“One thing overzealous fans have in common? They think they’re a part of the team.”
I’ve been watching a Vice documentary series over the last week called Dark Side of Football. It takes a look at scandals, wrongdoings, cheating and crimes throughout the NFL’s history. The sixth and final episode is entitled “FANatics” and aired back in June.
If you’re going to do an episode on the “dark side” of football fandom, it makes a whole lot of sense to chronicle Eagles fans. Vice specifically reports on how the team’s rivalry with the Cowboys affects the collective psyche and actions of Eagles fans.
As it begins, former Eagles All-Pro returner Darren Sproles says, “Eagles fans... they’re probably the craziest to me.”
He’s not wrong!
Other pundits and players involved in the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry chime in.
Former All-Pro tight end Chad Lewis reflects on going to the first practice of his Eagles career, arriving at training camp and being greeted by loads of Eagles fans hammering home the requirement of beating Dallas twice per year.
“I think Philadelphia fans earn a bad rap,” Lewis says. “They want you to know if you come into Philadelphia, we’re going to drive you out of this stadium.”
That’s a tough one, Chad!
Yes, the documentary does mention snowballs, from Santa Claus to the time the Cowboys players got pelted with them. Still, Vice dives into the sociological aspects of Eagles fans’ behavior, going beyond dumb hot takes and anti-Philly bias. One social psychologist ultimately compares football to a religion, touching upon fans’ long-held rituals and the tradition of it happening once per week on Sundays.
It’s not some character assassination upon Eagles fans. It’s a glimpse into the franchise’s long history with the Cowboys and what makes us Eagles fans tick.
“They just care so much that if you don’t play well or things go bad, they get so angry,” former Eagles punter Sean Landeta says. “It’s like a family member. They hate you as much as they love you.”
One aspect, however, that wasn’t given proper context was the Eagles’ Week 7 win over the Cowboys in 1987. NFL players went on strike that season. Many Cowboys stars crossed the picket line, blowing out the Eagles back in Week 5 while the Eagles team was filled with scab replacement players.
When the strike ended, then Eagles coach Buddy Ryan didn’t forget Dallas and their head coach, Tom Landry, running up the score while the Eagles were undermanned.
The Eagles, in turn, gave the Cowboys some payback. Running a fake kneel down near the end of regulation, quarterback Randall Cunningham launched a pass towards the end zone, drawing a defensive pass interference call. Keith Byars plowed in from one yard out to give the Birds the 37-20 win.
“Tom Landry would never do that to anybody.” a Cowboys player said.
That’s a blatant lie, as it had happened just two weeks prior.
Some Cowboys players are on the doc throwing tantrums about the Eagles showing up a “legendary” coach.
Calm the hell down!
If you want more info on the Eagles and Cowboys that season, I cannot recommend enough this video from SB Nation’s Jon Bois: Randall Cunningham Seizes the Means of Production.
“If you got a normal job, if you’re a normal working schlub, you go to work 9-to-5, you have the opportunity to affect the performance of a multimillion-dollar professional athlete,” Fox Sports Radio’s Ben Maller says. “That is the ultimate prize for a certain percentage of fans.”
I feel that in my heart of hearts.
Vice goes on to shed light on the Bounty Bowls, Michael Irvin’s final NFL game, Judge Seamus McCaffery’s court in Veterans Stadium and more things that have given Eagles fans the reputation that they have.
When the episode gets closer to its end, the documentary depicts the joy Eagles fans had when the team won Super Bowl LII and the cathartic emotional impact it had. I can sure agree given the impact it’s had on me.
“The whole city of Philadelphia was there,” Sproles says of the way Eagles fans celebrated through the streets.
“It meant a lot to us. As the first group to bring it to Philly, we’ll go in the history books for that.”
That’s all we wanted in the end: for our batshit wild obsession to give back as much as we gave to it.
If you want to watch the episode, here’s the link to it on Vice’s website. You need to sign in with your cable provider to watch. Personally, I just said “Vice On Demand” into the Xfinity voice remote and found it that way.
It’s worth a watch for sure!