs when he shouldn't, or runs where he shouldn't, then it's going to look like feeding time on the Serengeti. This, by the way, is not exactly a secret to every salivating carnivore in the National Football League.

There was one flash of encouragement during training camp, the sudden and unexpected emergence of a back-up for Vick. Nick Foles, a third-round draft pick, is 61/2 feet tall with a .44 Magnum passing arm and uncommon poise. He shone while Vick was mending, and it was difficult not to think he hung the moon. The caution is that most of his play was against opponents' flotsam and jetsam. He'll need to do it against the Big Boys to make us true believers.

As for Vick, he comes into this game wearing a newly designed Kevlar flak jacket, about which, when seeking to allay our fears, the designer of the armor said: "I guarantee he will not get hurt."

Well, that clinches it, doesn't it? The kiss, and thanks a lot, Pal.

But then there seems to be something in the water in these parts - take a sip and say something rash. It was Vick's turn during training camp to gush: "I think we have a chance to develop a dynasty."

Noooooooo!

Baby steps first, Michael. The team hasn't won a playoff game in four years. How about, for starters, a winning record? We presume that a repeat of last year's 8-8 will be . . . help me out here, what's that word the owner keeps using?

Unacceptable.

So there it is, out there for all to see, a win-or-else ultimatum, the first one the owner has given Andy Reid, in public at least, in his 13 previous years on the job. But he has done his coach no favors because starting today the countdown begins with each win, or loss.

The coach, as is his habit, shrugs this off. The man all but invented stoicism. His pendulum has swung from one wild extreme to the other, and in less than a year. As the last home game was crawling to a resolution last winter, the lynch mob was yowling for Andy Reid's head. Nine months later, in an emotional juxtaposition, only days after Garrett Reid's death, the chant was sympathetic and supportive and sincere.

As for the coming campaign, this will sound familiar: The quarterback is a game changer. No, no, he isn't. Not so far, at least. Nor does he need to be because they are armed with other flash-fire weapons, greyhound receivers, and a beep-beep running back, all of which would ease the pressure on the QB, providing, of course, that he uses them.

And the defense will be improved. (It had better be.)

So how does 10-and-6 strike you?

But, no, no climbing the mountain. (It would be nice to be wrong.)

To quote the owner: "It's a big emptiness. It's almost all I think about."

Welcome to the club.


E-mail Bill Lyon at lyon1964@comcast.net.

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