My dad was born on January 25th, 1941. He has been, I’m sure – throughout his life, wrong in many cases. But I honestly can’t say I remember nearly as many cases where he was wrong as he was right.
As I speak with my friends around the country, this seems like a time honored tradition between our generations: father to son, having constant disagreements on what’s happening in the world based on our complete gap in generations and time. Generally speaking, we see the world differently because we’ve lived in different worlds; plain and simple. Our fathers experienced many things that we never have and maybe never will:
The Civil Rights movement.
A draft. (no, not the NFL draft. That will be an article for another time)
My father was an enlisted man in the Navy. He spent his time gazing at the stars from the deck of an aircraft carrier in the south pacific around 1960, and later worked his entire career as a foreman rigger at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. My dad was 41 when I was born. I was his 3rd son, from all different marriages and relationships, and due to our gap in age and lived experience – there wasn’t a ton we connected on when I was a kid other than our love of music (which we had very different tastes in) and sports.
My main sport as a kid was ice hockey – which my dad never got into until I started playing it. For as long as I can remember, the thing we bonded over the most was football.
It really began in the 1999 NFL draft when our beloved Philadelphia Eagles selected Donovan McNabb #2 overall behind the Browns and Tim Couch. A move that drew ire from the Philadelphia faithful – who desperately wanted running back Ricky Williams to anchor our franchise for years to come. They boo’d Donovan at the draft; what should’ve been a telltale sign of my inevitable future defection as a fan of the team and city – but the Andy Reid era was off and running. Philadelphia built a winning program, and went from laughing stock to competitive franchise for the next 20 years.
Prior to my falling in love with football, I remember the most heartbreaking moment for Philadelphia Eagles fans in the Buddy Ryan era of the 90’s: losing hall of fame pass rusher Reggie White to the Green Bay Packers in Free Agency.
I remember sitting in a pizza joint with my dad and older brother Craig when the news broke.
“This Free Agency thing is going to ruin the damn sport” – my dad bellowed.
He was right. He might’ve been early, but he’s right.
I think it’s why I have such an affinity for Alex Jones. He reminds me of my dad in some ways. No matter how wild or over the top my dad’s perspective has been over the years, time often proves him right.
Fast forward to the 2016 NFL draft. The Eagles make several moves in the draft to expunge the Chip Kelly experiment, move up in the draft, and place themselves in position to draft another franchise cornerstone at #2 overall: Quarterback Carson Wentz.
It felt like the Andy Reid era all over again. We were about to be competitive – but this time – finally get over that NFC championship bridesmaid slump and win one.
And we did. In 2017, on the back of an MVP regular season by Carson Wentz, and a playoffs for the ages by journeyman backup Nick Foles – the Doug Pederson led Eagles finally brought home a Lombardi trophy in 2017-2018.
I cried in my living room watching it happen. I wasn’t able to watch the game with my dad, but was able to FaceTime with him and my family at the big moment – and it’s the most emotional I’ve ever seen my dad since the day my mom left.
All I wanted for my dad before he died (don’t worry, he’s still alive and kicking!) was to see the Eagles win the big one, and they finally did.
4 years later – none of the people I mentioned (critical to their win) are with the team.
That’s the business side of the NFL though, right? Players have long joked that NFL stands for “Not For Long,” considering the average NFL player busts out of the league after 3 years. I can honestly say that number surprised me, because it wasn’t that way when I was growing up.
Donovan McNabb was our QB from the time he was drafted in 1999 until 2007 – when he was traded to the Washington Redskins for picks. The Eagles had a young QB to develop in Kevin Kolb that they liked, and a recently vindicated Mike Vick on their roster to sink their teeth into. After losing 3 NFC championship games and a Super Bowl, the Donovan McNabb era was over in Philly. But it felt like the right time. It wasn’t long after that Andy Reid himself moved on to another program, to pursue the ever-elusive SuperBowl title that he wasn’t able to capture in Philly. He won one himself in 2018 with the Kansas City Chiefs. Good for Andy.
The firing of Andy Reid, and only a few years later Chip Kelly marked a change in philosophy for the Eagles which had started echoing throughout the league in the Not For Long mindset. It felt like we jumped through hyper space from “what have you done for me lately” to “if you haven’t won a title today, you’re dead to us.”
