[Editor’s note: this is a guest submission from friend of Bleeding Green Nation, Dr. Trevor Strunk.]
Act like you’ve been there before.
It’s that classic line people like to yell at their TV when a young phenom hits a no-doubt home run and flips the bat thirty feet out of the circle or when a speedy wide receiver does a backflip into the endzone after streaking by the deep safety. Usually someone getting a little gray around the temples will harrumph and complain about athletes these days and complain that they’re just too cocky and show off too much. “Act like you’ve been there before,” they say, meaning “it’s a job like any other, don’t celebrate when there’s so much more to do.”
To me, this has always been curmudgeon stuff, a way for parents and grandparents to sublimate their anger at the younger generation through anonymous sports stars. It’s not really a saying that carries a lot of weight when these players have been there for, probably, a decade plus at various levels. Despite his youth, I’m sure Vlad Jr or Patrick Lindsey has been there before. But that’s not always true of the fans.
OK let me explain: obviously we’ve all been fans forever, more or less. I think by and large when you’re looking at a subset of Eagles fans in 2019, you’ll have a few bandwagon jumpers — which welcome, hello! — but probably more 10-to-20-to-50 year old lifers. We don’t live in a city that’s really a media hotbed, and as much as we love them, the Eagles are not nearly as relevant to the average fan as the hated Pats or Cowboys. We’re a fanbase that’s primarily made up of people who grew up in the area, as kids of someone from the area, or big Princess Di heads who made up their NFL mind in the early 90s jacket moment. And we’re also a fanbase with a pretty central and worked out identity: fiercely loyal but deeply critical hard-luck losers.
That identity changed a bit in 2018. I’ll go ahead and let you look up the score of Super Bowl LII, on your wall in the place of pride where your various Bibles, family pictures, and massive fish used to hang. Yes, the Eagles finally got over the hump in the same year that they finally got a great coach and a franchise QB. No, they didn’t go back to back in 2019, but they again made the playoffs and made some serious noise and it’s clear this front office and this team plan to be perennial contenders in a way we haven’t seen since Reid-McNabb. Oh, and as a reminder, they won where those two didn’t. So hard-luck losers we ain’t, not anymore.
That uh…hasn’t kept us from acting like we are. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to chastise the Philly fanbase; I am of you and love you all, anger and rough edges and all. And I’d never say we have to stop being fiercely loyal — Mac’s letter to Chase Utley is perfect because it’s real. But we need to stop being so incredibly defensive every time something even slightly rubs us the wrong way.
Last year, for instance: the Saints mocked the Eagles ski-mask routine and called them a “bunch of fraudulents,” after an offseason interview where Alvin Kamara said that they’d have killed the Eagles in the 2018 playoffs. We all, myself included, reacted predictably — we yelled and screamed about how this made the Saints the least likeable team in the playoffs not wearing blue and silver. We railed about how they didn’t respect us and how we were underdogs again and “we all we got we all we need” etc etc. And, in retrospect, we kind of looked like the Pats did when they complained about “being underdogs” in the Super Bowl. Like spoiled winners who insisted they needed to be the protagonist of the league every year. In reality, the Saints haven’t won in over a decade, and after the Minnesota comeback in 2018, they absolutely needed some fire. Was Kamara a bit rude? Yeah, probably, but that’s how people come at you when you’re the king: hard and fast.
Want something more recent? How about Michael Bennett wanting more money after last year? He said something along the lines of “sure, I love Philly but the cap situation isn’t great there and I’m not taking a pay cut.” He didn’t do situps in his driveway. He didn’t eat lunch in his car. He didn’t even reference Santa Claus or d-cells or whatever else is in the book of 50 Cliches Sportswriters Use About Philadelphia. He just said that, money being what it was, he probably wouldn’t be back in Philly. And lo and behold, he wasn’t. It was the kind of transaction that, if you’re the Patriots or the Rams or some other high-performing team, doesn’t really warrant a shrug. Guy joins team (in this case via trade) and hopes to win a ring. He doesn’t and tries to go to another team that can pay him to win a ring. When you’re Michael Bennett’s age — and Chris Long’s age for that matter — you play each year as a hired gun. But a lot of us didn’t see it that way:
That’s a series of responses to a tweet about Bennett wanting a raise — some weird reactions to his pending bizarre legal case aside, and some calm Eagles fans notwithstanding, this was pretty standard. “Screw you,” we all said, “you never were a true Eagle anyway.” But really who cares if he was? True Eagles were a way we had of making championships from nothing: we had Dawkins probably going into the Hall well before we had a Super Bowl. We had Concrete Charlie and the 92 line and Randall before he went to the Vikings. And those served well when we didn’t have a Super Bowl! But now we do, and we don’t need to keep obsessively collecting True Eagles. I hope we have some on this team; I know we do in Jason Peters and Brandon Graham. Probably in Malcolm Jenkins and Lane Johnson and Zach Ertz and Carson Wentz too. But backing guys like that up are one-year guys who are gonna come in looking to win and move on. When they move on — and they will — it’s more sour grapes for a fanbase desperately clinging to relevance to complain about their loyalties. Save that for the Cowboys fans in your life.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: we were a fanbase with its share of disappointment and disaster, and we still are. The history of the team doesn’t change just because they won one. But if Super Bowl LII was the catharsis that we all describe it as, then we have to leave it changed in some way, or else we risk becoming the spoiled Boston sports fans we all despise. The Eagles climbed the mountain and nothing is going to take that away — no amount of trash talk, or fluke tweets, or free agent departures. Let’s stay loyal to our teams, but let’s allow a bit of grace and wisdom too.
After all, we’ve been there now — why not act like it?