Eagles Fans Aren’t “Real” Football Lovers
You have to hand it to the Eagles. They haven’t done such a good job putting together an offensive line capable of keeping Michael Vick from taking a beating, but they can sure put out a helluva video. Their “Heart” promotional piece has great historical footage (Brookie and Bergey), fabulous neighborhood shots (love the South Philly montage) and even a bit of whimsy, courtesy of Andy Reid’s celebratory shoulder slam with DeSean Jackson, which looks like a Macy’s Parade float colliding with a lamppost. You can almost hear your neighbors singing “Fly, Eagles, Fly” each time it airs.
The message is a simple one: the franchise is yours. It belongs to this town, and no other version of football can possibly match what the Eagles deliver. For many, that’s true. The Birds are a big-time NFL product, packaged perfectly for this town. Fans ignore the obvious business benefits of such evocative advertising and focus on their passion for the team. When the Birds’ season kicks off Sept. 11 in St. Louis, the city’s “heart” will be pounding. And its pocketbook will be wide open.
Ten days earlier, however, a different kind of football debuts, and you would be wise to divert your attention from the Eagles’ meaningless exhibition against the J-E-T-S to watch it. Temple and Villanova meet in the Mayor’s Cup at Lincoln Financial Field, giving real football fans a chance to see gridiron action as soon as September dawns. I say “real,” because if you only pay attention to the Eagles, you are not a fan of football, rather an aficionado of the slickly packaged, corporate version of the sport. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that spending three hours worshipping at the altar of the nation’s top organized sporting religion can often leave one more impressed with the show than with the competition.
Enter Temple and Villanova. Although the upper echelons of college football are growing ever closer to the NFL in terms of financial excess, the Owls and Wildcats aren’t there yet. Sure, Temple has made its desire for a spot at the BCS table quite clear, and ‘Nova wrung its hands about joining the Big East before money concerns, lack of top administrative support and some stonewalling league members made that move far less realistic. But the two are not ready for the big scene yet, making their rivalry and Thursday’s game all the more enticing.
Both rosters are filled with players from the area. Both teams have tons of alumni around here, so there is a real connection to the schools. And both have been successful of late, with Villanova’s winning a national title in 2009, and the Owls’ playing in a bowl the same year for the first time since the Carter Administration.
We hear all the time that Philadelphia isn’t a “college town,” as if everybody conveniently forgets that we have more institutions of higher learning within our region than anybody else in the nation, save Boston. The area is loaded with college graduates, and on any given Saturday, as many as 30,000-plus people can pay to watch Big Five hoops. There was a time when Penn football was so popular the Eagles were begging for coverage. So don’t give me that “this isn’t a college town” garbage. It is. It’s just that fans have decided that unless their football comes wrapped in midnight green, it isn’t worth watching.
Now is the time to abandon that lunacy. If you don’t want to see the Mayor’s Cup, fine. But get out this weekend and see some high school football. It’s great that Archbishop Wood is traveling west to play Pittsburgh Central Catholic on TV, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Go see the guys who aren’t going to play at the “next level” and who aren’t found on recruiting service ratings boards. Believe it or not, those kids are playing because they love the sport. It won’t be hard to find a game; chances are there’s one less than 15 minutes away. You won’t have to pay $20 to park. You won’t have to worry about drunken tailgaters menacing you if you happen to root for the other team. And hot dogs are usually a buck.
Once you go, be sure to go back. This isn’t just a way of killing time before the Birds start. It’s a chance to enjoy the competition and a version of the game that doesn’t serve TV’s almighty dollar. You love the Eagles; I get it. But do you love football? That’s the bigger question here. Beginning Thursday, you have a chance to reconnect with a purer version of the game. It’s not too late. Even though ESPN is pitting high schools 2,500 miles apart against each other in made-for-TV spectacles, there are still chances to hear a marching band crank out the fight song and sit next to former players eager to share their war stories. The Eagles fly Sept. 11. But the 2011 season’s kickoff comes much earlier.
- Lost in the latest offensive line fire drill are the team’s recent follies in trying to build a solid unit. The Andrews brothers were a failed experiment, and recent drafts have yielded little in the way of quality performers. It’s hard to start “dreaming” when opposing D-lines are knocking the daylights out of you.
- Anybody else feel the Little League World Series is out of control? Subjecting 12-year olds to three weeks of televised scrutiny, after two months of high-pressure tournament play seems a little much. And what about the parents? Some of them are going to need blood pressure medicine.
- It’s a good thing the Phils had those two days off, because they now play straight through until the end of the season–31 days. More important than the team’s stamina down the stretch is tonight’s start by Cole Hamels in Cincinnati. After Friday’s clunker by Roy Oswalt, the Phils need Hamels’ inflamed shoulder to prove it’s in good shape, because the Braves and Brewers aren’t so far back in the rear-view mirror any more.