Monday, September 12, 2011

Sunday in Saint Louis: Michael Vick Makes Opponents Quit, Even When He Doesn't Play All That Well

There was a 50% chance of rain this weekend in St Louis. It really didn't rain.

We flew on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. As far as I can tell at this time, writing this on the plane ride back to Philadelphia... nothing happened.

The Eagles have not won any of the four games that I've been fortunate enough to go to in this century. They won by 18 today, on a day where they seemed to be more lucky than good, but with the potential to be really, really good. So now I'm 1-4.

In short, just like everyone else, there are good and bad days to be me. Mostly good. And today? Today was pretty damned great. (Picks and fantasy? Not so much. Screw picks and fantasy.)

The day was sunny but not too hot, and as we walked the half mile down Broadway in downtown to the game, we saw maybe 10 to 15% of the fans wearing the Eagles colors; our nation travels, especially this year. Lots of doughy white guys wearing Vick jerseys, because nothing reminds you of once-in-a-lifetime elusiveness from the QB position like a doughy white guy. (To be fair, there's lots of DJ, Samuel, Asomugha and retro out there, too.) I don't wear the colors on the road; I am 5'-3" and in my 40s, and not interested in anything that will keep me from getting home in one piece to my family. Instead, I went for the Old School Tiger Woods red winning button down collared shirt, because Middle Age Man is always looking to make sure he's got a collar. You never know when you are going to have to slap on a tie and be managerial, dammit.

Downtown STL has lots of plywood, homeless, smelly horse carriage rides and Cardinals fans to go with some nice buildings and a walkable road plan. Honestly, it's very much more of a baseball town, and the home team sweeping the Braves to stay in playoff contention didn't hurt that condition in the slightest. When you walk into the Edward James Dome, you go up an escalator or stairs no matter where your seats are, and it feels much more like a hockey or basketball arena than a football stadium. But when you break out of the concourse and see the field, it's pretty good; I like domes and comfort, because I am Kitten Soft and don't enjoy rain or cold or wearing hats or sunblock. We were given miniature American flags on sticks because dammit, it's America, and made our way to the seats as much of the crowd came in late. Rams Fan has scars from many years of terrible football, and while he's enthused about this current team, he's on guard for disappointment, and never felt too confident of his chances in this game, even when the first four minutes went entirely his way. With cause.

A quick word about StubHub: it's stupid to spend this much on seats. A quick word about buying your seats before the lockout ended: that worked well. A final word about being up close for once in my life: good God in Heaven, the game is different there. Second row at the 22 yard line is better than any seat I've ever had for a game outside of high school, and the way the dome worked, we were still high enough to see over the players for much of the field and sidelines. Before the game we were wondering if a frightening Rams She-Beast (one of two seen on the day, this one was decked out in the fright makeup and an unholy amount of Beadazzling) was going to be in our field of vision all day, but when the game started, she migrated back to higher altitudes and life was better. The Eagles won the toss and elected to receive, and after a bad idea kickoff return, more or less started the season in our laps. The noise inside the place was pretty damned impressive; it reminded me of games back in Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, 20+ years ago, when I was part of the roaring throng, rather than a secret anti-fan trying his best to be polite.

The start of the game honestly felt like nothing I've ever experienced at a sporting event; it was more like being at the top of a roller coaster with the downhill in front of you, only with no idea where the track went. Michael Vick dropped back to pass, ran for his life from pressure to his left, and suddenly flashed in a forest of angry humanity right in front of us, and it felt like he was going to be killed in a direct line of sight from maybe 30 feet away. Your heart went into your mouth, and you wanted to somehow rush out there and make him safe, he was so damned close. And when you are right there, it's just an incredibly different fan experience, because you are supremely aware of just how damned huge everyone is. (And I do mean *everyone*. Hell, the pre-game band from the high school were all monsters, too. They grow 'em big in the Midwest. Of course, I am also basically a hobbit, but still. Stephen Jackson just standing on the sidelines looked like an Ent to me. OK, enough Tolkein.)

After sloppiness and too much pressure on the shaky O-line, the Eagles punted, and on the Rams' first play from scrimmage, Stephen Jackson went untouched from 50 yards out for the score, and I had that Disquieting Here We Go moment of having taken my mom to another loss. But by the end of the quarter, the road team had the lead they would never relinquish, and while there are massive points to fix before this can be called a great team, there are elements that are very good, and these elements are going to win games until they fix the rest. I hope. And even when they were down early, it just didn't seem like the Rams had enough talent to run out and hide, or make the Eagles play their "A" game to win.

The Rams explain "12th Ram" rules to the crowd on the Jumbotron, a pretty bush league deal where they go for crowd involvement with a slow clap before the kickoff, noise on defense, quiet on offense, chanting "First Down" and "Sack" for these events. Um, woo. Explaining these rules are guys and girls wearing spiked pads and face paint, because this proves um, something. So in the bathroom at halftime, with a six-deep line waiting to use the urinal, there was a guy in Eagles green winning friends and influencing people by starting up an Eagles chant. His road heat efforts were rewarded by one of the Rams guys in full face paint and regalia telling him the Eagles suck, and the enlightened debate continued until there was face to face shouting, a spilled beer, and both guys looking for the "Stop Holding Me Back!" pansy slapfighting techniques of the not nearly inebriated enough, or people vaguely aware of security cameras and personnel. The rest of the guys waiting to pee all shook their heads at each other, with the guy besides me saying, "Alcohol is a wonderful thing." to which I replied, "Makes you proud to be a football fan."

I like Rams Fan; he's a realist, and willing to suffer road fools with some degree of patience. I feel bad for him, like a decent guy at a poker table who is betting into my nuts hand. But I'm still going to take his money, because that's how the game is played.

In the second half, the Eagles slowly put the game away with backbreaking runs by Vick, and it was fascinating to watch the effect he had on the body language of the Rams' players and fans. Just this slow shaking of the head, respect noises where you know that they are just dreaming of what it would be like to have a guy like this in their laundry, and an Of Course We're Losing, That Guy Exists feeling. And the really frightening part of the game was that Vick wasn't even all that great. He missed some open receivers, showed no pocket presence on a sack and strip in the red zone (right in front of me again: that was less fun), and threw for under 200 yards. But when he does make plays, like one scramble when he seemed to sit down and spin to free himself from an oncoming flood before running for 20 yards... well, it makes people on the other side just want to assume the fetal position. The man's a witch, or illusionist, or shape-shifter; he's not human.

In the fourth quarter, Andy Reid finally dialed up some running plays, and Shady McCoy and the line screamed Whoopie and put this one on the shelf. The Rams lost Jackson, only good WR Danny Amendola, franchise QB Sam Bradford (who I really like, by the way; he played well today and had no help at all), and the sense that they are going to be a force in the NFC West. The Eagles left to the cheers of their Nation: we sang to them at the gun, though I kind of felt bad about that, since it just seems too rude to be good karma. And five-plus hours later, on an aisle seat in a jammed plane filled with people wearing the colors, it all feels good, like the start of a fantastic roller coaster that's just starting to pick up speed. Hold on, wave your arms in the air, and scream your heads off, folks. It's going to be that kind of ride.

No comments:

Ads In This Size Rule