December 18, 2012, 4:50 pm
As you head south on I-95 toward Lincoln Financial Field, there’s a billboard on the right side of the highway with an advertisement for a well-known (if not well-made) beer. The message stamped on the sign is simple and sad: “The year of the Eagles fan.”
It’s amazing the billboard doesn’t cause multi-car pileups.
This season has been a lot of things for area fans — frustrating, depressing, maddening — but it has certainly not been their year. Not by any reasonable definition.
It has been a long, cruel slog for the team’s beleaguered supporters. If there are usually five stages of grief, this ineffable and disastrous Eagles season might have trimmed the choices down to two for the fans: anger or acceptance.
Philadelphians do anger well. It’s generally the default position when things unexpectedly crater for one of the teams in town. Grousing and venting is natural, even cathartic. Anger is never the problem. It takes root in passion and grows strong and tall from energy.
The issue for the Eagles isn’t whether the fans are angry that the organization loaded them onto a ship that was supposed to dock in the postseason, but instead ran aground on mediocrity. The fans have been marooned on that desolate plot countless times in the team’s history. They’ve camped out there. They’ve survived there. They’re familiar with it.
No. Anger isn’t all that dangerous for the franchise. At least it lets Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman and whoever is in charge after Andy Reid decamps know that the team still matters, that people still care.
But that’s the question here: Are the fans still fully invested, or has the season beaten most of the interest out of them?
Anger or acceptance? Irritation or indifference? Rage or resignation? The Eagles better hope it’s the former, because the latter would be more bad news for a team that hasn’t had many positive headlines this year.
After the Bengals game last week, Jeremy Maclin said he was upset. It was a familiar refrain. We’ve heard the players express the sentiment all season. It’s clear they aren’t alone. The Linc had a lot of empty seats at kickoff — and even more as evening went on. By the fourth quarter, the stadium was almost entirely empty. It had to be a disconcerting sight for the front office.
Leave early or skip the game entirely. That’s the decision a lot of fans are dealing with these days. What an unexpected and ignominious end to the season.
It wasn’t long ago that Michael Vick looked at his teammates and saw what a lot of other people did: a group that, on paper, appeared supremely talented. The problem with voicing that kind of thing — with saying that you’re in the process of building a dynasty — is that it raises expectations to serious heights. That only makes the fall greater for everyone when the floor drops out and the plummet begins.
Early on, after the Eagles started 3-1, it seemed like they might have a real shot to fulfill their promise and challenge for the NFC East — perhaps even the NFC itself. That notion was obviously folly. This Birds team isn’t capable of challenging for anything but a high pick in the upcoming NFL draft.
The season really has been an unmitigated mess. The eight-game losing streak. The public, ugly firings of Juan Castillo, Jason Babin and Jim Washburn that gave amateur comedians countless laugh lines. The transition from the Vick experiment to, well, whatever comes next. The inevitable — right? — end of the Reid administration after 14 long seasons. It was all so much to process. It made people angry. At first.
But do you sense the same overt and widespread vitriol? The season has been a giant festering wound that oozes embarrassment. The fans picked at it for a long while (most notably by bringing signs to the Linc, among them: “Andy, quit. Your team has” and “Jeffrey this is on you.”) But now? Now it feels like more and more people have decided to step away and let the whole thing scab over.
It’s hard to blame those who have given up or given in, who have selected apathy from the fan menu options. The Eagles are 4-10. Even if they win two games, they’ll end with their worst mark in seven years. Winning one of two would be the worst record in 13 seasons. And if they lose both it will be the worst finish in 14 years. There is no positive scenario here.
The best the Eagles can do the rest of the way is ruin the playoff runs of other teams in the NFC East (see story). Some of the Birds even pretended to care about such trivialities.
“It feels good,” Brandon Graham said. “These last two games we can go out there and spoil their chances.”
You’re forgiven if it doesn’t feel good to you — or if it doesn’t feel like anything at all.
E-mail John Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org