It's been 13 years since I lived anywhere close to Philadelphia, and yet I still speak fluently the language of booing.
This sets me apart from the tens of millions of sports fans who don't have Philadelphia in their blood and so hear booing as an undifferentiated cacophony of sound, similar to the way a monolingual English speaker would experience market morning in a remote Tibetan village.
The locals sure seem angry about something, but it's not clear what it is.
The most puzzling thing about yesterday's game wasn't the result. We lost this game the day Andy Reid hired Juan Castillo. Being down a quarterback, wide receiver, and two of our top three cornerbacks against a team that requires you to a) score a lot and b) play a flag football defense just made the final result worse.
No, what was strange about yesterday was how conflicted the crowd seemed about booing a series of decisions, mistakes and displays of cowardice that should have whipped those attending into a frothing rage. The relative quiescence was strange and surprising.
This matters because if you want to gauge the feelings of the team's most important fans -- the ones who plunk down their hard-earned cash each season for tickets and then optimistically gear up for an impending bloodletting on a holiday weekend -- then you can blow off the commenting cesspool at philly.com, the can-you-top-this snarkiness of Twitter*, and most of the straining-for-cleverness blogs+. Start instead with what you hear in the stadium.
I've been chewing on this issue all morning and I think there are three possible explanations:
1) The Linc <> The Vet -- The 700 Level is dead, the crowd now slants more towards "people who can afford the tickets," and years of success (across a couple sports) have taken the edge off the fanbase.
All these things are true, but all these things have also been true for awhile. They didn't help McNabb very much.
This feels more like a contributing factor then a root cause.
2) The fans have given up -- This is the bad one for Andy Reid. Fans aren't just angry, they're despondent. It's hard to get too far up or down when you know the defense can't hold any lead and, well, the defense can't hold any lead.
I know a couple people who go to games regularly and I think they might lean in this direction. They're not sure it's even worth going to watch them lose and then when their worst fears play out on the field, there's really not much to do beyond getting another beer and watching the cheerleaders and/or drunken brawls. But I prefer the last theory, no doubt because it's the most interesting.
3) The fans are really, really conflicted -- Consider what's happened in the past two years. McNabb, the target of so much fan vitriol over the years, was booted out of town. This, surprisingly, did not solve all our problems.
The heir apparent, wasn't. The reclamation project, for a short while, was, beyond on our wildest dreams. Then he sort of was, then he kind of wasn't.
The biggest kick in the teeth, though, came on the other side of the football, where a once proud defense coached by a legend still uses the master's terminology, but otherwise bears no resemblance to its past self as it whipsaws between schemes that ranged from overly complicated to frustratingly basic (and yet seemingly no easier to get the hang of).
I'm not sure fans know what to think anymore. The easy explanations are out the window (other than firing Castillo). Reid made by far the biggest mistake of the (off)season, but on the other hand he's a proven coach whose average annual output easily crushes most retreads (Shanahan) or flavors-of-the-month (Spagnuolo).
Has Reid done enough to be fired? Certainly. Does it feel like throwing Roseman out after him might help, too? Yep, sure does.
But do you really believe, deep down in your heart of hearts, that we're likely to be better off in two years if we go down that road? That's a much tougher question.
And so we boo, because the effort stinks and the execution is embarrassing, but it's missing the hard edge that only comes when a critical mass of the fans really, truly want to see change.
So now we get to DeSean Jackson.
The meager boos DeSean received yesterday were a woefully inadequate response to what he did on the field. That was the modern era's "for who, for what" game and for as much as he avoided the galvanizing post-game soundbite, he might as well get those words tattooed on his arms, since he's not doing much else with them other than bracing his falls as he crumples helplessly to the ground any time a DB comes within 10 yards of him.
So what happened? Why isn't he getting the McNabb / Schmidt / Lindros treatment? What's different about DeSean?
I think it's this: DeSean is the evolutionary Allen Iverson. Fans know he's flawed. They know he doesn't do all the things he should. They know that for all his amazing talent, for as much as he's a threat to score any time the ball touches his hands, he will always be a limited player who requires his coaches to spend as much time scheming around his weaknesses as opponents spend scheming around his strengths.
There are, to be sure, differences between the two players. Iverson would have died before he'd let the threat of contact stop him from getting to the basket. DeSean is, comparatively speaking, a giant wuss. On the other hand, DeSean's never thrown his wife out of the house naked before, either, so it's definitely good news / bad news.
I'm not sure I'll ever understand the selective Rocky-ism of Philadelphia fans that lionizes immensely talented, but fundamentally flawed, players like Iverson and DeSean while absolutely destroying fundamentally limited, but immensely high effort guys like Chad Hall and Reno Mahe, but it's a real thing, and it remains the key to understanding why, on a horrible day like yesterday, fans booed more loudly for Chad Hall's lone carry than they did for DeSean's two killer drops.
With that said, there are five games left. Your move, Jackson.
+ Guilty again!