Adam Reger | Pittsburgh Writer, Editor, and Teacher

Pittsburgh writer, editor, ghostwriter, and teacher.

Tag: Philadelphia Eagles

Brief Menu Item Reveals Inescapability of Steelers Football in Pittsburgh

From the weekly menu of Zenith, a great vegetarian-restaurant-cum-vintage-store in the south side neighborhood of Pittsburgh:

POLAMALU (need you to play) WRAP

BLACK BEANS, RICE, PINEAPPLE, YELLOW  PEPPERS, COCONUT AND ONIONS IN A SPICY TROPICAL SAUCE WRAPPED IN A FLOUR TORTILLA

If this were just “Polamalu Wrap,” you could suspect the scrawny vegetarians at Zenith of pandering to Pittsburgh’s well-known obsession with its NFL franchise, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The revealing touch here is the parenthetical plea to Troy Polamalu, the Steelers’ otherworldly, locally beloved free safety, to get back in the game. (If you want to know why Polamalu is beloved, among other reasons, check out either one of these videos of him diving into the crowd during the Steelers’ 2005-06 and 2008-09 Super Bowl victory parades.)

If a Washington, DC vegetarian-restaurant-cum-vintage-store served the “Orakpo Wrap,” I’d similarly suspect those pale, feckless herbivores of pandering to that town’s football crowd. But if they served the “Orakpo (Really Going to Miss You) Wrap,” I’d be impressed, as I am in the case of the Polamalu Wrap, and surprised. You just don’t expect the same level of casual football knowledge among residents in other cities. Here, it’s sort of de rigeur. (Orakpo, by the way, is Brian Orakpo, linebacker of the Washington Totally Racist Team Name. You may recognize the name from his appearances alongside a caveman in these Geico commercials. He was injured this past week and will miss the rest of the season due to a torn pectoral muscle. I’d never cheer anyone’s getting injured but Washington fans’ loss is the Philadelphia Eagles’ gain.)

Steelers fanship in Pittsburgh is serious and widespread enough that it’s spawned a sort of backlash contingent of people who sniff and tell you, in the same tone they might use to inform you that they never watch television, and in fact don’t own a television set at all, that they don’t follow the Steelers, or football in general. Among fans of other teams, too, there’s a sort of common response of despising the Steelers and rooting against them. (A few weekends ago I was in Cleveland for the Eagles’ home opener against the Cleveland Browns. On the way out of the game there was some mostly calm discussion between Browns fans and Eagles fans (who were, in total, surprisingly numerous there in (the refreshingly named) Cleveland Browns Stadium), and it turned out one gnarled, hard-living couple in Eagles jerseys was from Pittsburgh. “We hate the Steelers, though,” the man said hastily to a guy in a Browns jerseys. His female companion turned and nodded that this was so. When they got outside, the two men shook hands and the Eagles fan, in parting, raised a fist and said, “Let’s both beat the Steelers this year” and they were joined in solidarity re: beating the Steelers. (This year teams in the NFC East play those in the AFC North, so the Eagles and Browns will indeed both be playing the Steelers.))

More telling, though, is the number of people you’ll find in the supermarket during Steelers games (which I watch part of, usually; if I’ve gone through the drama, the heartache and/or euphoria, of a Philadelphia Eagles game, I have no more patience or emotional energy to then watch the Steelers as well). You would think that Giant Eagle would be a ghost town during the game, but enough people have made the same simple mental calculation—All those sheep will be inside, glued to the tube, rooting for their ‘Stillers,’ drinking their ‘Ahrn City,’ etc., I’ll have the run of the place!—that it’s often no less crowded than it is on a Saturday morning, or midway through the evening on a weeknight.

The backlashers, people who hate the Steelers or who are indifferent but nevertheless organize their Sundays around the team, have always seemed to me to be caught in a simple binary trap: love the Steelers or hate them, they still seem to know exactly when the game is on, and to plan accordingly. Steelers football is just kind of the water you swim in in Pittsburgh, which is a crucial difference between the sports culture here versus nearly anywhere else.

AWP Post-Mortem: What Was That?

This past weekend I went to the annual conference of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP, though obviously it would more accurately be “AWWP”) in Washington, DC. It was fun. I got to see some great writers read, among them Stephen Elliott, Nick Flynn, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Amy Hempel, and Gary Shtyengart. I got a good, large dose of Richard Bausch, who is as entertaining, wise, and funny in person as are his stories. (Actually, he’s way funnier than his stories, which rarely “work blue,” in contrast to the man.) And I dropped in on a couple panels preoccupied with my own preoccupation, making a living as a writer (while not giving up on my personal, creative work).

But as I made my way back to Pittsburgh, the dominant feeling was something like “So that was AWP.” Kind of a flat feeling, like “Why did I do that again?” My hope for the conference was that I’d come out of it hungry to write, inspired by what I’d seen and heard. And while that sort of happened, to a greater extent, it didn’t.

