Healing Philadelphia (The Miracle Of Dougie P. & Nick)

Nick Foles scoring on The Philly Special

@MtAiryPhil

In the beginning they were one. They came from the industrial hardscrabble streets of Kensington, from the heavily Italian enclaves of South Philadelphia, some walked up from the North Philadelphia communities of the “Valley,” Brewerytown and Nicetown, others arrived via the trolley’s that connected West Philly to Lehigh Avenue via Girard Avenue and the Strawberry Mansion Bridge. They gathered on Sundays to watch their Philadelphia Eagles at the old Baker Bowl in 1933, Municipal Stadium in 1935 and on to Connie Mack ’40, Franklin Field ’58, Veterans Stadium ’72 and finally their current sparkling state of the art home, Lincoln Financial Field in 2003. They were one, and they expected their team and the players who donned the Kelly Green and White to reflect the personality of the city. Tough and gritty, unyielding, never too tired or busy for a good fight win or lose. That the Eagles did. While not always aesthetically successful, (aside from the 48-49 consecutive NFL Titles and the 1960 team that conquered the young dynasty of the 60’s Packers), the Eagles were a celebration of mediocrity. Still the city gathered en masse to root as one for their Philadelphia Eagles.

I don’t know when the poison set in. I don’t know why the great divide. I can point to many reasons and we’ll examine those. Suffice it is to say, the fan base that turned on their TV’s Sunday night for Super Bowl LII, the faithful that traveled to the frostbitten mecca of Minneapolis and those Philly expatriates who viewed from afar were no longer the unified base that represented EAGLES football and swore undying allegiance. There were fractures, formed of years of just not being enough, unable to take that final step, to stand along side their NFC EAST DIVISION RIVALS on the grandest stage clutching Mr. Lombardi’s trophy. But this fan base needed healing, and for this surgery to be successful, and unification to occur, it was gonna take a championship. Nothing less would do.

What is this poison you ask?

It’s not always apparent. Difficult too to recognize the symptoms. Yeah, you’ll hear the delightful, often drunken recitation of the fight song, iconic in and of itself, sung with fervor at ANY event or venue in and around Philadelphia at any moment. It sounded of unity and never felt divisive, and nationally the Eagles fan base was viewed as a singular gang of things, not to be tarried with, but there was ALWAYS an underlying air of division borne of memories of past disaster, terrible draft picks, bad management, near bankruptcy, and the Andy Reid Era that begat Chip Kelly and bubbled over into a schism that would rival Game Of Thrones for it’s complexities.

There was the House of “Tradition.” Those Eagles lifer’s now creeping up on their 9th decade who remember Pete Pihos, the consecutive NFL Title shutouts and clung to the idea that this Eagles team and it’s players didn’t appreciate the opportunity the NFL afforded, seeing today’s players as ungrateful mercenaries bonded only by paychecks with the same signature.

There were the Rozelle Kids, those who watched the legendary Chuck Bednarik level Jim Taylor and deliver the NFL title to Franklin Field in the fall of 1960, still lamenting the trade that dispatched Hall Of Fame QB Sonny Jurgensen to the Washington Redskins and began a spiral of losing that would last over a decade and accompany the franchise to their beautiful new Veterans Stadium home, illuminated by “Snowball Santa” as the legend goes and a 42-3 Monday Night Football loss memorable only for the fact that the Eagles actually faced a 3rd and 49 and graced by fans circling the Vet carrying an inflatable dog bone to let the team know exactly how they felt about current roster.

Nick Foles and head coach Doug Pederson calling for “The Philly Special”

Then there was the Era Of Hope, those of us who met Dick Vermeil and his “rah rah” college coach enthusiasm that would infect the Delaware Valley and the locker room. That would carry a group of overachieving athletes to the brink of the world championship in 1980, only to experience that joyless Sunday in New Orleans that saw Ron Jaworski throw three beautiful passes (albeit to Oakland defenders) on the way to a heartbreaking defeat to a team they had defeated just weeks earlier. The Vermeil era would end with him crying “burnout” amidst an aging locker room and a roster mostly bereft of talent and not enough resources (due to trades for veterans) to replenish. This calamity would be further exacerbated by the near loss of the franchise to Arizona when the team’s owner and shepherd, Leonard Tose, would gamble away his fortune in Atlantic City and narrowly avoid legendary infamy when Norman Braman bought him out with a pledge to keep the team in South Philly.

