PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It was never intended to be what it turned out to be. At least not the way it was originally mapped out. No, the “Dirty 30,” a busload of vociferous, somewhat inebriated Eagles’ fans, was put together on NFL draft day 1999 to show their support for the newest Eagle.
Instead, it became emblematic of the way Philadelphia sports fans behave when they rained down boos that mid-April afternoon at Madison Square Garden on Donovan McNabb, taken by the Eagles with the second-overall selection, behind top choice Tim Couch, chosen by Cleveland.
It’s an episode that’s always stuck with McNabb, as well as 610 WIP radio’s popular morning drivetime host Angelo Cataldi and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, then mayor of Philadelphia who publicly threw his vocal support behind the Eagles taking Texas tailback Ricky Williams with the second selection.
Well on Sunday, Cataldi is forming up the Dirty 30 again, only this time—they intend to boo McNabb, who will be wearing the enemy colors of the visiting Washington Redskins after 11 productive years with the Eagles.
With all eyes on Philadelphia this Sunday for McNabb’s return to Philadelphia, Cataldi felt compelled to get the band back together again and reminisce. What started as an innocuous suggestion for Andy Reid’s first draft pick as Eagles’ head coach spun into something completely different.
“The way things happened,” Cataldi explained Thursday morning in the WIP studios, “is the mayor called the station one day talking about how the Eagles should take Ricky Williams with the second-overall pick, and how it would be great for the city to throw their support behind it. We got moving and set it up. We got a group of fans together, rented a bus and were set to go to New York.
“But as the draft got closer, it seemed the Eagles were looking more likely to take a quarterback, probably one of the five available at the time [between Couch, McNabb, Akili Smith, Daunte Culpepper and Cade McNown]. No matter what we were doing in our support for Ricky Williams, it looked like the Eagles were going to go that route. Then it began looking more and more like they were going to go with McNabb. I went back to the mayor and asked him what we’re going to do about this. Rendell was in a mad scramble to stop the rage fans would have over not hearing Ricky Williams’ name called that day. He was telling the fans not boo. We were stuck. We already put the quarter into the machine.”
The wheels were set in motion for what turned out to be arguably one of the greatest marketing promotions in the history of sportstalk radio. But McNabb bore the brunt of it, as did Philadelphia. When NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue called McNabbb’s name with the second pick, a torrent of boos fell on him, further tainting the national reputation of Philadelphia sports fans. Expect to see the clip and the story to be rekindled a half-million more times as Sunday’s Eagles-Redskins matchup draws near and the national media clamors for any morsel that will stoke the love-hate relationship McNabb has had with Philadelphia.
Rendell, meanwhile, has been trying to do damage control ever since. “I did want Ricky Williams, I saw him with the potential of a Gale Sayers or a Bo Jackson,” the Pennsylvania governor and avid Philly sports fan admitted. “Williams never reached his potential and we were wrong. I urged people not to boo, to show some real class. Donovan turned the Eagles into perennial contenders. He did everything we asked him to do. Donovan deserves our loud, thunderous ovation on Sunday. Let’s get out there and show our appreciation for him. I was wrong, and so were the Eagles fans who booed him that day and through the years.”
This time, however, the boo rally won’t be a spontaneous reaction, but a choreographed boofest orchestrated by the reluctant maestro who put the first McNabb boo chorus together, however accidental it was.
“We didn’t intend to do anything wrong, we really didn’t,” said a contrite Cataldi, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-nominee when he was sportswriter for The Philadelphia Inquirer. “We weren’t driving a 100 miles both ways to boo the newest Eagle. Now as I wind down my radio career, I’m going to be remembered as the guy who got 30 big fat puking drunks together to boo McNabb—not as an articulate journalist who contributed something.”
Then Cataldi paused for a moment and grinned, he admitted the McNabb pick wound up being better than Williams, who underachieved while coping with a number of “side issues” that also stunted his career growth.
So now new wheels will be spinning again on Sunday, 11 years later, and will feature an interesting cast of characters that will come in all different shapes and sizes, led by a partially blind man called “Coma Jim” who was actually once in a coma and resembles the John Belushi character in Blues Brothers (we’re not making this stuff up). Cataldi will be leading the chaos again as the piped piper, along with a circus caravan that includes a Michael Jackson impersonator, a man on stilts, an accordion player, various entertainers from local adult clubs, and they’ll all be marching down Pattison Avenue at 2:30 and convening on the Spectrum steps.
All to do one thing—and intend it this time—boo Donovan McNabb. It’s something Cataldi and his loud group relish.
“I don’t like Donovan McNabb, because I always felt he was a phony,” Cataldi said. “He’s always been passive-aggressive, which doesn’t resonate well with the fans of this city. That’s my problem with him. We never connected to the fans in this town. They only wanted one thing from McNabb, a championship. Look at those great Flyers teams of the 1970s. They won championships and never had to buy another dinner in this town again. With all that talent, McNabb never delivered.”
On Sunday, a menagerie of Eagles’ fans that should certainly exceed more than the “Dirty 30” will deliver the Redskins’ No. 5 one last throaty booooo.
Reported by: Joseph Santoliquito