I’d been to AWP once before, three years ago when it was held in New York. But in some ways I considered this my first conference because in New York I slept on a friend’s air mattress up in Queens, and it seemed that my days divided neatly into AWP Time and Friend Time. AWP Time featured panels and perusing the tables at the Bookfair. Friend Time began with a subway ride north, and was centered more on bars and strip clubs, with not as much overlap between the two as you might expect. In the time between conferences, I’d come to understand that a lot of AWP’s value stemmed from networking, and that a lot of that was done outside of panels and the Bookfair, at off-site events and over drinks (though never, that I’ve heard, at off-site events hosted by strip clubs, or over watered-down strip-club drinks).

My first reaction to the “flat” feeling mentioned above was that the trip was a waste of money and time (during which I got zero writing done, it bears mentioning). I opined to my traveling companion that it would have been better to do a writer’s retreat kind of deal, where a part of each day was spent actually writing.

That’s probably true, but in the fullness of time—two days later—I think that such a reaction misunderstands AWP’s purpose. I have a friend from grad school whose AWP schedule was positively packed, and the reason is that he attended a few of those writer’s-retreat deals—Breadloaf, Sewanee—and met a lot of people there. AWP’s function seems more to refresh those connections.

And/or to solidify them. My roommate, Sal “Chugg-a-Lugg” Pane, knows a lot of literary people only by way of the internet. It was interesting to see him talking with people in person whom he’s “known” for some time, but never actually met. (These observations also served to bring home the fact that a lot of literary people are quite awkward in person.)

These are incomplete thoughts, but when an experience feels flat or vaguely unsatisfying, it’s usually useful to think about why that is, and whether or not you’re “doing it” wrong. (Heh, heh.) I didn’t do AWP wrong, exactly, but it was less than it could have been. The way to do it, it seems to me, is to use AWP as a meeting space for old friends, understanding that it’s not going to help your writing transcend previous limitations, but, if done correctly, it might help you renew your commitment to the writing life.

Seemingly Unrelated Addendum: The writer Pam Parker (whose blog, Finding Meaning with Words, is well worth your time), is a Green Bay Packers fan and jokingly suggested some kind of wager between the two of us (as the Packers just played the Pittsburgh Steelers, my local team, in Super Bowl XLV). Nothing came of it, but in the spirit of friendly sports-wagering between writers, I thought I should acknowledge this “rivalry” and give Pam a small shout-out for having backed the winning team. Congratulations to the Packers, who also mowed down my real team, the Philadelphia Eagles, en route to becoming champs.

(This addendum is related, in case you are wondering (and still reading), because the Super Bowl was the culmination of my long, eventful weekend—i.e., I was home for maybe 90 minutes before kickoff—and thus the conference and the game are tightly linked in my mind.)

“Miracle” at the New Meadowlands

They are calling the Philadelphia Eagles’ 38-31 win over the New York Giants the game of the season. Others are calling it “a ‘where were you?’ game.”

I can answer that question easily. I was at home, not watching the game; by that point, I’d given up on the Eagles and decided to save myself the agitation of watching them play out the string while surrounded by annoying Steelers fans streaming into the sports bar where I was watching. (By way of background, I’d been getting more and more irritable throughout the game, beginning when the bar I was at, Silky’s in Squirrel Hill, decided to play the Saints-Ravens game with sound on, despite the dozen or so visible Eagles fans in the bar. I asked if the sound for the Eagles could be turned on, but was told it wasn’t possible. It’s not a big deal, except that Silky’s has done a brisk trade among Eagles fans all the time I’ve lived in Pittsburgh, and you’d think they would occasionally throw these patrons a bone, at least in this circumstance. The Steelers were not on until 4:15—none would dare ask that a Steelers game take second fiddle—and there were no fans in evidence watching the New Orleans-Baltimore game (presumably to “scout” the Ravens, or just to root against them). This resulted in the mildly absurd phenomenon of Ray Rice running up the middle for two yards on first down, with Dan Dierdorf calling it, and a bunch of cheers ringing out throughout the bar as something important happened in the silent Eagles game. I’m venting too much here, I realize, but it’s literally true that my first year in Pittsburgh, you could often hear “Fly, Eagles, Fly” after an Eagles touchdown. This is free extra money every Sunday for Silky’s, but their management seems not to realize it or not to care. If I owned a bar that was inexplicably patronized by a dozen loyal Broncos fans every Sunday, I think I might go with it.)

In any event, the Eagles’ first offensive success came with 3:56 left in the third quarter. Not “too little, too late” by any stretch, but the next couple possessions would determine whether the Eagles would come back or fall short. The Eagles held serve for a few possessions, and then, on a promising 30-yard pass play, DeSean Jackson fumbled. Replays of the fumble showed Jackson being touched by a Giants defender, falling to the ground, and the ball popping out, in that order. A slam-dunk reversal, especially for Andy Reid, a man who’s never been afraid to throw the red flag out on the field.

