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July 23, 2012; Bethlehem, PA. USA; Philadelphia Eagles grounds crew intern Eddie Harbaugh prepares the team logo prior to training camp at Lehigh University. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE

The Spotter's View: My Love Affair With The Philadelphia Eagles

Given the nature of our relationship as writer/reader, I feel as though it’s necessary for you to understand me as a fan. Yes, I work for ESPN. Yes, I cover the NFL. But my career and the experiences of these games would lack significance if I weren’t a fan first and foremost. It’s why, after a decade, I still get excited when I hear…

Or when I tune in to watch my beloved Philadelphia Eagles each week. Being a fan allows me to enjoy the game. It’s what we share, regardless of age, race, religion or economic class. As fans, we share pain and joy. Memories. Experiences. For this reason, I thought our relationship as reader/writer would benefit from you getting to know me as a fan first. In time, hopefully, you’ll have a better appreciation for my column, The Spotter’s View, because you’ll know me as Tony Granieri  - the

A History of Losing

The Philadelphia Eagles’ off-season bonanza in 2011 and a solid 2012 Draft has raised expectations both within the Delaware Valley and somewhere deep inside of my sports fan soul. A soul that has been tortured and tormented by my favorite team since I first knew what a touchdown was. Let’s take a look at that past and then revisit the upcoming season through a lens of cautious optimism.

Youth (Age 2-13)

I had a small, squishy, patent leather football growing up. It was the size of an apple, nearly oblong and had chew marks on it from my younger brother Michael who apparently loved the taste of patent leather. Nonetheless – it was one of my first toys and I remember playing with it. I also remember falling in love for the the first time. It wasn’t with a girl though. It was with a wildly athletic, game-changing quarterback who we lovingly called Randall. Yesterday’s version of Mike Vick only better due to the nostalgic feeling I get when I see old Eagles highlights. He could fly – literally. He could throw – far. And there wasn’t anybody else like him in the entire world. From about age two to about eighth grade I was a Randall-aholic. I had his jerseys. His rookie cards. I pretended to be him in backyard football. Hell – we even named our pet rabbit Randall and our two pet goldfish. (Yes – we had a pet rabbit. And yes – it was lame). Randall was everything and was everywhere. But he wasn’t alone.

Those early Eagles teams also featured one of the league’s greatest defensive units of ALL-TIME! Reggie White, Andre Waters, Wes Hopkins, Seth Joyner, Eric Allen, Clyde Simmons and Jerome Brown were all part of the Eagles dominant defense under then head coach, Buddy Ryan. This group intimidated, injured and ravaged opposing quarterbacks. Remember the “Body Bag” game and the “House of Pain” game? Classics. These teams were brazen and full of superstars. Their playoff record? How about 0-3.

Ryan’s Eagles were talented, loaded with superstars, dominant defensively and completely incapable of winning a meaningful game. The one year things seemed to be lining up for a real run toward a championship (1990), Randall tore his ACL in the season opener and was lost for the year. So add bad karma to the mix. Bottom line, Randall left his imprint on a young Eagles fan. As did the Kelly Green unis, Buddy Ryan’s unabashed press conferences and the swarming Birds D. I was hooked but not satisfied.

High School (Age 14-18)

As I entered High School I lost track of my patent leather football. I’m assuming it was simply misplaced, but there remains an outside shot that Michael just hauled off and consumed the entire thing. I also lost track of my love affair with the Eagles. Not because they weren’t good. They won 10 games my freshmen year and 11 when I was a sophomore. It was because they were boring! They went from the enigmatic Buddy Ryan who fit the city’s fiery personality perfectly to the vanilla and lukewarm Rich Kotite. The guy looked like an accountant. Gone was Randall. Replaced by an aging Jim McMahon (barely acceptable), then an aging Rodney Peete (barely tolerable), then to a myriad of no names that I really feel as though I could compete with physically. Pat Ryan? Bubby Brister? Ken O’Brien? These guys were rejects from other teams. 35 year olds with nothing in the tank. No personality. No athleticism. Nothing. The decline from Randall to Pat Ryan was unbearable to witness. And along the way we lost the BEST defensive player of all time as a free agent (something that was brand new back then), when Reggie left us for Green Bay and his Super Bowl destiny.

Brutal. Team played decent at times. Won 10 games here and there. Never was a serious contender. Never had a personality or a superstar and was BORING. I hated the Kotite and Ray Rhodes Eagles. Their playoff wins over the Saints and Lions were worthless victories over teams that didn’t belong in the post-season to begin with. They were the SAINTS and LIONS!!! The 1990′s SAINTS and LIONS. The lets wear brown paper bags on our heads as fans of the SAINTS and LIONS because they were so bad people were embarrassed to be seen on television by their friends! That’s BAD. Anyway…I’d take a dozen more Buddy Ryan/Randall years with zero playoff wins before I’d watch another Kotite/Peete team win against the LIONS or SAINTS.

This was a five or six year period of futility that ended in 1998 with an Eagles team that 3-13. Bobby Hoying, Doug Pederson and the late 90 Eagles’ QBs were almost as bad as the early 90′s group (save for Randall’s last hurrah in ’93 and McMahon’s general awesomeness). Also, RB Ricky Waters came to the Birds as a Free Agent but otherwise the entire 90′s decade saw all of our superstars depart. Reggie Gone. Randall Gone. Eric Allen Gone. Joyner Gone. Wes Gone. Clyde Gone. Jerome RIP….

The Birds franchise led by the cheapest owner in sports (see: Norman Bramen) was flat lining before our eyes. And then…

College (18-23)

The patent leather ball was old news by the time Jeffrey Lurie bought the Eagles from Bramen in ’94. He then hired Andy Reid who then drafted Donovan McNabb who then threw up in Super Bowl XXXlX. My college years saw the Eagles first Division Title since 1988 and their first trip to the NFC Championship game since 1980. And their second. We lost both and it was gut wrenching. Horrible. Upsetting. The trend of McNabb shrinking in big moments was codified in that loss to Tampa Bay at home during the 2003 title game. Looking back on it now, it seems inevitable that they would lose that game. But at the time – Duece ran the opening kick back 90 yards to the Bucs five, the crowd was going nuts….I thought we were going dancin. Didn’t happen. College was awesome. The Eagles during this time period were appropriately good but not satisfying. Like a hot co-ed who thought teasing was fun.

It’s not….

First Job (23-26)

Got hired by Scouts, Inc. out of school and witnessed the Eagles lose another title game before finally beating the Michael Vick led Falcons to advance to Super Bowl XXXlX against the hated Pats. For the record, I went to school in New England and lived up there during this matchup. So there’s some extra tension for me on this one. Regardless…Game is tied after three. Eagles play decent. Except McNabb throws two awful picks that were so bad they looked like he was joking. Eagles fall apart in the fourth and trail by 10 points with 6 minutes left in the game. They get the ball and need two scores in 6 minutes to either tie or win the game. URGENCY anybody? Nope….Reid and McNabb take 4:40 off the clock in the WORST 2 minute drill in history before scoring a TD to cut the lead to 3. They wouldn’t get any closer as McNabb threw his third pick on the game’s final play. Excruciating defeat. Culmination of McNabb’s career in Philly. Good but not great. Incapable of winning the big one. Disappointment and question marks. Why no hurry up? Did he puke? And T.O. is worth mentioning here because no other athlete in the history of Philadelphia was so beloved so quickly then he. The Super Bowl performance on a broken ankle was simply icing on the cake. Dude was awesome and Philly loved him. Until he ripped our hearts out and stomped them into the ground.

Adulthood (27-31)

McNabb was finished in Philly after the Super Bowl loss. It may have taken 4 more years and one more tease job before it was official but 24-21 against the Pats was his last game as a Bird. He was traded and replaced with Kevin Kolb, who started one half before relinquishing his starting job to Vick. We’re all familiar with what happened next. Vick turned into a real life Madden game and led the youthful Eagles to many of 2010′s most memorable performances. This new Vick led team is STACKED with talent. Vick is surreal. D Jacks is liked greased lightening. Maclin, Celek, and McCoy are all entering their primes and this group has set team scoring records in three consecutive seasons.

Defensively, the last few seasons have been a joke. For a team and a franchise that prides itself on its’ defensive prowess, it’s been the ultimate failure. So….

Birds sign Asomugha, DRC, Babin, Cullen Jenkins and bring on defensive line guru Jim Washburn to turn things around for their anemic pass rush. That 2011 free agency haul is the equivalent of all the defensive stars we lost back in the early 90s. It’s like things have come full circle. We have the new Randall (Vick), the new defensive superstars (instead of Allen, Waters and White we have Asomugha, DRC and Babin) and if Andy Reid starts speaking his mind, we could have the new Buddy. That’s a stretch, admittedly. But the other points are valid. This team has marquee value again. We got a taste of it in 2004 with T.O. and McNabb leading us to the Bowl but it was short lived and heart breaking. This seems different. Like it could last and even end with a parade down Broad Street where people are throwing confetti at the players and players are throwing smiles down on all of us. The offense is explosive. The defense is loaded. Vick is surreal (when healthy). And Philadelphia sort of feels like New York – with our Eagles being the new Yankees. Could a parade by next?

If the answer is yes…I’ll buy a patent leather football on EBay and eat it myself. Sorry Mike…

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