There’s this thing that happens when my favorite football team has clearly lost its game. I can spend the whole time they’re on the field yelling, clapping, covering my face with my hands, bouncing my knee, standing, swaying, leaning forward on the couch and generally being ridiculous for reasons that affect the outcome not at all… but when they’re obviously going to lose and there’s just no way to avoid it, there’s a consistent phenomenon that comes over me: I fall completely silent and go completely still.
For those of you who don’t follow football, don’t watch the Eagles or hate them with the passion that only a Giants fan can summon (right back atcha, by the way), the Birds started out the season horribly. They beat the Redskins in the opening salvo of Monday Night Football while my poor demented neighbor, Miss Ella, seemingly locked herself out of her house (not really – the back door was open – but my three friends who summoned me didn’t realize that). After that, though, the team finished the first half of the 16-game regular season with a pathetic record of 3-5 and such inconsistent play that nobody knew what it would take to get them on track.
Miss Ella was taken to a nursing home weeks before they got out of the basement of the NFC East. She passed away right around the time Mike Vick pulled a hamstring.
And then everything changed. The neighborhood got a lot quieter and the Eagles got a lot better.
Nick Foles, a second-year, second-string quarterback who had only started five games in the NFL before the midway point of this season, came in to take over for Vick… and all of a sudden, the Eagles had an offense. The second half of the regular season, with Vick suited and watching supportively on the sidelines, they went 7-1. Though every blasted game made me nervous (a symptom of a lifelong allegiance to the team), they managed not only to wrap up the regular term with more Ws than Ls—they also wound up beating the Dallas Cowdung… I mean Cowboys… to confirm their spot atop the NFC East conference and head to the playoffs.
Nevermind that the NFC East has been the weakest conference in the NFL for a few years now.
And so we came to last night. Me, alone on my couch after guests had left, because you really shouldn’t watch a consequential Eagles game with me, lest your opinion of me as a woman and a person in control of herself change dramatically. I had taken off the shirt I’d been wearing earlier in loyalty to a college team and was waiting anxiously to see if I was going to have to put on my Eagles t-shirt. This is the first time in my life I’ve ever owned any Eagles merch, and it had proven magical a few weeks before when, while decorating my Christmas tree and unable to see the game because it wasn’t being aired in my market, my sister was texting me play-by-play and told me to put the shirt on in the 3rd quarter when the Eagles were down by two TDs. Exactly one minute after I’d donned the shirt, the team scored, and began their comeback to win. In the ensuing weeks, I hadn’t had to wear it – though I thought about it – because it was clear it could only be used if the Eagles were down in the 3rd, and that hadn’t happened. They were precariously close to losing their lead more than once – and even in the game preceding the Cowboys matchup, when they were up 40 – 11, I wasn’t sure they’d really win. (They eventually did, by 43 points.)
As a fan, the last thing you want to do is screw up your team’s performance by putting on their shirt at the wrong time. In the immortal words of whoever wrote the Bud Light commercials: It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.
But last night, in the third quarter, the Eagles suddenly found themselves trailing. Eighty years as a ball club have demonstrated that when they’re down at this point in the game, they’re not getting back up. The only time I can remember when that hasn’t proven true was the week I put the shirt on.
Ding went my cell phone, signaling a new text message.
Sister 2: Put the shirt on.
Me: Literally just got off the couch to do it.
A tense few minutes of play later, it was obvious that there was some sort of disruption in the Force.
Me to Sister 2: Maybe they don’t know I put my shirt on.
Sister 2: Maybe you should take it off and put it back on.
Me: That’s unprecedented. I fear the potential fallout.
I held firm. Sure enough, it started to work. I didn’t feel a tingle and nothing started to glow, but as I sat bolt upright on the front half of my couch cushion through all play and commercials, bladder and thirst (in diametric opposition) be damned, the team started to come back. It started to look like they might do this thing. They wound up in the lead: 24-23. My hands hurt from hard-clapping.
And then the Saints got the ball with a few minutes left in the game. They weren’t passing. Drew Brees, their annoyingly illustrious quarterback who is two years younger than me and who I remember watching at Purdue when I was in undergrad in Ohio and my friends attended there, was running a ground game. They had decent field position and, perhaps most critical of all, a ground game the Eagles couldn’t seem to stop. No interceptions possible. Less chance of a fumble forced by a hard hit, or of stripping the ball from a receiver’s hands as he tries to control it. First down after first down (could the Eagles not hear me yelling at them not to let the Saints convert?), and exactly the right amount of time on the clock to go the yardage needed. There was no way the Eagles were going to get the ball back without committing some serious penalty that would cost them yardage. The Saints had previously mounted an effective defense run by former Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan’s evil son, Rob, whose eyes, I swear, shoot lasers sometimes. Now with the ball, they could run the clock down, get themselves into good field goal position, kick an easy one and win the game by two.
I could see it all unfolding, like I was predicting the future. Which I tend to do when I watch the Eagles.
At the 2:00 warning, I knew it was over. After 58 field minutes of anxious shouting and twitching, I fell silent and still. Nothing the shirt could do.
With :03 left, the Saints lined up for a field goal.
It occurred to me briefly that I shouldn’t read the message.
I clicked the Read button.
My friend Sam: He’ll miss it.
Nnnnnoooooo! Why did you SAY that?!
And with that, the Saints’ kicker sent the ball through the uprights.
Sam: Next year. He’ll miss it next year.
Oh, Sam. How could you?
Me: You had to go and say it.
Sam: The dude’s about to get his AARP card. I thought there was a decent chance he’d shank it.
Maybe if Miss Ella had died again…
Or if I had my hair down, like last time, instead of up…
Maybe if the game hadn’t been broadcast in my market (impossible for a playoff), or if I had been undecorating my tree…
The shirt had worked. The team had come back and taken the lead. But Sam. Sam had effed it up via text.
I guess I can wash the shirt now.