The world will break your heart ten ways to Sunday. That’s guaranteed. I can’t begin to explain that. Or the craziness inside myself and everyone else. But guess what? Sunday’s my favorite day again. I think of what everyone did for me, and I feel like a very lucky guy.
– Silver Linings Playbook
When I was a kid, Sundays were always very special days in my house. First, there was always church. My father was an elder and we were involved in Sunday school and youth group. My parents held small groups and Bible studies. We recruited kids to go to Vacation Bible School in the summer and participated in Christmas Pageants in the winter.
But after church, we rested. My parents were serious about the Day of Rest. And rest we did.
We would all have lunch together, usually something fairly light, and then it was free time. We rarely did things as a family on Sunday outside of church, unless you consider napping together on the coach, family time. We all kind of went our separate ways. Read a book. Watched TV. Go outside to play.
It was glorious.
But once the summer was over and the days became shorter, and the nights colder, Sunday was all about football.
Sure, there was still church, there was always church, but even the preacher knew what time the game came on.
Now my family moved to Pennsylvania in 1976 from Oklahoma. At that time, Oklahoma didn’t have a professional sports teams. We rooted for Oklahoma University, where both of my parents had attended college; we were Sooners and we wore red proudly. Barry Switzer was the coach and led the team to a 9-2-1 record to win the conference title.
If OU wasn’t on television, we didn’t really watch much college ball. Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of OU games being broadcast in the Philadelphia market back in the 70’s, so we needed something else to watch. Fortunately, our new home town was a sports town.
I entered the world of sports through baseball, and first began to play in the 1st grade in Edmond, Oklahoma. There was a minor league baseball team there, the Oklahoma 89ers, that was a farm team for the Cleveland Indians. The year we moved to Philadelphia, the team switched it’s affiliation to the Philadelphia Phillies, and while I don’t know if this was my father’s reason for beginning to cheer for the Phillies, or if he just believed in rooting for the home team, we learned to cheer for Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski, Garry Maddox, Bob Boone, Steve Carlton and the irrepressible Tug McGraw that first year.
Back in those days we listened to the games on KYW, the AM news station, where Harry Kalas called the games and we lived and died with each pitch and at bat.
So baseball was my first entry into the world of professional sports in Philadelphia, and then came fall.
I don’t remember exactly when I started loving football, but we began cheering for the Eagles that same year. My father would jump up and down and yell at our little TV. We would jump up and down with him, even though I don’t think any of us understood what was going on.
There was Harold Carmichael, a man my father once said, “…could run for mayor of Philadelphia tomorrow and win in a landslide.” There was Bill Bergey and Vince Papale, an un-drafted walk-on from South Philadelphia and fan favorite. It was Dick Vermeil’s first season as head coach and even though he didn’t have a first round draft pick until 1978, due to lousy trade deals prior to him taking the helm, he did amazing things with his new team.
They finished 4-10 that first year. Not exactly a stellar record, but in our house, we learned to hate the Dallas Cowboys, the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants. And we learned to love the Eagles, despite their losing record.
The following year they still only finished 5-9, but in 1978, the tide turned and the Philadelphia Eagles finished the regular season with a record of 9-7 and made it to the playoffs for the first time in eighteen years. We finally had a winning team.
We had the legendary Ron “Jaws” Jaworski. Wilbert Montgomery, Harold Carmichael, Bill Bergey and Stan Walters that season.
It was the year Herman Edwards returned a Joe Pisarcik fumble for a touchdown in the final seconds of the game, beating the New York Giants 17-12, and thereby creating the eponymous Miracle At The Meadowlands before a stunned New York crowd.
People in Philadelphia still talk about it like it was yesterday and we never pass up an opportunity to relive it, especially in front of Giants fans.
We continued to make the playoffs, but in 1980, the Eagles finished the season with 12-4 record which was enough to claim the NFC East Division for the first time in franchise history.
It was the third consecutive playoff appearance for Dick Vermeil. That year, the Philadelphia Eagles made it to the Super Bowl and we were beside ourselves with hope. But it was not to be and they lost to the Oakland Raiders that year. They wouldn’t make it back again until 2004 where once again they would fall short and lose to the New England Patriots.
The following year, they would make it to the playoffs again, the first time they had done so in four consecutive years, but after they wouldn’t reach the postseason again until 1988.
The next year, the Eagles only won 3 games and Dick Vermeil retired.
Marion Campbell failed to make much of a mark, but in 1986 new owner Norman Braman brought in coach Buddy Ryan and a new era began. We struggled that year, but 2nd year quarterback Randal Cunningham showed real promise. In what was to become his calling card, Coach Ryan drafted Keith Byars, Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons that year. Three future pro bowlers. Buddy was never much a game day coach, but he was a player’s coach and he had an eye for talent.
This was the era of Reggie White, the Minister of Defense, Jerome Brown, Clyde Simmons, Keith Byars, Cris Carter, Mike Quick, Randal Cunningham, Byron Evans, Mike Golic, Seth Joyner, and Andre Waters.
In 1988, the Eagles returned to the playoffs, clinching the division title after stomping the Cowboys 23-7, and the Jets beat the Giants 27-21. They lost to the Bears that year in what was to become known as the Fog Bowl.
1989 resulted in another winning season of 11-5 but was mostly remarkable for the two games against division rivals Dallas Cowboys. On November 23, the Eagles spanked the Cowboys 23-0, amid accusations that several defensive players on the Eagles had been paid bounties to take out several Dallas players. Less than two weeks later, back in Philadelphia, fans pelted the Cowboys and game officials with snowballs packed with ice. They became known as the Bounty Bowls.
In 1991 Buddy Ryan was replaced with assistant coach Rich Kotite but that year was probably the pinnacle of Buddy Ryan’s legacy, as the 1991 Eagles went on to become the greatest defensive team in Football Outsiders’ rankings history. The team finished 10-6 despite losing quarterback Randal Cunningham to a knee injury and consequently led by an aging Jim McMahon.
1995 saw another ownership change as Jeffrey Lurie, a young rich kid, bought the Eagles from Norman Braman for the then outrageous sum of $195 million. Lurie immediately brought in Ray Rhodes to helm the Eagles and went from a previous season 7-9 to a winning 10-6 and back to the playoffs. Most notably that year, the Eagles held Emmitt Smith TWICE on 4th-and-1 to take possession and kick a game winning field goal. But they still managed to miss the playoffs.
It was several years of suffering through Rhodes and a string of forgettable quarterbacks including Rodney Peete, before two new faces came to town in 1999, Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb.
From 1999 until 2012, Reid led the Eagles to five NFC championship games, including four consecutive appearances between 2001-2004 and to their second Super Bowl in 2004 which they lost to the New England Patriots 24-21.
There was one shining moment, for me anyway. On December 19, 2010, with just under eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Eagles trailed the Giants by 21 points.
Let me take a moment here.
No one else in my immediate family watches sports. When I was a kid, we all watched, including my sister and my mother. But not in my house. Often I’m watching alone. At home.
On this one occasion, me and two friends, Bob and Carl, decided we would go against our nature, and we would go watch the game in a bar. Carl doesn’t really drink anyway, so he agreed to drive.
The game was not going well, almost from the beginning, but as time ticked off the clock, it was an increasingly desperate situation. I had long since given up the ghost, but my friend Bob, who isn’t even an Eagles fan, was not so sure.
“Hey,” he said. “The game isn’t over yet.
With seven and a half minutes left, the Eagles went on to score four unanswered touchdowns. I was beside myself. Each score was simply unbelievable. You couldn’t write this shit. Then with :14 seconds on the clock, the Giants punt team came on. The long snapper sent the ball high and the kicker hastily kicked a line drive punt to DeSean Jackson instead of kicking it out of bounds.
Jackson immediately fumbled the ball on the 35 yard line. I thought I was going to have a corinary, but he was able to quickly recover and he backpedaled to the 30 yard line. About this time, the Giants formation broke down and Jackson found a lane.
In what was voted the “greatest play of all time” by readers on NFL.com, Jackson became the first player in NFL history to win a game by scoring on a punt return as time expired.
Even at the end, Jackson, a player know for showboating, was running alongside the end zone, as if taunting the other players, but Jackson claimed he wanted to make sure the clock had expired before he entered the end zone.
When the whistle blew, there were no flags on the field and the Eagles had stunned the Giants in their own stadium. It was the Miracle at the Meadowlands II.
While Reid arguably had the best record of any Eagles coach in franchise history, he never lived up to the promises of multiple Super Bowls, let alone one. He finished his last season 4-12 and was finally fired by Lurie.
In 2013, Coach Chip Kelly took over from his post at Oregon State. There were a lot of people who weren’t convinced that his fast paced style would translate to the hardboiled NFL. After all, these weren’t college boys.
Kelly improved their record to 10-6 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2010. The season was noteworthy for LeSean McCoy winning the NFL rushing title, and a extremely successful season by Nick Foles who produced 27 touchdowns with only 2 interceptions. It was one of the greatest seasons by any Quarterback in league history.
After last season’s 10-6 record neglected to get them into the playoffs, Kelly cleaned house, trading or cutting many of the team’s favorite players.
So here we are.
Another season. Kelly’s fourth. His first season where he has the players he says he wants. It’s his team now. Win or fail. And expectations couldn’t be higher.
If he takes the team to the Super Bowl, he’ll be called a genius and he won’t ever be able to buy a drink in this town again. If he does anything less than do well in the playoffs, the fans will show him the door.
On September 14, at 7:10pm, in Atlanta, we’ll find out if all of Chip Kelly’s machinations were worth it. Do we have a winning team, or don’t we?
Now if it were up to me, there would be only games on Sunday. A one o’clock game and four o’clock game. That’s it. No Monday night football. No 8pm games. And certainly no games on Thursday night. What they fuck is that all about? Fuck fantasy football. Watch your team play. If you live in Cincinnati and you root for the Chargers, then I guess you’re shit out of luck. You cheer on the team in your town. Period.
Sunday is for football and football should be played on Sunday.
In the meantime, I’m waiting for the days to cool off. For the sun to set just a little earlier, and woodsmoke to seep into the air.
I’m looking forward to a cold, sunny, fall day. A fire burning in the fireplace. A cold beer in my hand. I’ll be sitting on the sofa. And I’ll be alone with my team.
Except not really.
Because all across the region, fans like me—they’ll be watching too. And we’ll be cheering on our Birds. And we’ll be talking smack on Facebook and Twitter. We’ll be calling each other and texting. We’ll be cheering for a great play and moaning about that yellow flag.
But we’ll be together.