I spent three years in the mid-aughts living in Wilmington, Del., i.e. the Hoboken of Philadelphia. From 2003 to 2006 I got to watch the Philadelphia Eagles in lieu of spending my autumn Sundays watching the season break somewhere inside Chad Pennington's upper body. It was a great time to be on the inside of Philadelphia insanity. I was there for both the high point of the Andy Reid-Donovan McNabb era and its low point.
Reid and McNabb both return to Philly tonight—Reid as coach of the Chiefs; McNabb to have his number retired—seemingly decades removed from their run of four straight NFC championship game appearances. To the eternal consternation of people in Philadelphia, three were merely NFC championship games and nothing more. Only once did the Eagles go to the Super Bowl and all anyone remembers is that McNabb may have thrown up (he didn't). To the eternal consternation of people like me (and places like Cleveland, probably), this was never enough for the local fans. Under Reid and McNabb, the Eagles provided something sorely lacking for many teams: a full season of meaningful, enjoyable games and a deep run in the playoffs. Routinely. In an NFL where an 8-8 record exerts a sort of gravitational pull, dragging teams down into mediocrity, lifting them up into meh, the Eagles could count on success.
But McNabb sometimes threw interceptions and Reid sometimes fucked up the clock, and because those were obvious flaws, readily apparent to anyone watching from the 200 level or the sofa, Philly fans elevated them into inescapably tragic ones. (Listening to Eagles fans during this era, you'd have thought coaching was nothing more than a matter of competent clock management.)
So they weren't legends. The agony. You know which quarterbacks the Jets had throwing footballs at or near receivers while Reid and McNabb were busy being less than legendary? A list:
- Ray Lucas
- Rick Mirer
- Vinny Testeverde
- Chad Pennington
- Quincy Carter (!!!)
- Brooks Bollinger
- Kellen Clemens
- Brett Favre
- Mark Sanchez
That's a quarterback a year. I don't have the stomach to look into other franchises like the Browns, but you get the picture. Organizational stability is so hard to come by—that's by design in the NFL—and Philly had it damn good for damn long, and if the ball had bounced a little differently the city might have a championship, too. They were the '90s Bills except just a little worse, which is still better than most. Most of Nassau county would sign up for that in a heartbeat. Hell, Bills fans would sign up for that right now.
Super Bowls are overrated. It's fun to win one (I imagine). It feels great (I guess). But the hardest thing in the NFL is sustaining success, season after season, with all those downward forces working against you, and that's what Reid and McNabb accomplished together. For a little while, they beat gravity. Remember that tonight, while you watch Chip Kelly's shiny toy of an offense go zooming around the Linc. Remember that Reid and McNabb were better than just about everyone else in the NFL for a long time. And remember how difficult that is to pull off.
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