How the Phillies Lit a Fire Under the Eagles
Any day now, we can expect an announcement from the Eagles that they have traded for Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, kidnapped Houston wideout Andre Johnson, coaxed Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown out of retirement and exhumed the body of Vince Lombardi.
Take that, Phillies.
It’s entirely possible the Eagles’ recent frenzy of activity was part of a well-crafted plan designed to fill the team’s many needs and put it in the best position to compete for a Super Bowl championship. That’s what Andy Reid, Joe Banner and Howie Roseman told us during the lockout, and the past week proved that they were indeed ready to go for the gusto. The Birds rocked the NFL with a major trade, signed big-name free agents and jettisoned more deadwood than an angry logger. The team isn’t perfect -– the O-line, linebacking corps and safety crew still need serious help -– but it’s certainly better than the outfit that staggered to the finish line against Green Bay last January, at least on paper.
Kudos to the Eagles’ brain trust for the decisive moves and commitment to improving the club. But it’s hard not to look at the team’s headline-grabbing activity and see the influence of the red-and-white crowd across the street. During the long months of the NFL lockout, the Phillies ascended to the top of the MLB heap, posting the best record in baseball and thrilling local fans, who dutifully filled the ballpark to beyond capacity every night and bought up every available piece of merchandise.
While the Phillies were dominating the sports news cycle, the Eagles tried to grab a notice or two with some community service work or the occasional media availability that allowed us to learn that nothing was going on, football-wise, in Gold Standard Land.
Once the NFL opened for business again, the Eagles were happy to jump back into the game, and their moves certainly attracted attention. But this isn’t just a war for column space or cyber views. It’s entirely possible the Phillies’ continued attempts to win it all have changed the Eagles’ focus. Instead of making a couple of improvements and counting on the devoted faithful to keep flocking to the stadium, it appears as if the Eagles have discovered that being good isn’t good enough any longer. To make it in this town now, a franchise must take its best shot at the title. No one can guarantee a parade, but signing Cliff Lee sure makes one a little closer to reality.
Last year, many -– including your Humble Narrator –- accused the Birds of grandstanding when they traded quarterback Donovan McNabb to the Redskins on the eve of baseball’s opener. We said the team was jealous of the Phillies’ popularity and wanted to deflect attention from the local nine. Despite protestations to the contrary by the Eagles, it was quite evident part of their motivation was to upstage the Phils with the timing of the swap.
This year’s activity seems to be fueled by different circumstances. First off, the free agent/trade/signing period’s compressed schedule forced the Eagles to make a flurry of moves in a short time. There was no changing that. But rather than trying to upstage the Phillies, the Eagles now appear to have joined them in pursuit of the Whole Thing -– at least over the past five or six days. Perhaps they realize that gaining credibility in this town is now about chasing championships, rather than merely talking about how great they are. The “Gold Standard” in this town is now the 2008 World Series title, not an NFC East championship. And a successful off-season involves the acquisition of big talents, not the arrivals of low-level free agents and overmatched draft choices.
For years, people around the country praised the Eagles’ model. How could anybody complain about a team that won multiple division crowns, advanced to five NFC title games and a Super Bowl and almost always made the playoffs? Think about how badly the people in Detroit would want something like that.
That doesn’t get it done now. It may be good enough for Detroit or Cleveland, because when futility is your constant companion, any kind of success is cherished. It used to be that way in Philadelphia. The Eagles could perform at a reasonably high level, and it was hard to complain too loudly, because they were the best thing around. In 2011, the expectation is a championship. Call it the “Platinum Standard.” The Phillies have achieved it, and it’s hard to mount even a weak argument that they’re not trying to remain there. Signing Lee proved that. So did last week’s trade for Hunter Pence. Perhaps, after trying to fool fans with their half-hearted attempts to do what was necessary to earn a Super Bowl title, the Eagles understand what is truly necessary to win it all -– and the fans’ respect.
The last five days have been great fun, and they have been a tremendous opening salvo to the 2011 season. There is still work to be done, though, and whether the Eagles are willing to do it will prove whether they have learned from the Phillies or are still trying to spin gold from straw.
- Don’t be so hard on Kyle Kendrick when Roy Oswalt returns to the starting rotation as expected this weekend in San Francisco. For a swing starter, Kendrick acquitted himself well and was pretty valuable at a time when the Phils needed some help.
- There may be no team in the NBA affected more adversely by the league’s labor pains than the Sixers, who are clearly the fourth franchise in the city and losing ground to the Union. The team has new, anonymous ownership, a dwindling fan base, no immediate hope of real contention and a roster devoid of stars. A prolonged strike/lockout or no 2011-12 season could be disastrous for the once-proud team.
- The beginning of August means the start of youth football around the area. You’ll see eight-year olds in full pads riding their bikes to practice at a time when college and high school governing bodies deem it too early for drills. Here’s hoping the fathers who direct the workouts are smart enough practice some moderation, particularly as temperatures hover in the 90s.