If you check one of the racks in my closet, you’ll find over thirty jerseys of my favorite team, the Philadelphia Eagles. Yes, over thirty. It’s quite a collection, too.
From current stars like DeSean Jackson and Asante Samuel to former stars such as Troy Vincent and Tra Thomas, to even worthless scrapes of sub-humanity like Terrell Owens, and ultimately a Freddie Mitchell jersey that hasn’t seen the light of day since 2005 (much like the real life Freddie), there’s a number of eras in Eagle lore that my closet covers.
Philadelphia Eagles games are to Friar’s Club dinners what Eagles jerseys are to the Friar’s jackets: I am required to wear one. These days, I’m more inclined to wear a current player, like Jackson or Kevin Kolb, while I force myself to steer clear of ex-players, especially those on other teams.
You won’t see me rock my TO jersey anymore, nor my Lito Sheppard (wearing it causes me demand a new contract at work when I’m underperforming), nor my Jeremiah Trotter (which gives me the urge to beg for my old job back).
As of April 4, Easter Sunday, I added another jersey to my do-not-wear list.
Although he spent eleven years as my quarterback, through good and bad, McNabb’s Philadelphia Eagles jerseys (I have two, since the first one got worn out after too many washings) have found their way to the ‘exile’ portion of my shirt rack.
A month ago, after I purchased my Kolb jersey, I decided to create a symbolic moment out of the change-of-guard. I placed the Kolb jersey, a refreshing shade of midnight green, in the front of the rack, while I grabbed the two McNabb jerseys, they of faded green and tattered print, with the intent of reuniting them with James Thrash, Todd Pinkston, Freddie Mitchell, Duce Staley, Corey Simon, Lito Sheppard and others who he once led.
But I couldn’t.
As silly of a moment this was, and as trivial a part of my day it was, I found myself unable to simply excommunicate the jerseys of a man I’ve never met.
What’s wrong with me?
I felt like a ten year old kid who couldn’t part with his old toys, with an inability to cleanse myself of the sentimental scent that they created.
Instead, like some basket case, I set the McNabb jerseys in the middle. You know, like kind of a sartorial purgatory.
I think it’s because, as a fan, Donovan McNabb provided me with one of the greatest moments of my youth. It has nothing to do with playoff wins or the trip to the Super Bowl.
I’m writing this on September 2, 2010, one day before the ten year anniversary of the moment that bolted me to the Eagles bandwagon forever.
But first, a little backstory.
From 1990 through 1994, I was an Eagles fan by association. Addled with the attention span of a dung beetle, I achieved most of my football knowledge through osmosis from my brother, Josh, who suffered through Buddy Ryan and Rich Kotite’s futility in trying to take a damn good Eagles team and get them over the hump.
At the same time, our uncle, a Dallas Cowboys fan, would visit several days a week and rub it into our faces that the Cowboys were superior and that the Eagles were inferior.
Now, he was right, but for a man in his forties to take such pleasure in mocking us so harshly (I wasn’t even a teenager yet) speaks volumes as to his self-esteem.
But I wasn’t worried about that. I was more annoyed that the Eagles couldn’t shut him up.
So in 1995, when the Eagles signed premiere running back Ricky Watters, I grew optimistic that my team could finally begin to field a contender. Then again, I was eleven years old and still couldn’t figure out where my parents hid the Christmas gifts, so clearly I was behind in garnering intellect.
During the Ray Rhodes era from 1995 to 1998, I felt like I had an illness that just kept getting worse and worse, despite my misguided optimism. The Eagles went, over that stretch, 10-6, 10-6, 6-9-1, and finally 3-13 before Ray Rhodes was banned from ever crossing the Ben Franklin Bridge again.
With Rhodes gone, the door was open for a new head coach, and the Eagles selected….Andy Reid. Reid had never once been a coordinator, so expectations for “Big Red” were shaky, to say the least.
At the 1999 NFL Draft, any optimism we had turned sour, as the Eagles held the keys to the second pick in the draft and, instead of taking super-beast running back Ricky Williams like everyone wanted, the Eagles chose Donovan McNabb out of Syracuse.
I’m surprised there were no pitchforks and flaming clubs involved in the aftermath.
By this point, I was ready to give up on the Eagles, and perhaps football altogether. The 1998 season broke my spirit like a propaganda video. The choices for new head coach and #2 overall draft pick made about as much sense as a David Lynch movie does to meth users.
The 1999 season yielded little results, except an improved record to 5-11. Oh, the Eagles did break the neck of Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, which was a plus for me when you remember that I was fifteen years old and had the sadistic tendencies of Tommy DeVito and Jimmy Conway combined.
By 2000, I wasn’t sold on the Eagles whatsoever. Although the Cowboys hadn’t had success in recent years, my uncle would still crow to Josh and I that the Eagles weren’t up to Dallas’ gold standard, and now we were starting to believe it, even though I was beginning to just not care.
September 3, 2000.
At 4 PM EST in the afternoon, on the last NFL opening day to take place before Labor Day, everything changed.
By chance, the Eagles had to play Dallas on opening day, which I saw as the opening stanza of the funeral dirge that was going to be the 2000 season. I really had no reason to think otherwise.
And then it happened.
Troy Aikman failed to complete a single pass, going 0 for 5. Well, actually, he DID complete a pass, except it was to Jeremiah Trotter of the Eagles, who took it back 27 yards for a touchdown.
21-0 Birds. It’s only the second quarter.
Aikman would get knocked out of the game with a head injury thanks to Hugh Douglas. McNabb would later run a touchdown in himself in the fourth quarter to make it 34-6.
In the end, the Eagles won 41-14. Duce Staley had his best game ever, running for over 200 yards. McNabb wasn’t perfect, but he was more than efficient.
The best part? That same ol’ uncle came over to spend the afternoon with Josh and I (my parents were away for the weekend), and he was speechless. He had no explanation as to how Dallas crumbled like they were built on a fault line. Aikman? Finished. Emmitt Smith? Useless. The Cowboys’ defense? Stymied.
My uncle? Silenced.
That’s worth more than any Super Bowl title.
Though the Eagles would lose their next two games, they would go 11-5 on the season, and that put them in the playoffs for the first time in four years. I enjoyed the entire ride, and I now looked forward to Sundays, as opposed to loathing them, since it was like trying to enjoy your last meal before execution (i.e. going back to school Monday).
On my birthday in November that year, my parents had gotten me a Donovan McNabb jersey, which I wore every Sunday for the rest season, and every Sunday of the following year until I got a Jeremiah Trotter jersey in that November. Since then, my collection has grown.
My love of Sundays has grown.
Over the last decade, I’ve cheered the efforts of McNabb and hundreds of coming-and-going Eagles as I hope to enjoy the nectar of a Super Bowl Championship, but I don’t necessarily need it to validate my hobby.
In this ten year frame, I’ve watched football socially with many friends. I’ve played fantasy football. I’ve excitedly talked about the game with peers and co-workers. It’s become a rewarding leisure for me in many different ways.
Donovan McNabb is gone now. Though now a Washington Redskin, and therefore a hated enemy, I still have a fondness for the time he made my day and gave me a reason to love the game.
I think I’ll put his jersey in the front again.
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