I’m on the couch last Sunday night, watching the Eagles game and texting with my usual crew of high-school buddies. They’re in San Diego and Delray Beach now, but we still talk Philly sports year-round. My pal Victor felt good about the Birds as 11-point dogs to Dallas; I wasn’t ready to take that bet. Turns out he was right about the spread, but as expected, the Eagles still found a way to lose. Sometime around Dez Bryant’s first touchdown, I fired off a note: “I’m rooting for a draft pick at this point.”
Vic was incensed. “I hate that more than fantasy football,” he wrote back—and believe me, that’s saying a lot. “Under no circumstances is it ok to root against the birds esp. when they are playin dallas.” On one level, I knew he was right. But when a potential top-three pick in next year’s draft is the only good thing that can come from this season, what’s a fan to do?
With four games left in this campaign of misery, there’s not much optimism ahead on the schedule. Both the Bucs and the Bengals are fighting for playoff berths. The Redskins quarterback makes them dangerous every week. Only the Giants offer hope for a win, and that’s if they rest a few starters in the regular season finale, which is unlikely. So there’s a part of me that’s rooting for a few teams: whoever the Birds are playing and the ones below them in the standings.
That’s extreme, I know, and it goes against everything that makes this city a great sports town. We don’t bail on our teams. We rant and rave and boo and make signs and call radio stations and piss and moan and probably throw something of moderate heft across the living room in anger and disgust. Some of us try to hock our tickets on StubHub, but we still watch the games. Most of all, we still care—probably to an irrational extent. Even the fantasy nerds among us can’t bring ourselves to wish ill against the Eagles. Would I like to see Doug Martin run for 200 yards and three TDs this Sunday? Yes. But usually only if the Eagles win.
Now, though, I’m torn. Give a little credit to Andy Reid for coaching like he’ll be back next year and sticking with the young bucks, like Nick Foles and Vinny Curry. Their development and a sense of who’s a building block versus who’s on the chopping block is essential now. Four wins won’t get you into the playoffs. But four losses could secure a top three draft pick in April. Not only is that a rare opportunity to secure a franchise player, it would also be a mighty large carrot to dangle in front of a top-flight head-coaching candidate.
Perhaps my turmoil is really just an issue of semantics. My buddy Vic called me on it—I’m not actually “rooting” for the other teams. Supporting Dallas is a traitorous offense, and I think there’s a legal precedent for shipping anyone who pulls for the Giants to Hackensack. Pragmatism and fanaticism just don’t work well together. But in a season where we’ve been so deflated emotionally, the only thing I can get worked up about is the practical outcome. No one’s clearing space at the NovaCare complex for a trophy this year, but if you close your eyes, you can almost hear Rodger Goodell’s voice: “With the first pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles select … ” That would be the next time I’ll cheer for this team.