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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Images Of The First Eagles Game Of 2006 And A Look Ahead

2005 is done, and now, fortunately, so is the 2005 Eagles' season. I went to the season finale, which reminded me a lot of summer camp athletics back in middle school - they tried really hard, but the bottom line is that the Eagles sucked and made so many mistakes that no amount of valiant effort would overcome their lack of talent. Six turnovers? Yeesh.

Anyway, you can get a recap of the game from any number of places, but you wouldn't get the real Eagles experience from my point of view. Luckily for you, I brought my camera to the game.

The temperature at game time was about 40 degrees, which, while nice (for Philly on New Year's Day), was still about half of what it was in Arizona last week when I went to the game with my mom. (I know that technically, the temperature was not half, so don't correct me on that, please.) To compare, here's pictures of me last week and this week at the game with my dad.

We weren't even in the gate yet when I found an Eagles fan who is so full of spite that he would rather customize a jersey to rip on a former player than buy a jersey of someone who is actually on the team.That's not taped-on lettering. He had that professionally done. And I'm not sure if those are his kids with him, but if they are, their first words may well have been "Dallas sucks."

Here, the Eagles lone Pro Bowler, Jeremiah Trotter, comes onto the field in pregame introductions. I was kind of hoping to see a Trotter Redskins jersey, but I didn't come across any. As I suspected, there were even more Redskins fans at the game than usual, since a lot of Eagles fans probably sold their tickets after the Birds were eliminated, and the 'Skins were going for a playoff spot. The Redskins fans were very glad to let us know they were there. I was sitting in the lower deck, and as one Eagles fan reminded this guy in our section, he was lucky he wasn't sitting in the upper deck. This guy, sitting a few rows ahead of us, was so damn irritating that I was rooting for the Eagles to score solely to shut him up.You can't tell from the picture, but he spent the majority of the game facing away from the field, smirking at the crowd and sarcastically clapping on the few occasions the Eagles did something right. He stood up for most of the game until an usher told him to sit down, which drew one of the biggest cheers of the day from our section. After that, he only stood up when he wanted attention, which was still the majority of the time - especially when the Redskins would score. That bastard has probably waited for six years to come up to Philly and taunt Eagles fans.

Another Redskins fan sitting one section over brought a sign that said "5 in a row or we don't go," which had been the team's mantra down the home stretch of the season. He held it up after every damn play throughout the first half - until in the second half, the guy sitting behind him got sick of it and took it right out of his hands, then threw it into the crowd behind him. The crowd cheered wildly and quickly turned the sign into confetti.

Eagles head coach Andy Reid isn't actually that fuzzy in real life, although his playcalling this season was. (Give me a break, my camera doesn't zoom that far.) He's looking at his BigColorChartO'Plays and thinking to himself, "Juqua Thomas? Who the hell is that? What happened to Hollis and Tra?" To his left is Dhani Jones, who is contemplating which movie he should review next for ESPN.com's Page 2.

Speaking of Jones, it was Fan Appreciation Day at the Linc, and the video screens promised over a thousand prizes to be given away (most of the thousand prizes were taken care of by giving an entire section coupons for ice cream). Several of the players - Ryan Moats, Jon Runyan, and Jones, along with a few cheerleaders - would read off the prizes and then point to their left, where the winning seat location was listed on the screen. Jones insisted on referring to himself as "Dhani Jones - you know, the man with the bowtie?" I think a linebacker with a career low in tackles, no sacks, and no fumbles forced this season might want to dial the ego back a notch...but that's just me. I'm a hater.