See where I’m going with this? Enough scars yet?

Well, this patient is going to get sicker and the symptoms more dramatically visible as the team would move into the era fondly known (by some) as “Buddy Ball.” Nothing Philadelphia had experienced in sports had prepared us for James David Ryan. Blustery, boisterous, and braggadocios, Buddy arrived to take over a moribund talentless roster that he would mold into arguably the NFL’S best defense of it’s time, accompanied by the mercurial talent of Randall Cunningham at QB, yet this team would not win a playoff game despite all the accolades Buddy would receive, and he would be ignominiously sacked in ’92 for Rich Kotite and the spirit would begin anew and with the birth of sports talk radio, create a further and deepening fissure among the fans that had begun to wonder, “will it ever be our turn” and now had an outlet to place blame, excoriate management almost daily and vocally, and finally, denigrate each other for their thoughts, ideas, and reasons why we hadn’t reached the promised land of Mr. Lombardi’s trophy and the accompanying parade.

These factions were dug in now, and the pain and division would deepen as a procession of great players abandoned ship in the 90’s led by Hall Of Fame DE Reggie White, perennial All-Pro’s Seth Joyner and Keith Jackson, and lesser lights yet major contributors like Clyde Simmons, Eric Allen and Keith Byars made their departures without either compensation or replacement.

There was a light at the end of the ’90’s tunnel however, his name was Andrew Walter Reid, and he arrived along with the new QB Messiah, Donovan McNabb, to breathe life into this city. Andy Reid would ignite the fuse of the football fury with repeated forays deep into the NFL playoffs, yet would start the worst fire among the fans with his seeming unwillingness to yield to the obvious, his intractable nature and style would create the biggest and most visible wound in Eagles Nation to date. I won’t tell you how it ended. You already know if you’re reading this.

Pain and suffering.

Sleepless nights after burning and inexplicable, very often unexplainable losses versus lesser opponents, most of them at home that often left the city stunned and defeated as yet another dagger was driven deeply into our collective sports psyche, hearts, and minds. Some will say that the loss in Jacksonville at SUPER BOWL 39 was the backbreaker, the moment the fan base went into total divide as the EAGLES stood frozen in time and memory watching the clock ticking away on a season and game that seemed destined to bring home the title so thirsted for by the faithful.

I won’t go into the debacle that was the brief yet memorable reign of Chip Kelly. By now you’ve probably thrown you’re IPAD, chucked the newspaper, cancelled your subscription, and are wondering why I’m reminding you of the pain of this journey to Super Bowl LII and the miracle of Nicky Football, the football David who slew Goliath, squashed the dynasty of BELICHICK and BRADY, destroyed the Evil Empire of The House Of Kraft.

Yes, there was a healing Sunday night. Dougie P and “The Prodigal Son” Nick Foles performed a surgery unseen before in the history of this world. They reunited a fractured, wounded, often left for dead city of Eagles fans and their communities. There is no way to devalue what Doug Pederson and a stand-in QB accomplished in Minnesota. Today, we are one. No more sleepless nights. No more taunting by fans of the other NFC EAST franchises. Stand down, all of youse! Today, we are one. Doug Pederson and Nick Foles healed 58 years of suffering with 3 hours of unmatched tenacity, daring, and fearlessness that can’t be quantified in words.

But you can feel it. The city feels it. We can breathe. Today we are one. Again.

I don’t believe we’ll ever sink again to the depths that Dougie P and Nicky Football rescued us from. Hopefully not, that took nearly 60 years to accomplish. All I know for sure is that today, we are one. Wishes do come true. Even in Philadelphia, where for 58 years, our football dreams came to die. Thank you Doug. Thank you Nick. Thanks to my compadres amongst the faithful who rode this thing we live “til the wheels fell off” and beyond. Welcome to the recovery room. The surgery was successful. Let the healing begin.

