January 22, 2019
When the NFL conferences were deciding on Sunday which teams would represent them in the Super Bowl, Eagles fans were left with only a painful what if – as in, what if Alshon Jeffrey didn’t miss that five-yard catch in New Orleans a week earlier?
Would the Eagles have won that divisional playoff game? Would they have faced the Rams in the NFC championship game, with a chance to defend their title in Super Bowl 53? Would this city be going absolutely insane right now, with two Super-Bowl appearances in two years?
It’s safe to say many fans were asking all of those questions on Sunday.
It’s also safe to say they were doing so in whispers instead of shouts.
Because the Eagles fan base, at least for now, has changed. It’s true. The most boisterous and demanding fans in American sports have developed a new set of human emotions – compassion, forgiveness and even a little understanding – that was rarely in evidence before they experienced the thrill of winning the Super Bowl.
During an appearance on my WIP radio show last week, sports psychologist Dr. Joel Fish explained the phenomenon. He said it is common for fans to appreciate the realization of a dream so much, they abandon their own values. In other words, the thrill of that parade gave the Eagles an emotional pass this season.
The chief benefactor of this change, of course, is Jeffrey, whose fatal mistake led to an interception and the sudden end of what most fans believed would be another miracle from quarterback Nick Foles. One of our Internet polls last week at WIP showed that 80 percent of the fan base believed the Eagles would have won the game if Jeffrey made that play.
After the gaffe, Jeffrey unwittingly did some extraordinary damage control. He lay face-first on the turf for what seemed like minutes, reflecting the disappointment of the people back home. Then he took all of the blame for the loss on himself. Anger morphed into sympathy right in that moment.
The next morning, a time usually reserved for finger-pointing and saber-rattling, was shockingly calm on sports radio. Rather than lament the mistake, fans called to remind everyone of Jeffrey’s catch in the back of the end zone last year in the Super Bowl, a play he made with a torn rotator cuff. They also applauded his reaction to the drop. They forgave.
I was also doing the radio show the morning after Mitch Williams ended the Phillies season in 1993 by giving up a home run to Joe Carter in the sixth game of the World Series. That day, I remember suggesting that Williams hire a bodyguard.
So, what changed? Well, Philadelphia fans have grown a bit less venomous over the years in all sports, for reasons that I won’t even attempt to answer. The reaction last week, though, was completely out of character for Philadelphia, even in these more compassionate times.
In fact, it wasn’t until Wednesday, well past 8 a.m., when a caller named Will provided a reality check. He said he couldn’t believe fans weren’t livid about what had happened.
“Alshon Jeffrey cost us the season!” he screamed. “Why aren’t we mad?”
Winning a Super Bowl accomplished some amazing things in Philadelphia. It bonded generations. It caused complete strangers to hug and high five and bellow Eagles cheers in perfect harmony.
It turned the City of Brotherly Love into, well, an actual city of brotherly love. Imagine that.
Now, can we please get back to normal? Can we please start booing again?
After all, we are Philadelphia, aren’t we?
In case you haven’t noticed, the NFL has a major problem, and it tends to crop up at the most inopportune moments. A case in point was during one of the most thrilling Sundays in recent memory, when both conference-championship games went into overtime.
The next day, fans should have been gushing over how entertaining and unpredictable the NFL has been this season, with the prospect of a wild Super Bowl 53 still ahead. Instead, the number one topic was, again, the horrendous officiating. This time, the incompetence was especially astonishing.
For reasons that only back judge Todd Prukop can explain – and which, because of archaic rules, the NFL will not allow him to explain – the official didn’t throw a flag after Rams defender Nickell Robey-Coleman nearly decaptitated Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis late in a tie game in New Orleans. Robey-Coleman arrived a full second before the ball – and crashed helmet to helmet into Lewis, to boot.
No flag. No flag?
Even now, two days later, the NFL has offered no official response to the play. The head official, Bill Vinovich, told the coaches on the field that he didn’t see what happened. Apparently, neither did Prukop, who was standing just a few feet away and staring right at the play.
In the two days since then, a new outcry has arisen to expand instant-replay rules to allow pass interference. This reaction is absurd. The problem is not the rules; it’s the people enforcing them. The NFL is a billion-dollar corporation with ten-cent officials.
And the ineptitude starts right at the top. Commissioner Roger Goodell has turned a blind eye toward the problem for many years, and the director of officials, Al Riveron, is no better than his worst officials. Remember, it was Riverson himself who, during a replay review, ruled the Cowboys had not turned the ball over against the Eagles last month even though only Birds players were in the vicinity of a key early fumble.
The officials employed by the NFL are too old, too slow, too robotic and too indecisive to represent a league that dominates American sports. For no good reason, the league tempts fate every time it allows outrageous injustices like the game-changing gaffe in New Orleans on Sunday.
At Super Bowl 53 on Feb. 3, the Rams will be facing the Patriots – but everyone knows the truth. The Saints belong there, not the Rams. Instead, New Orleans represents only the latest sad example of the most serious defect in a game we all love.