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By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There was a time when the Eagles commanded the sports soul of this championship-starved city. Anything and everything “Eagles” was pertinent, from one of its stars doing situps in his driveway to how much weight Donovan McNabb gained in the off-season.
But something happened along the way to the Eagles’ plan of Philadelphia sports world domination: The Phillies won the 2008 World Series, staunching the city championship drought at 25 years. Just like that, the city’s passion swung like a pendulum from one side of Pattison Avenue to the other.
Now listen to the talk. Hear the buzz in the air? Feel the anticipation rumbling as training camp begins this week in Andy Reid’s most important season in his 14 years as head coach?
The Eagles have once again grabbed the sports soul of Philadelphia.
The pieces are certainly there for a great 2012 season. Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans was acquired from Houston. Defensive lineman Fletcher Cox fell into their lap in the first round. Team cancer Asante Samuel was jettisoned to Atlanta. LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson are fat and happy with new contracts.
After a record 102 victories in 2011, the Phillies 2012 season has been hugely disappointing. The greatest era in the history of the franchise may be nearing an end.
The Eagles, however, have managed to transition from McNabb to Michael Vick, surrounding him with the greatest offensive firepower in the team’s annals.
Face it. After about a three-year hiatus from the eye of the Philly sports storm, the Eagles are back.
Expect overflow crowds at Lehigh this summer. Despite the Eagles finishing a dismal 8-8 last year, many experts see the Eagles somehow usurping the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the NFC East.
There are, however, some gaping questions that will need be answered if the Eagles will indeed hold the city’s fickle interest: Can Michael Vick duplicate what he did in 2010, when he led the Birds to an 8-3 record and threw 21 touchdowns, against six interceptions? Can free agent-acquisition Demetress Bell spell injured All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters? Can Juan Castillo’s defense play the way it did an entire season, as it did the last four meaningless games of 2011? And what will happen if Vick, who’s only played one full season, in 2006 before he went to prison, goes down?
No one knows. Not Reid. Not his coaching staff. And regardless of what they might like to think, the so-called expert prognosticators don’t know either. Those queries will need to play out as the season progresses.
There were a lot of expectations entering last season, and remember what happened? The Eagles had a sieve defense that couldn’t hold a lead, losing three-straight games in the fourth quarter, had its season over within the first five games, drooping to 1-4. Remember Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch looking like Earl Campbell ramming through the heart of the Eagles’ defense on national TV?
Some major queries need to be answered before the Eagles can truly be embraced as the city’s darlings again.
The Eagles have experienced limited success under Reid. He’s had only two losing seasons and guided the Eagles to nine playoff appearances in 13 years. It’s a volume of work that looks shiny and beyond reproach. Though really all it’s done is produce promise.
Under Reid and owner Jeffrey Lurie, the one and only promise this franchise has not kept is the promise to win a Super Bowl. Fans grew predictably tired of “almost” and grew fatigued by the teases in another NFC Championship blunder.
Meanwhile, a great nucleus that the Phillies built across the street snuck up on the world and captured the 2008 World Series and a city’s undulating devotion with it. This year, they’ve sunk to last place, and making the playoffs and playing deep into October appears highly remote. The sellouts are still there—as they should be—applauding a memorable team that will always be fondly remembered.
But the side-door has been reopened for Eagles’ Nation to plant its flag atop the sports consciousness of the city. The Eagles want a human steamroller for a fan base, leaving other teams in its wake. Let’s see if it can stay there by delivering on high expectations.