Championship or progress, that is the question. My very first conscious memory of the Philadelphia Eagles or an Eagles game came on a dark and cold January afternoon in 1981. I was six years old three months short of my 7th Birthday. The NFC Championship game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys.
I knew I was supposed to like the team in green and absolutely loathe the team with the Star on their helmet. In between playing outside in subzero temperatures (because back in the 80s that’s what we did in Philly) I was catching bits and pieces of that game.
Then fate would strike and make me a diehard lifer Birds fan. During one of my check-ins of the game which was really a go inside and warm up you fool I happened on the play that lives in infamy for millions of Birds fans worldwide. The Montgomery up the middle touchdown run sealed the deal and punched the Eagles ticket to Superbowl 15.
As I sat there watching my elders embrace each other with absolute joy and running over emotion I was swept up in the festivities. I joined in the fun even though I wasn’t completely sure what was going on at the time. I knew we won and the hated team in silver and blue with that god-awful star had lost.
I then found myself in a familiar place about 15 blocks from my house; The corner of Frankford and Cottman Ave. The same place that just three months earlier in October 1980, My mom woke me out of deep sleep and told me “they did it” referring to the Phillies victory over the Royals securing the first-ever World Series Championship in the then 97-year history of the franchise. I stood there that October night in a sea of people celebrating as they had never celebrated before in their lives.
Fast forwarded back to that afternoon in January 1981. There I was again in a sea of running over emotion. Alas, we know how the story ended for the Birds in Super Bowl 15. The events of the last 3 months had sealed the deal for this six-year-old. I was a diehard Philly Sports fan. If this is what it is to be a Philly Sports fan then sign me up I thought. Boy was I wrong.
After the Super Bowl run of 1980, the Birds eventually settled back into their mediocre form. After Vermeil left and the Swamp Fox Marion Campbell completely destroyed the team the first half of the 80s was an absolute horror show. Filled with pathetic ownership and neglectful players who turned my dream into a nightmare.
In 1986 Buddy Ryan arrived and brought the nasty factor with him. He turned the Eagles into an intimidating and yes sometimes dirty football team. Boy did we love every minute of it. Ryan constructed a furious defense and assembled a very formidable offense; the only problem was he never knew how to marry them together. No championship but definitely progress. After three consecutive playoff appearances and then three consecutive first-round playoff exits Ryan was gone.
Enter Rich Kotite and the comedy that would follow him through his tenure as Head Coach. Kotite had a good foundation of players that Buddy had assembled and it took him nearly four years to destroy the team but he destroyed it highlighted by the doomed 1994 campaign in which the Birds started the season 7-2 and then ended it on a 7 game losing streak.
Exit Richie boy. In 1995 the Birds hired Ray Rhodes with little expectations. Rhodes’s number one priority with the Eagles was to bring their self-respect back. The Eagles started 1995 1-3 and benched Randall Cuningham and inserted Rodney Pete. I guess that was the spark the boys needed as the Eagles went 9-3 the rest of the way en route to a home playoff game in which they took apart the Detroit Lions.
Rhodes would lead the Eagles to the exact 10-6 record in 1996 and another wild card berth but this time the Ty Detmer lead Birds couldn’t find any offense against the 49ers and lost 14-0. 1997 would be the season that would send the Birds and their battle-hardened fanbase into a spiral that would last two seasons. 6-9-1 in 97 highlighted by the naming of Bobby Hoying the new franchise quarterback and 3-13 in 1998 highlighted by the end of the season and the end of Ray Rhodes. Definitely not championship or even progress.
Look, it’s a pretty well-known fact what Andy Reid did here. In his 14 seasons as the Head Coach we witnessed the greatest sustained era of Eagles football in their history; Highlighted by six Division Championships, one conference Championship, one Super Bowl berth, and five Conference Championship appearances. I like most Birds fans who adore what Andy did here but he didn’t win a Super Bowl. Championship or progress?
Post Reid Era
This is where things get cloudy this is where things get screwed; before and since Andy Reid left here we have had one successful season in 2017 that’s it. That of course was the year that millions of us who bleed green were finally able to breathe again. I will never discredit what that super bowl victory meant to us never.
There is a stable of Eagles fans who feel we as a team are not on the same level as the “bottom feeders” of the NFL. That we due to our successes (1 Super Bowl win and three Championship wins since 1933) are immune to the trappings of the Jacksonville Jags, or the Detroit Lions of the world. They pull witty nuggets like “you were entertained right; Lions fans are not entertained year after year”. They grasp and feed off the scraps criminals like Howie Roseman throws at their feet. They make excuses why we are so much more than the bottom feeders of the NFL.
The success is in the hardware period. It’s in the parades. It is in the rings. It’s not in the growth or the good news story of a rookie head coach. It is not in a GM who continues to pull the wool over the most hardened and loyal fan base in the world. At least we used to be.
Wake Up Philly
The 2021 Birds are likely to make the playoffs; they are also likely to be embarrassed in the first round. I fear that the “new” millennial Birds fans are going to once again make excuses about how it was a successful season and how much we grew.
The criminal Howie Roseman will retain his job, and we will be in for another year of rock, paper scissors. What is the cost? It’s another year of wasted potential. Another year that the real fans of this team must suffer in silence and accept the lunacy that is being perpetrated in our name.
Someone once asked me “what do you expect to win super bowls every year, because if you do then you are living in fantasy land.” I think I’m paraphrasing it a little bit. Not only do I think we should win Superbowls every year but that little boy back in 1981 also agrees with me. Wake up Philadelphia and fight the status quo and save our Birds. Championship or progress?
Matt Bednarczyk is your host of Talking Philly Sports With Matty B. He is a proud retired US Army Sergeant First Class, he is also a combat veteran with over 80 months served in Afganistan, and Iraq . Huge Hockey Fan. Matt is a lifelong 4 for 4 Philly sports fan. Born and raised on the Mayfair and Tacony neighborhood lines of Northeast Philly. He brings over 40 years of Philadelphia Sports passion and provides a realistic look at our Major Sports Teams and the most passionate sports fans on the planet. Look for his show live on Edge of Philly Sports.