We are officially less than a month before the start of the NFL season, so it's probably time to start previewing the monster. The key to the NFL's success — other than fantasy football and gambling, of course — is the rabid nature of its fans. That is to say: You don't see a lot of people painting their faces for their favorite golfer.
We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, even a TV guy or two, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, why My Team Is Better Than Your Team. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever. We will be running two a day until the beginning of the NFL season.
Right now: the Philadelphia Eagles. Your author is A.J. Daulerio.
For about four years straight my father called into Philly talk radio station WIP to blast former Eagles defensive end (and first round bust) Mike Mamula. Even after games they won, my father would talk earnestly and logically for about 40 seconds and then, without fail, would say something along the lines of "But where was Mamula?!" derailing the conversation. The radio hosts tried to corral him back on topic, but he'd continue, hammering on Mamula until they inevitably hung up on him. I never knew why Mamula aggravated him so much. Still does. If you bring up Mike Mamula to this day, he shakes his head, mutters something about Warren Sapp and then moves on. Mamula is a metaphor in our family for Eagle failures past, present and future.
Eagles fans fall into the Philadelphia sports trap the most often: the anticipations of greatness, undeterred by past and future failings, drawn back in through glimmers of championship hope, and then willingly subjecting themselves to the inevitable hot cup of coffee poured into their laps. (Flyers fans are the second closest masochists). With the last few years being filled with so much promise, this year's reasonable (if not low) expectations are actually refreshing. A competitive NFC East is a great thing for an Eagles fan, for as much fun as it is to beat up on the Giants, Cowboys, and Redskins during their down years, it's so much more satisfying when you can actually ruin something for them.
But it wouldn't be football season in Philadelphia without some unbridled negativity. And my father, chronic Mamula basher, is a huge culprit: a heavy-headed cynic, prone to moments of forlorn depression and misguided rage throughout the year. But he keeps coming back. Of course.
So many questions about this year: Is Reggie Brown a number one receiver? Is Brian Westbrook capable of carrying the ball more than 10 times per game? Will the secondary revert back to being one of the most dominant ones in football? Is Jeremy Bloom the next Gizmo Williams?
And this year my parents even went up to Bethlehem again for training camp. The ensuing conversation served as maginficent insight.
"The receivers are all midgets," my father yelled into his cell phone. "They don't have a guy bigger than you out there."
Of course, this is followed up by the T.O. gnashing, the griping about not picking up a guy who can go over the middle, etc, etc.
But what about Pinkston? I heard he looked pretty good from what I've read so far...
"Stinks! He's a stick figure. Still real tentative. Stinks!"
Okay. How about Jeremy Bloom? Was he in pads today?
"No. But he's gonna get killed. Another midget! He might get knocked into the stands every time he carries the ball."
This went on for a couple minutes, and then it went onto the running backs: Westbrook. ("Midget!") Buckhalter. ("Wobbly!) Moats. ("Fumbled — and also a stone midget.") Bruce Perry. ("Who??")
But he did have good things to say as well. McNabb. ("Looks to be in real good shape.") The defensive line ("Looks very deep and aggressive.") The offensive line. ("Looks good. That Fraley's a porker, though.")
Then, the critical reporting went a bit awry.
"So you know that offensive lineman they drafted this year? Guy with a weird name. French or something..."
"Yeah. Well, he scared your mother."
What do you mean?
"Well, he came off the field and he took off his helmet and she started to back up because she said he looked like a gorilla."
"Well, she didn't say it too loud, but you know how she is..."
Come on, that's not nice.
"Well, not in the racist sense or anything, but really, he did look like a gorilla when he took his helmet off."
I heard my mother speaking gravely in the background.
"He was scary, A.J."
My father continued.
"He had the sweat dripping down, and he's groaning and stuff..."
All right, all right...
My mother popped in again.
"He even walked like a gorilla!"
For emphasis, she made grunting noises.
Midgets and gorillas. Your 2006 Philadelphia Eagles, ladies and gentlemen. See you in Miami!