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January 30, 2018

Thanks to '64 Phils' collapse, this fan can't help his Eagles negativity

Decades-old 'scars' keep him from enjoying Eaglesmania

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Doug Pederson Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson addresses the media during Super Bowl LII Opening Night at Xcel Energy Center in Minneapolis, MN on Jan. 29, 2018.

Imagine if you will, you are eight years old and there is a toy that you want. No, not a toy you want, but a toy that you absolutely must have because is at the center of your very existence.

Now, imagine that it is just two weeks or so before your birthday, which is in the first week of October. And you have been promised by your father that you will indeed receive that toy over which you have been obsessing for months. Not only that, he has actually shown you the toy which he has already procured, but with the admonition that it simply isn't possible for you to take possession of it until your actual birthday.

Finally, imagine you are the above-referenced 8-year-old who, virtually every day for 10 days, right up to the week of your birthday, is forced to read in the newspaper that your dad has daily broken off a piece of the toy until it was ultimately rendered useless. Worse, one day, you are forced to actually witness dear old Dad do the despicable deed.

How do you think that would affect your 8-year- old self? More to the point, how do you think you might feel say, almost five-and-a-half decades later?

Suspicious? Betrayed? Resentful? Unable to fully give a loved one your complete trust?

Which brings me to the point of this piece.

The above metaphor (or is it a simile? Damn, after all this time, you'd think I'd know the difference) represents what happened to me in the early fall of 1964, when I was 8. The "toy" was actually tickets to the World Series, which my father purchased that September, when the National League, convinced the Phillies were going to be the Senior Circuit's standard-bearer in that year's Fall Classic, gave the team the greenlight to print, sell and distribute, tickets to their home games.

And before we continue, it likely behooves me to note that back in that ancient epoch, there were no playoffs or wild card teams. The World Series simply matched the NL pennant winner against the American League regular-season champ.

Throughout most of the 2017 NFL season, I'd made known on social media that I didn't expect the Eagles to get to Super Bowl LII, much less win it. I used as my rationale the fact that I had spent 54 previous seasons watching the Eagles not win a championship.

Because so many of my social media friends/followers are keenly tuned in to the human psyche (not!), they simply took my feelings as "typical Philadelphia negativity," and, in so many words, accused me of being a traitor to the cause and worse, of wanting the Birds to lose.

Nothing could be further from the truth, as I'd love to die one day knowing the feeling of having a Super Bowl parade in my city.

But after some intense self-analysis, I have come to realize that this has absolutely nothing to do with the Iggles. This is about the 1964 Phillies and the late-season, 10-game losing streak that still stands as the greatest multi-game choke job in sports history. What's worse, I had the awful misfortune of being taken to Game Seven (at good old Connie Mack Stadium) of that soul-incinerating streak by my dad, who obviously had no idea the lifelong repercussions his wonderful intentions would ultimately bring to his younger son (Phils' great Johnny Callison hit three home runs that day, but they still lost to the Milwaukee-yes, Milwaukee, not Atlanta-Braves, 14-8).

As has been the case for a generation of Philadelphians, those scars have never healed. No matter how good a local team looks, I cannot blindly give my very being to the cause of victory. Even more than five decades later, I still see the black cloud in front of every silver lining. All because of the '64 Phils.

So, I beseech friends and strangers alike, please don't hate me for the skepticism that is now embedded in my DNA. I didn't choose to put it there, and I couldn't excise it if I tried.

Rather than contempt, I respectfully ask for your pity as a survivor of a traumatic experience who continues to exist with the consequences of that long-ago, life-altering event.

Of course I want the Birds to bring home the Lombardi Trophy. But knowing what I know and seeing what I have seen, you'll understand if I don't allow my hopes to go off the rails. My default position for more than 53 years has been a pure defensive mechanism: It's better to expect them to lose and see them win, than expect them to win and see them lose.

I envy those younger than I who have embraced this season with boundless optimism and certainty that this is The Year.

But sadly, for me, 1964 will always be The Year.

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