Philadelphia fans have always been notoriously rough on their teams and often with good reason. The first full season I followed baseball was 1961. I was six: the Phillies lost 107 games that season (they won 47). Between July 29th and August 20th of that year, they lost 23 games in a row, still a Major League record. And we're not even going to talk about 1964. But it was all right, I grew up taking losing for what it is: the central fact of the human condition.
Still, we Philly fans knew something else: that losing might be what it's really all about, but it's also the thing that makes winning so sweet. This intimate, hard won, cosmic knowledge is what made Philadelphians so passionate about their teams and so tough as fans; booing that jerk Santa Claus, throwing ice balls at the Dallas Cowboys as the tough guys fled the field into the tunnel. In Philly there was no quarter asked, and no quarter given.
Sometime in the 1980's or 90's though, the Philadelphia ethic began to change. Fans were still tough, but on the whole, they were no longer knowledgeable. Increasingly they didn't know the sad, vainglorious history of the local teams they championed and were getting their factoids and talking points instead, from SportsCenter and sports radio.
This should be a golden era of Philadelphia Sports. The Phillies, the losingest team in Sports history, have won the World Series. The Eagles have made the playoffs for the 7th time in 10 years: the first time they've had a run like this since the Steve Van Buren led teams of the late Forties and early Fifties.
Yet the ugly, ignorant noise, on the air, in the blogs, but also on the suburban streets and cul de sacs is at an all time high.
In the middle of this past championship season they were booing the 2007 Baseball MVP, Jimmy Rollins, who was reported to have said that Philadelphia fans were frontrunners. They were also booing Ryan Howard, who in his first three full years in the league has averaged 50 Home Runs and 144 RBI's a year, while also winning the 2006 MVP in baseball.
It's not that Rollins's and Howard's play does not, on occasion, leave something to be desired: It's that these guys are winning players. And this is what we have forgotten. You're supposed to boo losing players and losing teams, not winning ones. That means you don't slam winning teams when they're not winning, or winning players when they're not playing well -- even if they're black -- because that kind of thing hurts your team, not helps it.
One can only assume that your average fan these days figures that they're not getting sufficient production for their entertainment dollar. Either that or Rollins is right: that Philly fans have become frontrunners.
Which brings us to the Eagles. When Andy Reid, the current coach of the team took the Eagles to the Super Bowl several years ago, it was like he was the second coming: Sportswriters were composing paeans to the guy. Fat as he was, women called him beautiful.
Now Reid has gone from Jesus to Judas. The Eagles have not played particularly well this season; they've left points on the field, and lost some close games. Last week the team lost their biggest game of the season to the Washington Redskins (leaving the ball on the six inch line, while a touchdown behind at the end of play), and the team seemed finished for the year.
That settled it for a lot of Philadelphians. Reid was finished; Reid was a brain dead moron. Anybody could do better than Reid and his lousy stinking quarterback, his black, future Hall of Fame, Quarterback Donovan McNabb, who was just the biggest bum anyone had ever stepped over on Market Street.
And then God looked down and saw his children, his idiot children running amok on the streets of Philadelphia and He started laughing so hard he accidentally shit himself.
Now, on top of God's divinely decreed financial collapse, He sent another miracle and the Eagles routed the Cowboys, the Raiders beat Tampa Bay at Tampa and the Eagles are in the Playoffs.
If that ain't a miracle, you tell me what is.
The thing about miracles is they call for a radical reassessment of what we take to be Reality. And we see that just as the rich=good/poor=bad, debt society of the last twenty-five years has collapsed into a pile of steaming ash, the entertainment uber alles ethic of that society is apparently on its last legs as well.
Sports have always played an outsize role in my life and imagination. Often when I'm supposed to be thinking about some important stuff, I'm really thinking about an off tackle slant or a line drive up the middle.
In the Philadelphia of my youth, there were, at any given time, probably several hundred thousand other people supposedly going about their equally important business while really thinking about the same plays I was.
These thousands of imaginings, identifications and correspondences are the true ties that bind us to our teams, and bind our teams, not to the physical borders of a place, but to the collective unconscious, the spirit of a place: in this case, Philadelphia.
Will the coming of Hard Times return Philadelphia sports fans to our old hard-bitten, spiteful, sadder but wiser, selves?
All I know is it takes a nation of morons to hold us back.
PS: A prediction: the Eagles are going to the Super Bowl this year... where they will lose again. Happy New Year.