August 23, 2021
In the more pressing matters fracturing our polarized society, things have gotten very tribal.
When the national political media started using the colors blue and red to describe constituencies, it quickly turned into a more layered label with multiple meanings whether by design or a stroke of luck.
Maybe the best analogy for that is sports fans, where the color of one’s laundry — as legendary comedian Jerry Seinfeld once put it — can spawn generations of anger and rivalries every bit as inherent as the Hatfields and McCoys.
That kind of blind allegiance creates an ecosystem where emotion and loyalty reign over logic and sanity.
The Eagles’ preseason performance to date is a perfect example of that thesis.
It’s amazing to see how some devoted to the regime view objective measuring sticks like scores and statistics —couched in the proper context of the preseason — as hate, despite every objective party, like the sportsbooks at Pickswise who list the Eagles among the teams most likely to finish with the worst regular season record, suggesting it's going to be a long season.
Put it this way, Eagles fans: if your favorite team outscored the opposition 52-0 over the last six exhibition quarters and was 11-for-11 converting third downs during the first 88 minutes of dress-up football instead of the polar opposite, you’d be downright incensed if reporters and oddsmakers “ignored” it because it’s preseason football.
Instead, Super Bowl bets and reservations for Southern California in February would be at the top of the to-do list with the even more forward-thinking trying to project Nick Sirianni’s induction date in Canton.
The truth, as it always does, lies outside the echo chamber.
“Obviously, you want to go out and win every time you take the field, and just because we're not playing our starters or showing some of our looks doesn't mean — that's not an excuse,” Sirianni admitted after the 35-0 whitewash at the hands of the New England Patriots last week, one of the worst preseason losses in franchise history. “We have to execute better, play with better fundamentals, coach better, and put [the players] in better position to make plays.”
To be fair, it’s not all that meaningful to lose in the preseason in the NFL — or even look terribly bad doing so — when the vast majority of your key players are either making cameos or not participating at all. However, it’s also not exactly counterintuitive to point out that relentlessly talking about competition as one of your core values and then begging off the minute an antagonistic environment arrives seems inconsistent.
You’ve probably already seen the t-shirt Sirianni, his staff, and the players occasionally wear.
“I think a lot of it starts with the five things I’ve mentioned in the five core values,” said Sirianni. “The connecting, the constant competition, the accountability, having a smart football team and the fundamentals.”
When it comes to No. 2 on the coach’s list, the truth lies in another consciousness sports has in common with politics — the expectation that those outside the power structure (in this case the fans and far more importantly, the players themselves) accept the hypocrisy and march forward without questioning the disconnect.
It's a battle-tested plan. When the GPS already has the destination programmed in and the human condition defines their own particular tribe as being right or just, they will tie themselves into pretzels to make sure they get to the destination no matter the roadblock.
Take the names and faces away for the Eagles and things will get clearer.
Pointing out an inexperienced young quarterback can use more than 10 live preseason reps — and an unforeseen illness cut back on the original plan to have at least a few more — might take you down the path of adjustment in the preseason finale, something that would be a lot closer to common sense than enmity. Daring to question the unproven commodities in good-standing is out of bounds for far too many, however.
Conversely, if you overreact to a veteran backup QB — who isn’t as well-liked and played poorly with a fragmented supporting cast, purposefully protecting state secrets in the same meaningless environment used to defend others by demanding Nick Foles’ phone number — it's somehow deemed sensible?
Let's just stipulate that's not exactly a master's class on debate and deduction.
The caste protecting the Eagles is never changing, though, so the levelheaded are left to figure out what exhibition football disasters really mean.
The preseason matters — not a lot — but it matters. And right now, it’s revealing the tightrope a rookie head coach is walking by attempting to establish his core value system under the handicap of a diametrically opposed decree handed down from above, one that demands limited practice time and even less playing time for many in order to get to Sept. 12 as healthy as possible.
Politics is part of Sirianni’s job and he is hardly the first frontman in a position of power to have to establish “rules for thee and not for me” that he himself might not even advocate.
Sirianni’s stilted message to his players this summer?
Keep competing even when your bosses aren’t.
“Every time you step out there it's not like just because of who we played or what we ran, doesn't mean we're not competing,” Sirianni claimed. “Every time we step on the field, we want to compete our tails off.”
By Week 1 in Atlanta, the ambitions of both the coaching staff and front office will align again.
After 60 minutes of real football against the Falcons, the excuses will have evaporated and the hope is you didn’t even notice any of the detours along the way.
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John McMullen is a contributor to PhillyVoice.com, and covers the Eagles and the NFL for Sports Illustrated and JAKIB Media. He’s also the co-host of “Birds 365,” a daily streaming show covering the Eagles and the NFL and the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Follow John on Twitter: @JFMcMullen