@MtAiryPhil

“The Philly Special”

 

The Finale from Legends Of The Dome

 

Legends-of-Dome-320@thelegendkil

ST. LOUIS, MO

The Legends of the Dome flag football game lived up to the hype and then some. The score of the game didn’t matter. There were plenty of hugs, handshakes, and tears shed last Saturday in what was our last time ever stepping in that building to watch football. One of the best moments was the player introduction and I stood right by the tunnel as every single St.Louis Rams player was announced. And I swear it gave me goosebumps watching those guys run through that fog for the last time. It was great catching up with some of the former Rams players like Roland Williams who videobombed me on the field as I was interviewing Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

One of the biggest cheers was for Hall of Fame tackle Orlando Pace who was honored at halftime at midfield with his family. 101 ESPN Randy Karraker delivered some heartfelt words for Pace who makes his home here in St.Louis. Pace also was taken on the golf cart and waved to the crowd of over 10,000 people and thanking them for support and love.

Some of those guys still look like they can play today. Former Rams cornerback Dre Bly came over to me on the sideline and said,”Please pray for us cause I’m out of shape.” Keith Lyle told me after the game that he hopes this event continues. I think we should try bowling or softball from here on out,” said Lyle. Then he paused for a second when I reminded him it’s hot as can be outside. You right bowling it is, said Lyle as he bent over in laughter next to Jeff Wilkins who was sporting an ace bandage on his foot he tweaked his ankle. Wilkins quipped,”Man this is going to mess up my golf game.”

I also got a chance to interview several prominent figures from the Greatest Show on Turf including Mike Martz and Dick Vermeil. You can watch those interviews on St.Louis American Youtube channel. When the game was over and they started turning off the lights I was still standing on the field and then a stadium employee told me I got 12 minutes to leave. I didn’t want to leave yet. I got so many memories from the double overtime loss to the Carolina Panthers, seeing Larry Fitzgerald first game, or seeing former Big Red wideout Roy Green who was my all-time favorite when I was a kid. As I was walking down that long hallway past the locker rooms for the final time I saw D’Marco Farr we looked at each other and I said,”this is it man I can’t believe it.” Farr shook his head, “I know,” he said.

Bittersweet it was, and maybe this will stoke the fire once again for the NFL, it’s going to take some time for the wound to heal. But, I appreciate what Isaac Bruce continues to do for the city of St.Louis and help provide a chance for all of us to have some closure on the Rams no longer being in St.Louis and this town returning back to a two-sport town again. For more coverage please subscribe to our Youtube page at STLAmerican/Video and you can also follow me on twitter @thelegendkil @NTheZoneShow @NTheZoneNetwork

 

The Legends Of The Dome

Greatest Show On TurfST. LOUIS, MO

@thelegendkil

Despite the fact that the Rams left St.Louis for Los Angeles there will be at least one football game played downtown inside The Dome At America’s Center (formerly Edward Jones Dome). Former St.Louis Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce is hosting a flag football game featuring members from the “Greatest Show On Turf” era like Kurt Warner, Orlando Pace, Ernie Conwell and as well as coaches Dick Vermeil and Mike Martz.

The event takes place on July 23rd with the kickoff at 2:00 PM with the gates opening up at 12:30 PM. There will be a pre-game autograph session for premium ticket holders from 11:00 AM-noon. Tickets go on sale on April 21st at 10:00 AM at www.ticketmaster.com. Individual tickets are priced at $15 and $20. Premium tickets which includes on field autograph sessions limited to 1,000 tickets are going for $100.

