Last weekend, in anticipation of the Eagles-Cowboys playoff-clinching game, my brother challenged my sister: “Can you name every single Eagles offensive player?” Confident that she could name everyone but, possibly, an offensive lineman or two, my sister picked up the gauntlet. She named almost everyone; as predicted, Keith helped her finish out the offensive line. Flush with success, they proceeded to name all of the Cowboys’ offensive players, as if knowing all of the names of their greatest rival would guarantee an Eagles victory. I watched them, not saying a word.
And so, for the past twenty-six years, this is how my life has gone. I’ve grown up in a rabid Eagles family, save for my poor and weary mother (who is, oddly, a Cowboys fan). As a general matter, there is no question that Eagles fans are obnoxious, rude, and arrogant—just ask my mother. They are so mean that they once threw snowballs at Santa Claus during a game many years ago. But it’s equally undeniable that Eagles fans are absurdly, inexcusably, and somewhat confusingly (given the fact that they’re, generally speaking, rotten), the most passionate of fans.
Growing up outside of Philadelphia, it’s always been very hard for my mother to be a Cowboys fan. When I was very little, my aunt (on my mother’s side) always let me wear her huge Eagles sweatshirt. In credence to that, and egged on mercilessly by my father, for a while I became a passionate Eagles fan—or as passionate as any three-year-old can be.
But then, in the early ‘90s, when the Eagles became absolutely terrible (remember Rich Kotite?), and the Cowboys soared, I (along with much of the country) jumped right on that ole’ Cowboys bandwagon. After all, Troy Aikman was charming; Deion Sanders exciting; Michael Irvin a stalwart; and Leon Lett, well, he was there, and it was all quite a show. Jimmy Johnson was as smug, disgusting, and effective as ever. (And no, I did not look up a roster or check Wikipedia; I actually remembered all of those people). “My” Cowboys racked up Super Bowls for much of my elementary years.
And then just like that, the Cowboys stopped winning. Troy Aikman retired. Bill Parcels came and went. Emmitt Smith was traded to Arizona. And amidst it all, the Eagles were there. I never exactly stopped cheering for the Cowboys, but I did start somewhat secretly cheering for the Eagles, simply because they were so pathetic, and my poor father and three siblings (who all caught the Eagles bug) were so very sad.
Around this time, though, a funny thing happened: the Eagles became good. Actually, as any true, world-weary Eagles fan will tell you, they most emphatically did NOT become good. They became just good enough to break every Eagles fan’s heart. They came close—oh, so very close—but they never won that elusive Super Bowl. This time period, the era of Donovan McNabb (whom Eagles fans booed when he was drafted) and Andy Reid (whom I will always call “Fat Andy” because he had, and still has, the appearance and girth of a benign walrus) crushed the souls of Eagles fans far more than the previous eras of Randall Cunningham, Ray Rhodes, the Detmer twins (remember them?) and other names my family will occasionally utter quietly to themselves, usually while shivering with discomfort.
What Tanner, a Cubs and Cowboys fan himself, can’t quite understand, and what he derisively refers to as Eagles fans’ arrogance, is that Eagles fans (and frankly, almost all Philadelphia fans) expect defeat; they are, by nature, pessimistic, downtrodden, and down on their team. They boo; they hate; they despair. It’s what they’re good at. They don’t understand how to handle semi-success.
During the era of Donovan and Fat Andy, my father and siblings started out each season hoping, hoping, hoping for a Super Bowl win. As the seasons and years progressed, their superstitions and rituals became more and more advanced. After every touchdown, my youngest sister had to press the paw of the Eagles bear (why a bear? you ask; I have no answers for you), who then danced, twisted, and twerked away to the Eagles fight song. My brother gave Donovan’s bobble head a jiggle, and somebody (I forget who), stroked the old Eagles green coloring of the 1981 pennant—the year the Eagles last (almost) won the Super Bowl. More and more Eagles paraphernalia adorned the TV every Sunday afternoon.
Throughout it all, I was a secret Eagles fan, not because I had such undying love and affection for the Eagles themselves, but because it’s impossible to witness this cycle of hope, then despair, and inevitable bitter remorse, every year and not feel something for the fans themselves. There is a dark romance, and deep contradictory feelings, to being an Eagles fan because they know deep in their hearts that they are always going to lose. They’re as dark as Edgar Allen Poe. To be honest, I’m not sure Eagles fans would even know what to do, were they ever, inexplicably, to win a Super Bowl.
After the Eagles’ 2005 Super Bowl loss, in which Donovan supposedly threw up in the last two minutes and Fat Andy’s infamously poor clock management reared its ugly head once again, my father took my siblings aside and told them they were true Eagles fans now. True Eagles fans, he said, don’t get excited by winning games here and there, because they know they’re always, eventually, going to lose. He apologized for bestowing upon them the wretched curse of Eagles fandom, and he informed them that Eagles fans are happiest in the downtimes, in the losses, because then they can’t get disappointed.
This year, with the appearance of Chip Kelly, Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy, Desean Jackson, my family forgot who they are, and forgot what they should know as Eagles fans. They began to hope again. Then, three weeks ago, Sharon moved into a South Philly (the heart of Eagles territory) apartment lining Broad Street. Everyone felt that this was a sign. You see, they’d mapped out the Super Bowl victory parade—which conveniently, and very hypothetically, was scheduled to run up and down Broad Street—and they were just waiting, counting down the weeks until they could attend that victory parade. Of course, it was not to be.
It’s true that I’m not a true Eagles fan because I am not crazy; because I cannot name every member of the Eagles’ offense, and because I’ve never felt the desire to kill a Cowboys fan (there is a good reason there was a jail cell in the basement of old Veterans’ Stadium). And so last night, curled up on the couch, enduring the frigid temperatures under many blankets, I cheered for the Eagles, not so much for the Eagles themselves, but simply so I didn’t have to think about the sad, pathetic, hopeless scene that was certain to occur in my family’s home after the Eagles’ inevitable loss, the silence as they, once again, packed away the Eagles paraphernalia and touched the Eagles’ bear’s paw for one last rendition of “Fly, Eagles, Fly” (a song I can sing by heart). I’m just not entirely sure how many more disappointments they—and especially my poor father—can endure.