Stay Cynical, Sports Fans
Otter: He can’t do that to our pledges.
Boon: Only we can do that to our pledges.
We are constantly reminded that Philadelphia sports fans are among the smartest in all the land. Who cares if the fans themselves do the reminding? They’re pretty accurate. Philly fans pay close attention to the games’ minutiae. They are quick to divine who is worthy of praise and who deserves a spot in the fifth ring of the city’s athletic of hell, reserved for the likes of Travis Lee, Ricky Watters and Eric Lindros.
That is why I’m so upset that this intelligent creature displayed two disappointing characteristics in the past two weeks.
The first involves the adoption of the “Dream Team” tag for the Eagles. It’s tempting to follow along with certain lazy media members, who feel obligated to A) apply a nickname to every single contender, however trite it may be and B) affix lofty expectations to teams in order to hype their own coverage. But don’t follow the easy path.
The second involves the indignation that arose last week when ESPN2 cartoon character Skip Bayless refused to glorify the Birds’ free agent and trade acquisitions. So what if some knucklehead from Dallas doesn’t think Nnamdi Asomugha will pick off 10 passes, and Cullen Jenkins won’t be the team’s most disruptive interior force since Jerome Brown? You shouldn’t be so quick to anoint either of them a Pro Bowler yourselves. Remember, Philadelphians are always suspicious. As my grandfather used to say, “Trust everyone, but cut the cards.”
Let’s start with the “Dream Team” nonsense. There is, was and will be only one Dream Team in U.S. sports history, and that’s the 1992 Olympic basketball gold medalist. Every NBA member of that team is in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. (Chris Mullin goes in this fall.) The lone collegian on the squad, Christian Laettner, is one of the top 10 or NCAA players of all time, love him or hate him.
The Dream Team won its eight games by an average of 43.8 points a game, and no country came within 32 points of it. (Gold star for Croatia, which lost the finale “only” 117-85.) The Dream Team scored 117.3 ppg , shot 57.8% from the field as a team, averaged 22.1 steals/game and would have been 25-point favorites over the ’27 Yankees, ’72 Dolphins or Genghis Khan’s Golden Hordes. Coach Chuck Daly’s goal before the tournament was to go the entire way without calling a timeout, and he succeeded.
So, adding a couple top-flight cornerbacks, two strong defensive linemen, a much-needed right tackle and a backup running back does not transform the Eagles into the 21st century version of the Greatest Team in History. Yes, the Birds look pretty darn good right now–on paper. But let’s see what happens when the pads start popping for real, and veteran rivals test the linebacking and safety contingents. I know it’s an exciting time, but just because the nickname is a fancy rhyme, try to have a little perspective. If the Eagles go 16-0 and storm to the Super Bowl title, then perhaps we can revisit the issue. For now, just be happy the “Gold Standard” finally means something, and optimism abounds.
Now for the Bayless mess. One of the things that often happens on TV shows like the one for which he bloviates is that a producer or host will suggest a topic, and the guest or “analyst” will volunteer to stake out a contrary or controversial position, the better to create interest. It’s entirely possible Bayless isn’t too impressed with the Eagles’ moves, although it’s probably more likely he channeled his inner Cowboy and decided to tweak the city, knowing he would make headlines.
What is so interesting is that the fans reacted so violently to Bayless’ tactics. For a while, it sounded as if they were all sloshed on Eagles Kool-Aid and trying to gain points with Jeffrey Lurie and Joe Banner. How’s that for a reversal? The entire Philadelphia sports scene–with the exception of the Sixers–is cruising now. Why let some pumped-up blowhard ruin the fun? To paraphrase Billy Clyde Puckett in Life Its Ownself, “Throw a ping-pong ball into an empty boxcar, and you have Skip Bayless.”
Philadelphia fans should remember their roots. They need hope, for sure, but they always have an eye on other guy, just to make sure he isn’t trying to pull the old switcheroo. Give the Eagles credit for making some big-time moves, but they haven’t won anything yet. Until they do, we have to view the organization with the same jaundiced eye we did when it was trying to tell us Torrance Small was a worthy NFL receiver.
The next six months should be a lot of fun for Philly fans, and if the Flyers get it together, the laughs could last until next June. But don’t get caught up in the easy nicknames and desire to defend your city’s honor against people who don’t matter. Get ready for big things but keep your edge.
We don’t want to turn into St. Louis, do we?
- Even a curmudgeon like me has to appreciate what the Phillies did in San Francisco. Sure, they lost to Snape on Sunday, but taking three of four from the Giants, including a win over Matt Cain, is big stuff. The players tried to downplay the regular season series, but it definitely matters and should have some carryover to October.
- If Placido Polanco’s hip needs more than just a little rest, Ruben Amaro had better get his magic kit out again and find a way to make a waiver-wire deal for a third baseman. Michael Martinez has proven to be a worthwhile bench player, but he can’t be a regular at the hot corner when the post-season arrives.
- It’s obvious by the Eagles’ reticence to shower DeSean Jackson with big bonus dollars and a fat new contract that the organization has some concerns about his fragility. If he shows up and pouts, he’ll give them another reason for pause. Be smart, DeSean. Don’t pull a T.O.
- Could it be possible that the Eagles have a game Thursday night? Who cares if it’s just an exhibition? It’s football!