Sunday, March 30, 2014

Scar Tissue

So it's a day later, and an awful lot of sports talk around my poker table, on the blogs and the radio, as the DeSean Jackson release permeates.

There is, of course, only one way for this to go now. Jackson must be vilified and marginalized, because he's no longer on the team. You can either stop being a fan of the team and follow Jackson to his new digs, or stay with the laundry you know. The middle ground of questioning the team's inability to get anything from this asset, or questioning why they were not capable of better management of their employee, is too nuanced. You are either with the team or with the guy who is no longer on the team.

At least, um, locally.

From 1999 to 2006, I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and kept my allegiance to my teams. It was such a better place to be a fan, particularly for the Eagles. Games started early, Howard Eskin did not exist, and I didn't have to hear people freak out when the team lost. Honestly, the best place to be a fan of your team is far away from your team; it will take at least 20 points off your blood pressure. And it gives you the outsider perspective you need to go beyond on and off.

And here's where I keep getting to: I can't remember a situation where a team that has no cap issues releases a productive WR1. Not sign a free agent? Sure, that happens, all the time. But just release him? Without an arrest, a career-ending injury, a contract holdout, or a pre-emptive retirement? It's, well, damn near unprecedented.

Unless, of course, you think about Terrell Owens. Or, depending on how far you want to stretch the visualization of WR1, Cris Carter.

So. 32 NFL teams. Three WR1 whiffs. All from one set of laundry.

Tangent time. Some times when I can't find a game on, I put the WWE on for background, and I like reading snarky columns about it, because when smart guys write about dumb things, it's usually a good time. The WWE is really good at finding out who the lifers like, and making sure that they don't win in the big events, usually from screwjob finishes, because that means they get them to come back, like Charlie Brown with the football, for the next event. It's an abusive relationship, and the individual athletes don't matter and never have, because the machine is always going to be here. And it makes me feel bad for the people who really need to see this stuff, because they are just going to be taking it for, well, ever.

Just like fans of actual sports.

When the Sixers traded Charles Barkley in the '90s, I hated the deal from the start. Barkley forced his way out of town with feuds with the local media, ill-advised three pointers (Chuck really never had a reason to hoist from there), and run-ins with fans. And we all knew why he was doing it -- because after so many years in town, he had lost all hope of winning with the other talent on the team. He was right. Barkley doesn't get his ring elsewhere, but he got to the Finals and almost took out Michael Jordan at the height of his powers, and he did it without hurting the rotation of the team he went to.

Ten years later, Allen Iverson got dealt to Denver, and while the circumstances weren't quite the same, they were close enough to bring the echoes... but it didn't hurt as badly as the Barkley trade because I had built up some scar tissue. This is my team; this is what they do. I'm not smart enough to stop watching or change teams, but I stopped marking out for them, and it's not like I go to a ton of games, or buy the merch. When they start trying and have a watchable team, I'll watch them again more often. They won tonight for the first time in 26 games. Good for them. Haven't watched much of them this year; I watch national league games instead, and care more about my fantasy team.

The Phillies' loss in the 1993 World Series was rough, but it happened at the end of a great year, so it's not like I was looking to stop watching the team right afterward... except for the fact that the key members of that team started falling apart with a quickness, which makes sense, given how much roid work and general instability was part and parcel of that blue snow team. By the time of the strike, the team had stopped trying to be competitive until they hijacked a new yard from the powers that be, and the strike was a big issue for me as well. I stopped caring, and haven't really recovered since; the A's are my club now. The World Series win was nice, and the loss against the Yankees was bitter, but only at a fraction of the earlier intensity.

As for the Eagles? I haven't missed a game in 35-plus years. I paid for satellite and went to sports bars when I couldn't get the game any other way. I've traveled to a half dozen road games. I watched the Super Bowl on a Tuesday afternoon in New Zealand. I've been completely on board with the Chip Kelly Era, and wanted him above and beyond all other options when the team finally pulled the cord on the Andy Reid Era.

And, well, I'm not going to stop rooting for them, or running a fantasy league. I'm going to be 45 in a couple of months. They've got me. If they didn't lose me for Norman Braman and Rich Kotite and Bobby Hoying and Mike Mamula and Danny Watkins and Various Detmers and Steve Smith and Patrick Chung, or the departures of Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins, Reggie White and Seth Joyner, they aren't losing me now.

But here's what doesn't happen.

I don't watch the games with my kids. I don't buy merch. I don't go to very many games (the ones I have gone to have been mostly birthday presents with my mom), and have turned down opportunities to go to others.

I'm not going to stop being a fan of the team, but I'm also not going to just drink the Kool Aid, or accept what the eternally compromised media says on fate. As smart as Kelly is, he needs speed to win; system guys like Jeff Mahel don't work here. And he just tossed his fastest WR, and one of the fastest in the league who actually has hands, straight to the curb for reasons that a better managed franchise doesn't have. 

I don't doubt that there will be more dirt on Jackson, as much as the team can supply third-hand to the media so that they can avoid a lawsuit. I don't doubt that he'll never be as good for any other team as he was here, or that he might have already had his best years. And if he had snapped a knee in training camp or suffered a concussion that knocked him out of the league for good, it wouldn't have affected the level of my fandom at all.

But this? This makes me numb. It makes me feel stupid for caring about the team, and care less. It makes me fantasize about not watching football at all, and start doing the math about what that would mean, in terms of time and money. It makes me think back to when I was a child, and the Eagles were terrible, and I thought long and hard about just becoming a Packers or Niners fan.

It makes me hate the fans that buy everything the team is selling, and the people who claim they aren't going to watch them any more, since that's also, well, bull crap. If they win it all without Jackson, Kelly and Howie Roseman are absolute geniuses and braver than brave and very few people will admit that they didn't hate Jackson forever...

Even when he was running that punt back against the Giants.

And if that makes me a bad fan, or a Jackson apologist, or some other marginalization of nuance...

Come back to me when your football team explodes WR1 for the third time in the last 20 years, when no other team has done it once.

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