Eagles Wake-Up Call: On the Player-Fan Dynamic
Mychal Kendricks‘ “Welcome To Philadelphia” moment came in the aftermath of a home loss a couple seasons back. He heard his name being howled from above the tunnel and against his better judgment, looked up as he was heading off the field.
“Some dude got my attention and he’s like, ‘Kendricks!’ — he was crying — ‘Kendricks! You ruined my liiiife!’ I mean bawling. He was drunk. ‘You ruined my life!’ I’m like, ‘Sh*t, I’m the sad one. We just lost a game.’ That was fairly intense.”
For Najee Goode, it was an attention-grabber of an entirely different variety.
“Man, going up to an autograph signing in 2013 and seeing a chick with body paint on her top half — Eagles body paint. I’m like, ‘These motherf*&%ers crazy,'” he said with a laugh. “I liked it though, but I was like, ‘Damn.'”
Dennis Kelly‘s came in the form of advice via the always civil world of social media.
“Somebody told me to jump off the Ben Franklin onto a bed of spikes through Twitter after a game,” he said. “That was a nice little [piece] of critical feedback.”
None of the dozen or so Eagles players polled by Birds 24/7 have had a similar experience to the one Ryan Howard went through at Citizens Bank Park last weekend when the slumping slugger had a beer bottle thrown at him on his way back to the dugout (though there are members of this coaching staff who would tell you that J.D. Drew isn’t the only one to have Duracells flung in his direction). Such incidents, though, can trigger an examination of the relationship between professional athletes in Philadelphia and the fans.
As you might imagine, it’s largely on a case-by-case basis. Malcolm Jenkins, for instance, referred to his experience in Philadelphia to date as “pretty pleasant, actually” while others find the fans to be “pretty brutal here.” Much of it comes down to performance and perspective. What the players overwhelmingly agree upon, though, is that the culture here is a shock to the system at first — particularly for those who come from much more tranquil waters.
“A couple years ago we were playing Dallas and it’s still tied up,” Allen Barbre recalls. “It was like, three-and-out, three-and-out, back and forth, it wasn’t a very good game, you know? We had a three-and-out, it was still tied up and they’re booing us. They were like, ‘Boo, Chip! Go home!’ And I was like, ‘This ballgame is still tied up here.’ That may be my eye-opener like, hey, it’s a little different here.
“I mean I appreciate their seriousness, but don’t boo us when we’re still tied up. Some [players] can’t handle that mentally; they’re prepared for support when being at home. Maybe young guys more than anybody…It’s definitely an adjustment.”
“The fan base here, it’s definitely a different beast,” added Josh Huff. “Here, it’s different than anywhere else especially with the media and the fans. The media holds you to a higher expectation as well as the fans, so if you don’t meet those expectations then they’re going to be on you like they’re on me right now.”
Huff isn’t one to just let it slide if he feels the criticisms cross the line. That’s why, after a key fumble in a loss to Arizona in 2014, he got into it with a couple fans on Twitter who were going after him, declaring: “Y’all can love me or hate me, I don’t care.” He has since deleted his social media accounts.
“If I feel like you’re being disrespectful, I’m going to address the situation,” he said. “Most pro athletes don’t do that just because they have a huge target on their back. I don’t like to look at myself as that. I’m a real person with feelings just like everybody else has feelings so if you say something negative I’m definitely going to address it. So there’s the reason why I had to move on from social media.”
Jordan Matthews believes there are two legitimate reasons for a fan to get on a player: bad attitude and lack of effort, because those are the only two things that are truly within a player’s control.
“All the other stuff, let it go,” he said.
“You think Ryan Howard goes out there and he wants to bat whatever he’s batting?…I can go from personal experience: we come here every day and we want to get a job done just as bad as anybody. Nobody is a harder critic on a top athlete than himself. So as many beer bottles as you want to throw, we’re throwing just as many at ourselves personally. So there’s no reason for it.”
Not that they’re naive as to where some of the frustration comes from. Our conversations over the past week, in fact, revealed that a good number of the current players are very much in tune with the city they play for. Matthews likened the fans to a proud father who just wants to see his boys do well. “Mess up he’s pissed, but that next Sunday, get back out there! Do your best!.” Brandon Graham also linked it to family. “It’s like a love-hate relationship: love you one minute, hate you the next, but they’re always going to ride with you,” he said.