Except in this case; the cameras caught Reid standing with the flag beside the referee, holding it, holding it . . . surely about to throw it, right? The cameras moved back to the field, where Eli Manning was about to take the snap. Certainly Reid wouldn’t let them get the play off; a referee would run onto the field, waving his arms, blowing his whistle (silently, for those of us in the bar) and announcing (silently, again) that Philadelphia was challenging the ruling on the field that the play resulted in a fumble.

But no. Manning took the snap and handed off to Brandon Jacobs. Every Eagles fan in Silky’s—more of them than I had realized—groaned and yelled and cursed. I’d already settled my bar tab, already had my coat on against the draft. I couldn’t believe what a gutless and/or ignorant call Reid had made, so I left.

I’ve been kicking myself, of course, watching the highlights—especially the footage of DeSean Jackson winning the game, a moment that made me (and lots of others) think of this similar winning moment, courtesy of the great Brian Westbrook—and wishing I’d been a true fan and stayed ’til the bitter end. I’m quite sure, though, that if I were still in the bar several plays later, when Eli Manning threw to tight end Kevin Boss for a touchdown to make the score 31-10 with about eight minutes left to play, I would certainly have walked out then.

(Postscript: the similarities to the Westbrook game-winner are particularly eerie for me because I can remember suffering through that game—the Giants led 10-7 for the longest time, and the Eagles couldn’t do anything offensively—and finally deciding to pack it in. My Dad and I had to be at an aunt’s house for some kind of holiday event, and we figured we’d better get on the road. So we were driving, listening to the radio broadcast of the game, and caught Merrill Reese’s great call of Westbrook breaking free along the sideline to score. In that instance, at least, I can remember where I was when the play happened. For most of the scores on Sunday, I was sitting at my computer, clicking “Refresh” on Sports Illustrated’s play-by-play update, and have no idea exactly when any of these last big plays went off.)

59 Points

I am late to the scene, as usual, but this past Monday night my Philadelphia Eagles lambasted the Washington football club with the racist team name to the tune of 59-28. (Although Washington’s 28 is slightly misleading because the Eagles were up 35-0 before Washington did anything at all.) They set a bunch of team records, and their 45 first-half points were the most by a visiting team in one half in the history of the NFL.

Moreover, this was an intra-divisional match-up, a rivalry game, and it followed Washington’s 17-12 win over the Eagles on their home turf (which caused me to stop blogging about the Eagles, after this overconfident blog post prior to the game).

So you’ll understand when I say that watching this game was very, very sweet. Nick Paumgarten of The New Yorker wrote on the website about missing the first quarter of play, but this summed it up: “As an Eagles fan—as a fan of anything—you don’t get many moments of unadulterated bliss.” That’s what this was, from that first, 88-yard touchdown strike to the last touchdown, an interception returned forty yards for a touchdown by the rising star Dimitri Patterson (who also helped shut down Reggie Wayne and the Indianapolis Colts).

Interestingly, a moral or at least an emotional dimension of the game has emerged since the final gun sounded. During the broadcast, there were a few shots of pre-game scuffling between the teams, in particular Washington safety LaRon Landry jawing with Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. It’s since come out that Landry and cornerback DeAngelo Hall taunted Jackson, who missed a game three weeks ago with a concussion, by making “go to sleep” gestures. (As in, you know, we’re going to knock you out.) And Eagles center Mike McGlynn has accused Landry of spitting in his face during point-after attempts.

The spitting thing may be bogus, though the NFL is investigating, but I haven’t heard anyone dispute the “go to sleep” taunts. Various Eagles have as much as said that the pre-game taunting fired them up. It’s just piling on at this point to say that Washington deserved the drubbing in some sense, but it is an interesting case of bad behavior being punished directly on the field.

And it ties in interestingly, if maybe tangentially, to the whole Michael Vick storyline. I tend to think that what I’ve heard of commentators drawing in his dog fighting crimes, and the difficult ethics of rooting for a convict, are a bit of a stretch. My feeling is that he did his time, and that to continue to say “Yes, but . . .” sort of undermines the idea that we can be rehabilitated. (Although I suppose that, if the narrative being spun by sports commentators is that Vick is on a road of redemption, calling back to his misdeeds is perhaps fair enough.) But I mention this just to acknowledge it; you’d have to be pretty dense to talk about justice, and bad guys getting theirs, when the avenger himself has a pretty spotty past.

Eagles QB Situation Summarized via Autotune

Shifting Loyalties; or, Imperfect Revenge Storylines in Eagles vs. Redskins

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

More Sports (Pan-Pennsylvanian Edition)

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 . . .

E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles!!