I’m glad that this event is taking place because, despite everything that has transpired over the last year and some change. And it’s always good to see when an athlete of any sport comes back to St.Louis and continues to contribute to the community. But this isn’t anything new about Isaac Bruce. He has always made it a point to give back to the St.Louis community. And that’s just as commendable as his Hall Of Fame career as member of the Rams while they were in St.Louis. Bruce started his foundation in 2006 which put an emphasis on health, wellness, nutrition, fitness and education. This is what else Bruce had to say in a released statement: “We’re excited about being able to bring together a bunch of the Greatest Show on Turf guys and other Rams greats to be able to thank the incredible support over the years,” said Bruce. “We want to fill the dome up one more time and really show what an incredible sports city St.Louis is. We have the opportunity to raise a lot of money for the Isaac Bruce Foundation which we can then pour back into this great city and it’s real exciting.”

And there is excitement already on Twitter from Rams fans that still remain. One fan by the name Lezlie is planning on driving all the way up from Springfield, Missouri and bringing herself and four others along for the ride. Another fan Terry said,”I’ll be there! Last chance to tailgate and see our St.Louis Ram heroes.”

For more information about this upcoming event you can contact Tiffani Burris tiffani@isaacbruce.org. And for more on Isaac Bruce Foundation visit www.isaacbruce.org. Information on the Legends of the Dome event including confirmed players and coaches can be found at http://www.legendsofthedome.com.

Follow me on Twitter @thelegendkil

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The View From Mt. Airy – 04-02-2016

FB_IMG_1458263571898“That could never happen here.”  Ask any loyal, green bleeding die-hard fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, the answer will be the same. Could the NFL franchise which has existed in some form here since 1933 ever leave? Impossible, you’d think. Rabid fan base? Check.  4th largest TV market? Check. History and tradition? Double check! Yet, as I’ve watched the St. Louis Rams snatch the NFL outta Missouri and head for LA, I exhale and thank the sports Gods, because that was supposed to be us. Yup. The Eagles, Cardinals, and now the LA RAMS are forever enjoined in a power play that ultimately left only the Eagles unscathed.

1984. The NFL season is winding down, the Eagles are a desultory 6-9-1 just three seasons removed from a Super Bowl loss to the Raiders. Dick Vermeil has exited the stage, in a sobbing press conference where he describes himself as burnt-out by the 7 day a week grind of coaching in the NFL. Some would say he abandoned ship after trading the future for the present, leaving the Birds bereft of draft picks and under the stewardship of Marion Campbell, who I don’t think will ever be confused with Hank Stram. Whispers around the city begin. Owner Leonard Tose is 42 million in debt and is considering selling the team. No problem, most think, new owner, new money, new beginnings for a franchise badly in need of a fresh start. Then the word gets out that the new money is a Phoenix real estate mogul named Monaghan who has no intention of staying in Philadelphia. The Eagles hold a press conference where a sobbing Leonard Tose tells the city, “The Eagles will NEVER leave, they belong to you as much as they do to me.” This soothes the masses for as long as it takes an enterprising reporter to learn that his daughter, team President Susan Fletcher, is in Arizona finding schools for her children. Ultimately, the Eagles would stay. Saved by a combination of Tose’s inability to withstand a long and threatened legal battle, a sweetheart of a new stadium lease and additional luxury suites, and finally the sale to Norman Braman for 65 million (43 million went straight to the casinos, they’d get the rest later) and Leonard Tose would die penniless in 2003, his only means of support being Dick Vermeil, who supported him financially for nearly a decade.

But Bill Bidwell saw the money, infrastructure, and thirst of the Arizona desert and jumped into the breach, taking the Cardinals out of St. Louis to Glendale in 1987, leaving the city without NFL football for 8 seasons until the Rams would arrive to save the day. I apologize. I couldn’t help it. But know that I feel for the people of Missouri who lost jobs, lost professional relationships, but most importantly, lost the investment of their passion and souls to a carpetbagger who I don’t believe ever had the intention of staying, or even negotiating the future of the franchise in good faith. So it didn’t happen to us, but it was close. That’s enough for me to root for a quick return to the NFL for St. Louis. I think it happens. Build a stadium. Share it with an MLS franchise. There’s not one in America losing money today. Give both teams the same name. Target a return in 2021. Meanwhile we’ll root for the LA team to play like the St. Louis version did for the past few seasons. Forever.

You can find me each week on N The Zone. You can follow me on Twitter: @MtAiryPhil