Sunday, November 20, 2005

Bye Bye Birdies
For the first time in six years, I'm facing the prospect of a full winter without the Philadelphia Eagles to keep me company into January. Today's 27-17 loss to the Giants pretty much formalized what's been evident for a few weeks now: this team isn't going to the playoffs, much less challenging for another Super Bowl berth. Despite all the plaudits they've gained as a "model franchise," the Eagles will follow the ignominious path blazed by the last half-dozen or so Supe losers--most recently the Rams, Raiders, and Panthers--and clean out their lockers following a meaningless season finale. I'd have to say the odds are that they won't even finish .500... a state of affairs that was virtually unimaginable three months ago, when they broke camp as the consensus pick to win the division and the strong favorite to claim a second straight conference title. (And yes, I myself picked them to win the NFC East; I didn't think it would even be particularly close. Given how wrong I was about the Phillies this past year, perhaps I should take a vow never to pick a Philadelphia team to win anything.)

I could give a whole discourse on what I think has gone wrong for the team; injuries and the Terrell Owens circus are the generally accepted reasons, but I actually think the total disappearance of the team's pass rush, combined with a half-dozen or so really awful coaching decisions and, finally, just plain bad luck really tells the story. (I also hope to get paid to write this, perhaps here, so I'd prefer not to possibly scoop myself.)

What I'm trying to do, though, is realize how much better my life is now than in the last period when the Eagles, um, sucked: 1997-1999. In the first of those years, I was winding down my time as a writer/web producer for NBC Sports; living by myself in a neighborhood I hated on the Upper East Side; going through a bad drought in my love life; and generally of the feeling I was just marking time, waiting for something to happen. The next year, when the Eagles bottomed out at 3-13, was much worse: I was in grad school, in a group house in Washington, DC with a bunch of people I actively disliked, and more or less completely miserable.

During the final year, as the Eagles started to get better under Andy Reid with a rookie quarterback named Donovan McNabb, my own life seemed to be on the upswing too: I was living in Takoma Park, Maryland ("a nuclear-free zone"), a bit happier at grad school, and generally of the feeling that I was starting to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. It was still a generally grim time, though, punctuated by the shocking death of a childhood friend of mine on December 3, 1999--four days after we'd gotten enjoyably wasted watching one of the team's many close losses that year. It's hard to believe that Jeremy has been gone six years now; next week, when I'm home for Thanksgiving, I'll probably visit the marker, unadorned except for my friend's name, the years of his birth and death, and the simple legend: UNACCEPTABLE.

Now, at least, I can get up from the couch after watching a frustrating Eagles loss, get some sympathy, or at least distraction, from my wife, go work on a freelance project or some fiction, and generally enjoy the sense that my happiness isn't as closely tethered to the success or failure of the football team as it once was.

(Or as it still is to the Phillies.)

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