For the first time in a long time, the fans anger with this team has reached a boiling point. How will Lurie respond?
I've always tried not to use "I" in my articles.
Maybe it was a former teacher drilling it into me at a young age, or maybe he thought my grammar was already so poor I couldn't pull it off, but I never thought that it was appropriate to do. I know I can be an emotional writer, and to a certain degree I think that is a strength of mine. But I feel a good writer can convey their opinion without saying flat out this is how "I feel" or what "I think".
But in this case, there is no way around it. So those who don't want to hear my opinion, click back now. Because I'm going in.
Last night while driving home, I was listening to 94WIP. If you haven't heard it yet, I suggest you give a listen to the rant Rob Ellis went on. For just over eight minutes, he absolutely laid into the Eagles- from the comments by Jason Babin about the fans, to the chuckle by Andy Reid at the media for questioning Michael Vick's job security, to the general attitude of the players. It really is a rant that should go down in radio history. Now, a radio talk show host going in on the Eagles is nothing new. While it was an awesome speech, it was nothing alarming.
What happened afterwards, however, was.
For over three hours, fans called in to echo Ellis's feelings. They talked about how disrespected they felt by Babin. About how they don't spend their hard earned money to be lied to by Andy Reid. One fan was near tears talking about how Eagles football got him through a rough patch, and for Babin to question his loyalty is insulting. But they mostly talked about how even though they want to root against the Eagles they can't, because as all of you do on this blog, they bleed green.
Listening to the fans finally drove home the feeling I've had for weeks. It was a feeling I first got standing in the locker room after the Lions loss. At the time I wrote an article blasting the Eagles. It said this team was not good, going no where, the players were delusional, and that it was about to get ugly. It was the same eye-opening, hit me all at once feeling I got about Mike Kafka after the Eagles first preseason game. A click in my head of "wow, how did I not see it all along." I didn't post it, because despite a reputation for going overboard and looking for the 'shock' clicks, I wanted to give the team another chance. I didn't post the article.
But I can say with absolute certainty that if the Eagles lose to the New Orleans Saints on Monday night, I will have reached the point of no return with this team- and it has nothing to do with wins or losses. And based off of the callers last night, I can say I will probably be late to the party.
For years fans have wanted change, but there was always a fairly large group who didn't. Were people frustrated with Reid and the team? Yes. But they also knew that Reid was a good coach overall, and wanted to keep trying with this group of players. The debate was heated, but it was a debate.
That debate is gone now, and the people who supported this team are gone as well. Not only are they gone, they have joined the other side with a passion and anger I've frankly never seen before from a fan base. Because of it, Jeffery Lurie has a very big problem on his hands.
Lurie's problem? It's not that the fans are going to way. It is that they are going to stay.
The Eagles will always sell out. The fans will always tailgate, and football will always be #1 in this town. Every Sunday there will be 60,000 plus at Lincoln Financial Field, waiting to see what this football team can do. Coming from someone who has watched every home game from the press box, I can tell you that it is going to get to a point where Lurie will almost wish they didn't come. Because it is going to get ug-a-ly.
Many people think that an empty stadium will finally be what causes Lurie to make changes, but I can tell you that from being down at the Linc, that isn't the case. What is happening in the stadium is worse. During the Eagles loss to the Falcons, it got really ugly, really quick. As Babin knows, fans did not shy away from voicing their displeasure. They yelled, they made signs- but they stayed.
I covered the Sixers home opener on Wednesday night, and the difference was remarkable. Yes, the positive atmosphere had to do with the fact the Sixers were 0-0. After the Eagles won their first two home games, I wrote how the crowd was great and the Linc was a hard place to play. But there was a difference between that crowd and the Sixers crowd. The Eagles fans were rooting for the possibility of exciting plays and for their team. Sixers fans were rooting for a players and the collective group. They went wild when Spencer Hawes succeeded. They were pumped when Nick "Swaggy P" Young connected on a long ball. They loved the team, the players on it, and the coach. Even in their worst years, when the games were half empty, it was still a fun atmosphere. It would almost be better for Lurie if the Eagles got to that point instead of the mass mob of angry fans that will be at the remainder of Eagles games.
Are the Sixers as talented as the Eagles? No. But the Philly fans connect with them. The same cannot be said for this Eagles team and the fans- for the first time in a long time.
Fans loved Brian Westbrook, they loved Jeremiah Trotter, they loved Brian Dawkins. Who do they love on this team? Anyone pumped up about getting a Nnamdi Asomugha jersey? It's close to getting to the point where this city would root for a bunch of rookies and journey men, who despite maybe not being as talented, would relate and connect with them. That's not to say there are not good guys on the Eagles team. But the black cloud the size of Sandy that is hanging over this team right now masks it. Comments like the ones Babin made reflect poorly on the good guys on the team.
The fact is, an Eagles game is no longer a fun time. It's not fun for the family. It's frustrating for the fans. It is an experience that, more times than not, you leave from upset. You can't say that about any of the other franchises in this city, even if they are not as good.
And that is Lurie's problem. It is not that the fans will stop coming. It is that they will be there, and be mad they are. They will constantly rip the team, hate the players on it, and despise the man coaching it. Fair or not, that is the point it has reached with the Eagles.
You can't say that about any other team in the city. Even in their losses, Phillies games are a good time. The same can be said for the Flyers and Sixers. You can't say the same about an Eagles game right now.
I am lucky to be someone who covers sports. I get access to the team, I talk to the players. It doesn't make me know more about the game then anyone reading this article. I was, after all, the guy who picked them to win the Super Bowl. I'm also the guy who wrote this sonnet about Andy Reid and his connection with the fans. You see the same games I do. But being close to this franchise over the past few years, I do get to get to see a side the fans don't, and I try to pass that on. That being said, when you put together the team, coach, fans and feeling at the stadium, I have never gotten the toxic sense I do being around it now.
The Eagles may turn things around. At 3-4 with over half of the season to go, they certainly can do it. I hope Michael Vick plays the rest of the season, because I honestly believe he is one of the good guys on the team. If they do win, the feeling at the games might turn around. I hope it does, and like other articles I have written, I hope this 1,500 word opinion piece comes back to bite me. Because as a life long Philadelphia resident, I hate to see the relationship this city has with it's fans right now.
But I get the feeling it isn't about the wins and losses. It's about the way the fans feel they have been treated. It's about the fact that when looking down at the Linc on game day, it's like watching 60,000 people scream at someone they hate.
That is a problem Lurie has never had to deal with. Not to this degree.
And it's one that is going to take a lot of change and apologizing to fix.
**drops the mic**
Follow Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks