The Agony of Defeat

I remember the plane ride back. I remember him, a fellow fan who was in my History of Photography class, and an unfurled copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer. We sat there, in unity and silence, and read everything we had seen the night before, every devastating sentence, every word that acquiesced defeat. I remember the speechlessness we shared waiting for our plane to arrive, so that we could board, so that we could fly back to Boston. The plane ride always went so quickly, shot you from Philly to Boston in a good nap's worth of time. It was the transition, the bag check, security check, all that getting to the waiting and then the waiting itself, that was the worst. And Dave and I sat there, sharing that newspaper, shaking our heads, knowing that was all the other expected.

In 2005, the Philadelphia Eagles lost the Superbowl to the New England Patriots. I had flown home to watch the game with my Dad at his local South Jersey bar. We went to Antoinetta’s around the corner from his house and both suffered to watch as the Eagles, after a long exciting season, blew it against a not-necessarily-better, just better-under-pressure, New England team. And then I flew back to Boston.

Of the things I like most about football is how complicated, yet simple a game can be, how easily it can turn from win-able to impossible, and then from impossible to manageable. My Dad always says, “that ball is shaped funny, you never know what's gonna happen.” This is what I think of when I think about football: my Dad, the Eagles, chess, and the sting, the honest agony, of defeat.

Here's an anecdote Dad tells when he gets the chance. We had just come back from behind taking the lead for the first time in the game with 33 seconds left on the game clock. (He forgets the opponent team, the name of the kicker, but it was Tampa Bay's Matt Bryant. The details are accessories. He remembers the rest.) Tampa got the ball back, drove it towards their end zone as much as they could, and then brought the field goal kicker onto the field to attempt a 63 yarder, not a kick an opposing team generally would worry too much about it. I looked at Dad, and said, "for some reason, I'd rather them go for it. What do you say?" He agreed. This was the Eagles we were talking about. What can go wrong, will go wrong, right? I was sitting in the comfy chair near the computer. Dad was so nervous he was standing.

And Bryant made the field goal.

Dad looked at me, his hands in the air. "Can you believe it?" he asked.

"Nope," I said, shaking my head.

He tells this story, this seemingly inconsequential event in our lives of a field goal made by an opposing team, because he remembers it so vividly, I'm sure. I do, too. The disbelief, the sting, all too familiar.

Dad has an answering machine that has a message on it from the 2005 season. Those days, we didn't have cable at my apartment. Hell, we still don't, but I go to bars in the city to watch the games when they're not televised. I did the same thing then, and wound up at Champions for a particularly delicious defeat early in the season. This was before the Terrell Owens saga, perhaps it was the 42-3 win over the 49ers; I don't remember the specifics. I had a cellphone then, and called Dad after the win. He wasn't home and his answering machine picked up just as all the Eagles fans in the bar did an Eagles chant. He still has the message, which starts with people shouting "E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES!" and then my high-pitched voice "Hi Daddy!"

Every city I have lived in thus far I have gone to college in, and every city that I have lived in and gone to college in has won the Superbowl while I was in school there. The Patriots won twice during my tenure at Emerson College, and the New York Giants, last year, beat the Patriots during my first semester at NYU. I joke that I should go to UPenn for my PhD to give the Eagles a chance. Secretly, I would love nothing more than to go the UPenn. Even more secretly, I would love nothing, nothing more than to live in Philadelphia when we win the Superbowl. But finally, and more importantly, regardless of where I live and when it may happen, I would love nothing, nothing, nothing more than for the Eagles to win the Superbowl.

We've got to get there again first, right?

When we beat the New York two weekends ago and Dad went outside to do the chant and sing the victory songs more times than I could count, I was so amped that when he came back inside, I said that if they won next week, we should go, we should go to Tampa Bay. He agreed, we should. We were ecstatic. What a long season of passing on third and one because we didn't trust our running offense, of losing to every team in our division at least once, of Reid benching McNabb and Kolb absolutely sucking for two interminable quarters. I changed my schedule at work mid-December to Tuesday/Wednesdays off because I didn't think we had a chance. Can I say it again?

I Didn't Think We Had A Chance.

Dad kept saying as he drove me to the train the Sunday morning following Christmas, the day of the Dallas game, so that I could go into work, "I think it's in the stars. I keep saying, I know I should keep my mouth shut, I think as long as we win today, everything else will line up for us." I could only nod. I didn't want to jinx us. I am a big huge believer in jinxes.

And then it all lined up. I watched the first and last quarter of an Eagles fan's fantasy: destroying the Cowboys, 44-6. The second and third quarter score updates I received from friends were escalating in excitement as the score climbed higher and higher. Tampa Bay lost, and, 9-6-1 we were going to the playoffs, thank you Dallas for succumbing to embarrassing defeat. Jessica Simpson may have helped name Tony Romo boyfriend of the year, but he was our hero, too, for absolutely choking. Not to say that Romo's poor performance is what let us win: the Eagles were on. I changed my schedule back to Sunday/Mondays off.

Dad told me, after he said we were going to Tampa Bay if we could only beat the Cardinals this weekend, he told me that this victory was sweet, so sweet, but, he said, "As good as it was to beat the Giants, I'm just glad I got to watch the game with you." And I more than smiled.

During the game last weekend against the Arizona Cardinals, the game that could have led us to the Superbowl for the second time in ten years, the fifth NFC Championship McNabb, Reid, and the Eagles had been to in the past ten years, when we were up for those glorious football minutes, Dad said to me, "I don't know why I do this to myself! If I put half the passion I put into this team somewhere else..." and trailed off. I've often thought the same thing. Being a seemingly unsportfanlike person, to explain my undying and sometimes bordering mild insane support and love for these guys, these guys who are so easily, from an outside perspective, open to mockery for choosing to give their lives to running around in tight pants and pads crashing into each other in order to get a funny shaped ball from one side of the field to another, to explain why I not only love the game, but I love these guys here, the ones in green and black and white, is impossible. To explain how a number on a screen changing can make or break my mood for a day, sometimes even longer than that, is impossible. To explain to a nonsportsfan what it would feel like if they could understand how to put yourself into a team, a football team, in its entirety, well, you can't. I can't. Maybe the best way to say it is to tell them that I bleed green. That it's in my blood, like a genetic factor, or a disease, an uncurable disease whose symptoms involve making signs, shouting the spelling of the name of your team while walking down the street, cursing off the television, and a spell of depression at the end of every February.

And yet despite all of that energy and passion, here I am again, suffering the sting, the devastation, the agony of defeat. The Eagles played terribly last weekend in the first half, then came back in the second thanks to McNabb being on, a wonderful gave-his-all catch by my favorite rookie DeSean Jackson, and a defensive stand that allowed us to shut down the Cardinals and score again. We were up when it mattered, and then down when it mattered more. We lost because our defense couldn't stop the Cardinals on a long fourth quarter drive that looked more like the first-half-of-the-game Cardinals than the earlier second.

Passion, why? Why do we care? We don't know. But we still do. We can’t stop. We can’t rewrite our DNA, our upbringing, our devotion.

When I left the house last Sunday night, Dad was asleep on his couch, oblivious to the AFC game dancing colored lights around his living room. The Christmas tree's lights were on, and it sat there sad, its days closing in on their end. When I left, when I stepped outside, a sprinkling of quiet snow had covered the deck, the streets, still untouched by human contact: no footprints, no tire marks. It was as if the sky had been crying silent cold tears, unknown to it that inside the house we were just as low, and if we could cry ice, we would. Instead there's an empty bottle of Carlo Rossi in front of the tree, a piece of paper I wrote the Eagles chant on flipped over to its blank side, and the slight buzz of fear that we would have to wait until August to see them play again, and then who knows how long again before we would make it to the NFC Championship game.

There are 22 teams who wish they had gotten a chance to play a game last Sunday. Despite the sting, despite the agony, I am glad that the team I bleed for was one of them, and I look forward to the same sting for as long as I'll have to deal with it, for as long as it takes to get us some rings, a parade, and probably a car-flipping riot in the city of Philadelphia.

Comments

  1. I felt your pain after that oh-so-close you could taste it victory. Eh, at least we didn't get killed. I thought that our Eagles played a good game despite the defeat, and I commend McNabb for putting the heat on during the 2nd half. For the entire crucial final quarter I sat at the edge of my bar stool, my hands in prayer, wishing for the ultimate OT ending, repeating over and over in my head, "Please, God." I had such high hopes that I boasted to my bro via text, "It ain't over," after that 60-some-yard touchdown. Oy- I thought that we had it, man!

    Moving on, the idea about UPenn sounds like a grand plan. We'll have to throw a Welcome Kim Back To Philly Party. If your superstition holds truth, and you're the superbowl's good-luck charm, then dangit, get your butt down here!

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