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Journey adds to joy

Posted by Eric Fisher On February 8

The journey has come full circle. The 2017 season started with Eagles fans flocking to Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the NFL Draft, creating an atmosphere unmatched in draft history. And the season ended back on the Parkway with an emotional ceremony at the end of an epic championship parade.

But the journey actually started many years ago. For some Eagles fans, the journey started in 1960, which is the last time the Eagles won a championship.

For others, like me, the journey started later that decade, around the start of the Super Bowl era.

When I was 2 or 3 years old, my parents bought me an Eagles helmet. The only problem was that I wouldn’t take it off – even when it was time to go to bed. My parents would have to wait until I fell asleep to remove my Eagles helmet. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

What I didn’t have to be told is that I grew up an Eagles fan. My parents, in this case mostly my Dad, raised me right. The Eagles were pretty bad when I was younger, but I learned the importance of loyalty and sticking with my team.

My story is probably similar to many other Eagles fans around my age. I remember the thrill of the Eagles becoming contenders during the Dick Vermeil years. And I remember the agony of the Super Bowl XV loss to the Raiders, an event made even more painful because my high school basketball team had lost in the semifinals of an out-of-state tournament earlier that day. We had hoped that the Super Bowl would lift our downtrodden spirits. Instead, our Super Bowl “party” had the atmosphere of a funeral parlor.

I remember the thrill of the Eagles hiring Buddy Ryan, whom I had watched build a Super Bowl defense while I was in college in Chicago. And then I endured the pain of watching Ryan’s first Eagles team as I shared season tickets in 1986. In the home opener, which was Game 3 of the season, the Eagles fell into a 33-0 hole against the Broncos before avoiding the shutout in a 33-7 humiliation. It couldn’t get any worse than that, but it didn’t get much better. Among the lowlights of that dreadful season were a 13-11 loss to the Lions – the Eagles’ points came on three field goals and a safety – and a 10-10 tie with the Cardinals in which Eagles kicker Paul McFadden made 1 of 3 field-goal attempts and Cardinals kicker Eric Schubert made 1 of 4 field-goal attempts. (My recollection is that McFadden and Schubert both missed field goals in overtime.)

But 1986 was also the season in which the Eagles added linebacker Seth Joyner and defensive end Clyde Simmons, drafted in the eighth and ninth rounds, respectively, to a defense that already featured Reggie White. The Minister of Defense had 18 sacks that season, so the season wasn’t a total loss.

The Ryan years were entertaining, and the defense was incredible, but the Eagles didn’t experience any playoff success.

Some younger fans, approaching middle age by now, joined the rest of us for the Kotite years. Those seasons were entertaining for different reasons than the Ryan years, although Rich Kotite did something that Ryan couldn’t do with the Eagles – win a playoff game.

Ray Rhodes, who replaced Kotite, also won a playoff game. But his tenure featured fans arguing about which quarterback was the best, and the choices were Rodney Peete, Ty Detmer and Bobby Hoying.

Andy Reid restored the Eagles to respectability, if not greatness. But a new generation of fans joined us old-timers for the frustration of losing three straight NFC Championship games. The Eagles finally broke through the conference championship barrier the following season, but lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX.

The Eagles only returned to the NFC Championship Game one more time during the Reid era, losing a heartbreaker to the Cardinals at the end of the 2008 season. After that defeat, the Eagles didn’t win another playoff game until this season.

By the end of Reid’s tenure, some fans were so desperate for a winner that they placed all of their faith in a fast-talking con man named Chip Kelly. After a promising start, Kelly crashed and burned, leaving fans’ emotions tattered and scattered.

But that long journey, regardless of the station at which you jumped onboard, is what made this year’s Super Bowl triumph so much sweeter. Nick Foles spoke this week of his personal journey and how mistakes have helped him grow as a quarterback and as a person. It’s a similar situation for Eagles fans, whose thirst for victory has grown with each year in the championship-less desert. But Eagles fans spent 17 more years in that desert than the Children of Israel did after fleeing Egypt before they reached the Promised Land.

As center Jason Kelce said during his passionate (and profane) speech on the Art Museum steps Thursday, “hungry dogs run faster.” Eagles fans were hungry for a championship. And that’s why we witnessed the outpouring of emotion Thursday on the confetti-laden streets of Philadelphia.

The Eagles’ season came full circle Sunday on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. I didn’t get there in person, but, emotionally, I was right there with the crowd.

And when I go to bed tonight, I can look off to the side of the bed and see the Eagles helmet I refused to take off before I went to sleep 50 years ago.

No, I don’t wear the helmet to bed anymore. It hasn’t fit on my head for years. But that helmet will always signify the start of my journey with the Eagles. A journey that finally felt fulfilled with Super Bowl LII and a championship parade.

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