It sounds absurd, right? The idea that these “Franchise Cornerstone” players could be immediately perceived as expendable is NOT what we grew up with. You pick your guys, and you win with your guys. Or you lose with your guys. But they’re your guys.
There are no more “your” guys. Because they’ve always been their guys.
I loved Ice Hockey my entire life – but I stopped watching entirely in the early 2000’s. Prior to the CBA being re-worked around the NHL lockout in 2005, the games had become unwatchable. The product was slow, the players were old, and they constantly jumped from team to team in pursuit of Stanley Cups on Dynasty teams. They’d go to the highest bidder each offseason, dick around until the deadline, and then take a trade to the Red Wings, Stars, and Devils – who dominated the NHL playoffs and landscape for over 2 decades. There was no loyalty to a team or fanbase anymore, which turned me off from the game entirely.
It’s happening rampantly in football now as well. Players go through free agency to the highest bidder, only to jump ship at the deadline to a contender in pursuit of a Super Bowl and eventually more money. On the flip side, it would seem, every team that doesn’t hoist that Lombardi trophy at the end of the season spend their offseason gutting their roster, clearing out their front office, and torching their coaching staff.
The Eagles won a Super Bowl on the back of Carson Wentz’s season in 2017, and when he struggled in 2 consecutive seasons due to a roster plagued with injuries and a mediocre coaching staff – he was jettisoned faster than you can throw a yellow flag on the field.
Red Sanders once said “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” But is that truly why we watch?
I’ve been lucky enough to get to meet these players. I have friends that played and play in the NFL. My buddy Carl Spitale (co-host of my sports podcast Big Uglies) was a Division 1 lineman. I’ve gotten to meet these mammoth athletes and understand them as real people, and I can honestly tell you that for me – winning isn’t everything. In a time of unprecedented access to these players, as fans we get to know them intimately. We meet their families (even if it’s just through Instagram). We see their charitable works. We fall in love with them as people and not just players.
For all my years in business, prior to diving into my comedy career full-time, I managed people. I didn’t have a college degree, or tons of experience. All of my success was built around my ability to coach people well. I listened to their needs, I listened to what was important to them, and I married their vision for themselves to the vision for our business. When they struggled with people on their “roster,” I would always challenge them in this way:
“You hired this person because you saw something in them – and if you’re not getting it out of them, maybe that’s because of you and not because of them.”
This kind of personal accountability has seemed to evaporate overnight in the NFL, which was bannered this offseason by the QB carousel around the league of star players chasing money and championships. Russell Wilson demanded he be traded so he could win more. Deshaun Watson dodged criminal charges in his sexual assault civil cases – making him a highly sought after upgrade for teams – ultimately landing in Cleveland: a franchise mired in loserdom for a half century before Baker Mayfield pulled them out of the gutter and won them their first playoff game in decades.
Where is he now? Packing his belongings and looking for a new home.
This lack of loyalty to players makes sense if organizations win. But when they don’t, it has to make you wonder if they have any principles whatsoever. I’m buying my 3rd new team hat in 3 years as a Carson Wentz fan. Is it because he sucks? Subjectively, man casual football fans will say yes. But he was a top 10 QB last year, and his thanks was a prompt “get the hell out of town, you not-super-bowl-winning-immediately loser.”
I don’t know how I’m supposed to rally around a franchise that obviously doesn’t CARE about their players. Because in my mind, if they don’t care at all about the guys on the field, what do they honestly think about me? A dumb fan that’s never taken a snap in my life?
This kind of mercenary, win-at-all-costs mentality of the NFL has me completely turned off from the sport, and I’m not the only person that feels this way. I have so many friends now that won’t watch NFL football because of their obvious bias to their corporate partnerships and interests and causes. The game become about everything except the game.
Because it’s not a game any more, it’s a product. A product’s primary goal is to be sold. Doesn’t even matter if it works, or has any really redeeming value. If it sells, it must be good. That’s the presumption.
That’s the instant gratification society we have created with technology, social media, and the era of influencer millionaires: it doesn’t matter if you’re good at something – you just have to be able to sell it.
And that my friends, is how we end up with trash TV shows, terrible movies, and an un-watchable sport on Sundays.
As I finished typing this – Matt Ryan was traded to the Colts from the Falcons, whom he led to a Super Bowl 4 years ago. Can’t wait to see who he plays for next year after they don’t win a Super Bowl again. Just today Tyreek Hill was traded from the Chiefs to the Dolphins.