Anyway, there were a handful of decent prizes, like signed jerseys and the airline tickets that one guy won. There was also the $150 Forman Mills gift certificate that a guy won for making a great diving catch off his back shoulder after the first quarter, but that doesn't really count, because they have that contest every week. It was the best catch of the game, though. (You hear that, Billy "Hands" McMullen?) However, most of the prizes were of the sort that don't really set the Eagles back much. A visit to Merrill Reese in the booth? Well, cool, I guess...if you want to get a quick hello during a commercial break and then get shooed out of there. Then there was this prize:Uh, a Swoop Gram? I'm guessing this is where Swoop, the Eagles' mascot, delivers a message to someone for you. Now, this is probably the kind of thing that crazy fans would pay $250 for, but to the Eagles, how much value can it have? And really, if you're the average Eagles fan, what are you going to do with a free Swoop Gram? It's not like you can get him to make an appearance at a function - all you get is him to deliver a message. Basically, I see this as having some serious prank value, and that's about it. For example, you could have Swoop serve Jason Michaels with his next arrest warrant.

Anyway, the Swoop Gram wasn't the funniest prize to me, though. There's an old joke that begins, "Do you know what a Jewish dilemma is?" Incredibly, the Eagles gave out the punchline to the joke:Oh, man...

Anyway, the game itself was more or less exactly what I've come to expect from the Eagles this season, and considering the 6-1 turnover difference, it's surprising the score wasn't more lopsided. At least the crowd got to sing "Fly, Eagles, Fly" a couple of times today.
However, I think the Eagles may have missed the off-ramp to that road this year...

And so the sun sets on another season of Eagles football. As the Onion put it in one of their famous headlines, "Eagles Fans Long For Days When Inevitable Playoff Elimination Happened During Playoffs."

In all honesty, though, I'm very confident that the Eagles will be back strong next season. I'm not all that impressed with the NFC this year. The Seahawks? Bears? They don't strike fear in my heart, not if I can put a healthy Eagles team on the field against them. I have a lot of faith in Reid and Joe Banner that they'll find the right pieces to put us right back with the conference's best teams, which really aren't head and shoulders above the rest of the league (the 42-0 embarrassment on Monday Night Football notwithstanding). Ultimately, what did the Eagles in this season was a whole lot of bad luck. They had nine returning Pro Bowlers from last year; only four finished the season on the active roster. To give you an idea of how much scrambling the Eagles' front office had to do this season, consider the team picture that the Eagles handed out to fans leaving the Linc tonight. There are 68 players in the picture. 27 of them were not active for the season finale. That's 40 percent of the team from preseason that didn't finish the year on the field!

Those 27 players, if you're wondering: Correll Buckhalter (injured reserve), Sean Considine (injured reserve), Hank Fraley (injured reserve), Todd France (released), Paul Grasmanis (injured reserve), Todd Herremans (injured reserve), Alonzo Jackson (signed by Giants from practice squad), Justin Jenkins (injured reserve), Dirk Johnson (injured reserve), Jevon Kearse (inactive), Mike Labinjo (released), Reno Mahe (inactive), Jerome McDougle (physically unable to perform), Donovan McNabb (injured reserve), Terrell Owens (suspended), Todd Pinkston (injured reserve), Robert Redd (released), J.R. Reed (physically unable to perform), Greg Richmond (physically unable to perform), Lito Sheppard (injured reserve), Jason Short (injured reserve), Thomas Tapeh (physically unable to perform), Tra Thomas (injured reserve), Andy Thorn (practice squad), Jeremy Thornburg (released), Brian Westbrook (injured reserve), Scott Young (inactive).

Only four of the 27 were released, which tells me that the Eagles were forced to send guys out onto the field with whom they had no intention of making a playoff push. At the start of the season, the Eagles were not thinking McMahon to McMullen with a dash of Moats on offense, and Juqua Thomas and Trent Cole anchoring the d-line. (Although I must say, Cole has been impressive as a rookie. Hugh Douglas can keep his role as badassador.)

So fear not, Eagles Nation. The team will be healthy and ready to go next season. Remember, it's the NFL. Teams routinely have big turnarounds from season to season. In fact, the last time the Eagles had a losing record, in 1999, they began a string of five straight seasons with at least 11 wins the next season. And in the offseason, while the Eagles brass tinkers with the personnel and the players heal up, the Flyers are playing kick-ass, exciting hockey lately. Fly, Flyers, Fly!


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