In various sports media this week, I’ve seen the suggestion a few times that when former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb returns to Philadelphia this Sunday, fans there will boo him. I suspect, and certainly I hope, that this will prove an absurdly pessimistic view of Philly sports fans (whose reputation for sourness is deserved, overstated, and in a perverse way a kind of badge of honor which they are constantly trying to justify by bad behavior). Few Philadelphians would really argue that McNabb helped usher in a decade of success for the Eagles, and is empirically the best quarterback the franchise has ever had. He rarely got them over the NFC Championship-game hump, true enough, and never won the big one, but the Eagles won far more games because of McNabb than he lost for them. Indeed, thinking about the offensive weapons the Eagles have now, versus their receiving corps during the 2002 and 2003 seasons, it’s a wonder McNabb got the team as far as he did with James Thrash, Todd Pinkston, and Freddie Mitchell catching balls. (Remember that before McNabb went south to D.C., Thrash did—and on a Redskins team that consistently finished behind the Eagles in the standings and, especially, in offensive statistics, he couldn’t hold on to a receiver spot and was relegated to the special teams.)
And yet, my loyalties on Sunday will be clear and firm. I will be thrilled to see Trent Cole and/or Brandon Graham (or the thrilling new addition Darryl Tapp) bury McNabb, or Asante Samuel step in front of a pass. (Or it would be swell if Nate Allen, whom the Eagles drafted with the second-round pick they got from Washington in the McNabb trade, intercepted McNabb.) I worry about what Washington tight end Chris Cooley might do, covered by the Eagles’ suspect linebacking unit (although Cooley is on my fantasy football team, so you might say my loyalties are divided in this area). But on the whole I am confident, and looking forward to the game for the reasons I usually do: I expect a decisive and satisfying Eagles win.
Two sports-related posts within a single (sports-related) post!
As a kind of follow-up to this post, on the woeful Pittsburgh Pirates, some recent stuff in the news about the team and, especially, the reasons for its awfulness:
–A Slate article asking the question, “Should the Pirates Spend Money to Win Ballgames?” and looking at the ins and outs of how they’d even go about doing that. Fascinating tidbit:
“Sabermetricians . . . have figured out ways to determine how much an individual player’s performance contributes to his team’s victories. Correlating those performance metrics to actual market prices for free agents shows that it costs management something like $5 million to purchase each additional win. (For example, by signing a $10-million-quality free agent, a team might improve its record by two games.)”
It does present more of an obvious dilemma for the Pirates’ ownership, as well as casting attention back on the greater disparities among large- and small-market teams within MLB.
Then again, if you’re feeling overly sympathetic, you might look back to the revelations that provided the impetus for the Slate article: leaked financial documents showing that the Pirates, among several other teams (most egregiously the Florida Marlins), made bank despite being among the worst-performing teams.
Moving over to football, I should say by way of preface that there’s only one professional team whose doings I give a fig about: the Philadelphia Eagles. The much-maligned, long-suffering, beleaguered Eagles.
Yet also the perennially in-contention Eagles. It’s true that, at this time of year, hope springs eternal for all 32 teams. Hope seems to be springing a bit too forcefully for the Eagles, by my estimation of their chances this year. Having dealt Donovan McNabb in favor of back-up and heir apparent Kevin Kolb, they’ve been tabbed by many to go through a rebuilding phase this year. I mostly agree with that: I have them finishing in the 8-8 or 9-7 range, and think it’s more likely they’ll finish a game or two below that than above it. And to that I say: That’s life. It’s rare that any team can rebuild on the fly, and still maintain—in spite of what I’ve just said—the chance to surprise people and remain a playoff contender.
That said, I’ve been cheered by reports like this ESPN profile and this Peter King column item that say Kevin Kolb is the real deal. I love that he’s getting this kind of praise, and that by all accounts it’s coming from inside the locker room. But I’ve periodically felt the need to throw cold water on myself, because buying into this sort of sports reportage feels like a shortcut to some kind of jinx: there’ve been so, so many big-money rookies and (as with Kolb, third-year) heirs apparent who’ve been similarly pumped up and anointed, only to fail dramatically or quietly, but in the end to fail, and to slump away into obscurity. Philadelphia, certainly, has had no shortage: Shawn Bradley and Mike Mamula are the first names that come to mind.
I don’t expect failure from Kolb. It’s just that, on the hype versus realistic-attainable-results spectrum, I don’t want to raise my hopes quite so high, at least not yet.
With that said . . .