Connor Barwin — the SEPTA-using, concert-throwing, playground-building man of the people — dug even deeper into the city’s psyche and pulled out some truth:
“I think the unique thing about Philadelphia compared to other places, a lot of cities — especially if you look down south — Houston, Charlotte — if you look at the history of our country, they’re really kind of newer cities and there’s a lot of people moving to those cities,” he said. “Philadelphia is the birthplace of America, right? Football has been here for what 80, 90 years. It’s a lot of the same families, the same fans for decades on top of decades on top of decades. So that’s where I think you see the difference from Philadelphia compared to other cities. Even New York City, you have a lot of people moving in and out of New York City. Philadelphia, it’s generations upon generations of the same families that have been following the Eagles.”
Absorbing one disappointment after the next along the way. The result is a hefty amount of baggage that the current team has little to do with but feels the effects of nonetheless.
It’s the ghosts of the past and the grievances of the present, live and direct from one of the largest media markets in the country, delivered directly to a player’s doorstep by way of social media, talk radio and in-game experience, and it can all be a little overwhelming.
There’s a theory that a player needs to be wired a certain way in order to make it in this town. True?
“Definitely,” said Huff.
Just about every player we talked to agreed — save the longest-tenured Eagle, Jon Dorenbos.
“Not true. I don’t think you have to be wired a certain way, you just have to know how you’re wired, and then be true to that,” he said. “And also be true to the fact that these fans care. So just understand the different dynamics and the different interpretation of what the team means to you as a player and what the team means to them as a fan, and if you can understand and appreciate that, then the player will embrace the fan and the fan will embrace the player.
“Just because a fan boos doesn’t mean they don’t care, it doesn’t mean they’re not knowledgeable, it doesn’t mean any of that. It means they want to win just as bad as we do. They eat, drink and sleep Philadelphia Eagles. They have a passion for it. And you know what? As a fan, too, it’s more than just a game to them, it’s a tradition. It’s spending time with their family and friends since they can remember. It’s maybe the one time that the uncles and aunts got together and laughed and had fun and barbequed and maybe that was every Sunday, who knows?
“It goes a lot deeper than just a game. When you embrace yourself in that culture you become one of them, and it’s cool.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
“To do that, you need consistency, and he’s been the most consistent guy on the outside so far.” Leodis McKelvin has stood out in a crowded group of cornerbacks.
Our photographer Jeff Fusco took some more great photos on Day 2 of minicamp.
“I like to push the ball down the field when it’s there, but there’s also time to just take the underneath one. That comes with learning the offense.” What does Carson Wentz need to work on with training camp fast approaching?
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Jeff McLane from the Inquirer has some notes from a much lighter practice session to end minicamp.
Thursday’s practice was much shorter and less strenuous than the first two. There weren’t any team drills – just individual, installation and 7-on-7s. A number of players, including Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce, have noted that they feel fresher this spring than in the previous three springs under Chip Kelly. The tempo of Kelly’s practices made sure that the players were conditioned by the end of the spring, but they also might have been unnecessarily exhausting. There seemed to be more standing around during Doug Pederson’s practices, though. Whether that’s good or bad is unknown, but Kelly made sure he maximized his time. Toward the end of Wednesday’s indoor session, the Eagles ran 7-on-7 drills. Typically, both lines will work individually during 7-on-7s, but during this set, both groups just stood and watched. The cramped environs might have had something to do with the standing around, but there was still plenty of space for them to get their side work in.
Cody Parkey is back after suffering a groin injury last season, but he’ll have to beat Caleb Sturgis to win back his kicking job, writes Corey Seidman of CSNPhilly.com.
The Eagles brought in Sturgis and he struggled at first, missing a 33-yarder on his first attempt. But he rebounded to finish 18 for 22, which is the main reason this battle is taking place.
It’s a good thing for the Eagles, having two capable kickers who can push each other. It’s an often overlooked position that carries so much weight — the Eagles had six games last season decided by less than a touchdown.
“That’s a great battle going on right there,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “We know Cody is coming off the injury from last year and he’s still working himself back into shape. But it’s going to be a great competition going into camp. Not making any decisions today on that spot, but I like what I’ve seen out of both of them.”
We’ll put a bow on Eagles’ minicamp.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.