This was one of those weeks where I thought about giving up a lot of things - blogging, abstract thought, hope, the New York Jets. Among my fellow Philadelphians, there was a mixture of dull optimism, but if the Eagles lost in the NFC Championship everyone knew there would be hell to pay. Their optimism was really just an expression of reluctance to let go of their brimming anger. It was supposed to be an early end to a disappointing season, but the Eagles went to the NFC Championship, anyway. This only aggravated Philadelphia's emotional problems. As most of us here know, disappointment is the language Philadelphians know best. It's what's for dinner. They are a people already aggrieved. Maybe it's an anger they've been holding onto for years because of something their mother said. Maybe their father didn't love them enough.
They went to the Phillies' celebrations in November uncertain of why they felt so good. It's just not in their nature to be thus. What would they do now that they were winners? Eventually the Eagles obliged to the city's habits of being. They lost to Cincinnati, and the season seemed very done. I mean, did you lose to the Bengals this year? Me neither. But they also did what Reid's Eagles have always done. They made it interesting. And then they folded. Philadelphians don't normally lose big; they lose painfully: five NFC Title appearances since the early part of the decade, with four NFC Title losses. Herein lies the paradox of Philadelphians' neurotic relationship with hope. Here, a team and its public exist in simpatico.
During the week the big question was not, Will the Eagles win a trip to the Super Bowl? It was, What will be the fallout if they don't? People wondered on talk radio if there would be any mercy for Reid and McNabb if the Eagles fell to the Cards, and the consensus was that there would be none; this was even before the NFC Title Game started.
And then they lost. So there is a terminus waiting for either Reid and McNabb, or for both. The strange, irresponsibly personal relationship fans have had with them both requires it. After all, this is a city that seems to have an odd belief that their own local news anchors have healing properties. This is the city where John Facenda, the NFL's voice of God, was a Philadelphia TV newsman. Such personal feelings eerily resemble worship, but even the ancients were unforgiving to the gods who served them least. It's a relationship more cruel than the one New Yorkers have with their stars only because it is much more intensely personal in nature.
I know I have written about all this before, but it's fascinating as a diaspora New Yorker in residence to watch it all happen again and again. Philly's double-edged affection has driven its headliners, anchors and athletes to obsession, compulsion, and paranoia. The already mentally unstable Terrell Owens had his greatest meltdowns here. Curious personalities like Dick Allen nearly went mad playing in Philly. By being self-assured and slightly defensive, Mike Schmidt was nearly drummed out of town. Now the same can be expected for Ryan Howard. The days are numbered for a stoic, immobile cinder block like Andy Reid and his eccentric quarterback.
And in a game where the Eagles' defense failed its larger team, where officials made dubious calls throughout, you might look elsewhere for blame. But McNabb's quixotic smile throughout the NFC Championship is probably going to be too much for one tightly-wound city to tolerate. If one were to narrow it all down to one or the other, McNabb would seem the most likely (and most willing) casualty of tonight's historic loss to the Cardinals.
Is he interested in being the next unfocused veteran quarterback in our lineup?