Won’t get fooled again?
There was a moment on Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field that captured what it’s like to be an Eagles fan. It didn’t happen on the field, it was not recorded by cameras, I’m sure, and I doubt it was noticed by anyone but me.
The Eagles were leading the Browns 22-10; about six minutes remained in the third quarter. Carson Wentz, in his debut as Eagles quarterback, had just floated a 35-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor, the kind of throw that his predecessor, Sam Bradford, had struggled with.
The building felt like it was swaying, and strangers were hugging and high-fiving and screaming unintelligibly. Whole sections of the upper deck were competing to see who could scream “E-A-G-L-E-S” louder. An unopened bottle of water soared like a missile down from the upper reaches of the stadium, narrowly missing the young fan quietly occupying the aisle seat next to me. That was odd enough, but it was not the moment I’m talking about.
Amid all the exultation and exhortation, the game had resumed. I noticed a middle-aged man sitting in front of me, in the first row of the section, a few seats to my right. He was wearing an Eagles hat spun backward, his graying sideburns peeking out. He leaned forward in his seat, silent, hands folded over his mouth. It looked, almost, like he was praying, except with his eyes locked in a thousand-yard stare. It was a pose you’d expect from someone whose team was losing by 12 points in the third quarter, not winning.
I thought to myself: That is what it’s really like to be an Eagles fan. It’s not a franchise for the faint of heart. And it hasn’t had many days like Sunday. Yes, the opponent was the bumbling Cleveland Browns, who had a couple of very Browns-like moments (including calling an aimless direct snap on fourth-and-five from their 41).
But the Eagles had not started a rookie quarterback in the season’s first game since 1939. This is not a team with a history of success with rookie QBs; in fact, entering Sunday’s game, rookies had won only 11 games for the Iggles in the modern history of the league (in other words, since 1950). Several QBs (Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson come to mind) have won that many, or more, games in their rookie season alone.
And consider: Wentz had thrown only 24 passes in the preseason before he broke two ribs. Not to be forgotten is that he started only 23 games in college, and that was at North Dakota State.
But the kid had himself a day in front of about 70,000 fans at the Linc. On the opening drive, his second throw appeared to be wide to the right but was caught one-handed by tight end Zach Ertz as he spun to the ground, turning a looming third-and-10 into a first down. The play was huge, especially after Jordan Matthews’ drop of Wentz’s first-ever pass gave fans flashbacks to last season. It was the first of 22 completions for Wentz, (37 attempts) for 278 yards and two touchdowns in a 29-12 win.
Sitting in the 21st-century version of the 700 Level, I got the sense that a lot of fans were holding something back, though. They’ve seen too much in recent seasons — the departure of Andy Reid, the rise and fall of Chip Kelly, the turnstile at the quarterback position — to get smitten easily. They won’t get fooled again, or so they think.
I can only conclude that’s why that fan was watching Sunday’s game so intently. Like all of us, he’s seen too much over the years to get his hopes up, at least just yet.
I’ll be looking for him in two weeks, when the Eagles host the Steelers. But win or lose, I don’t expect him to be smiling.