Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Name On The Back

When TigerBlog used to watch his favorite show of the early 1970s - This Week In Pro Football, with Pat Summeral and Tom Brookshier - the Philadelphia Eagles were something of an afterthought.

TB established early on that the Giants were his team, and he knew from Day 1 that he hated the Cowboys. The Eagles? They were never any good, so who cared about them? They were just a team with pretty cool uniforms that the Giants - who also weren't very good in those days - had to play twice a year.

In recent times, TB has come to dislike the Eagles nearly as much as the Cowboys, though for different reasons. TB doesn't like the Cowboys because they're the Cowboys and if you're not from Texas, how could you ever dream of rooting for them? Besides, if TB has to see another cutaway to the Dallas owner during a TV game, he's not sure he'll be able to handle it.

The Eagles are different. TB's anti-Eagle position stems from the fact that every year, Philadelphia 1) puts a winning team on the field and 2) is a total thorn in the Giants' side. It looks like 2010 will be exactly like most other years.

The only redeeming thing about the Iggles is that they've never won a Super Bowl, while the Giants have won three. Still, if Michael Vick continues to play the way he is, that could change this year.

Vick was ridiculous against the Redskins Monday night, and he dominated that game as much as any player has ever dominated any game TB has ever seen in any sport.

Vick has also put Eagles' fans, who now find themselves in the position of realizing that the man who could be ending their Super Bowl drought in dramatic and entertaining fashion, is also a convicted and recently imprisoned dog killer. It's led to a great moral dilemma for fans in Philadelphia, who fall into several camps:

A) the "who cares what he did as long as he wins games for my team" group
B) the "I will never root for Vick, so now I can't enjoy the Eagles' success" group
C) the "I don't approve of Vick but I want my team to be good, so I'm going to convince myself that it's okay to separate the player from the person" group
D) the "he served his time and appears genuinely contrite and changed, so why wouldn't I root for him" group

TigerBlog knows someone who fits into each group, by the way. And if he had to guess, he'd rank Eagles' fans this way:

50% - Group A
25% - Group C
20% - Group D
5% - Group B

The whole Vick episode opens up the question of whether or not that the sports cliche that "the name on the front of the uniform means more than the name on the back" is true.

In other words, are Eagles' fans supposed to blindly root for their team, regardless of who is on it?

TB's second-favorite professional team is the Knicks, or at least, he's trying to remember it's the Knicks. And while there is hopefully a light at the end of the tunnel somewhere (assuming Isiah Thomas doesn't come back), the team has been impossible to root for during the last 10 or so years.

It hasn't mattered that its says "New York" on the front when the names on the back were "Marbury," "Francis," "Curry," "James (Jerome, not LeBron)" and others.

One of Pete Carril's favorite sayings has always been that "you can't separate the player from the person."

He's always meant this from the athletic standpoint, with the idea that if, say, the person is lazy, then the player will also be lazy.

The converse is true as well. You can't separate the person from the player. You can't just root for someone because he/she is a great athlete without regard for character. Maybe you can a little, but not completely.

On the professional level, with the amount of money that is being thrown around, it's easy to be a little more cynical with the Group C Vick fans.

On the college level, it's not as easy.

For starters, the allegiance between fan and alma mater is usually pretty deep (though ironically not in TigerBlog's case). And, there is also supposed to be an inherent element of having student-athletes who represent a school that conjures up middle school and high school themes of spirit and camaraderie.

Of course, on many big-time levels, that thought is long gone, with athletic dorms, academic scandals and one-and-done players. This fall, the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy and BCS championship game is playing under a cloud of suspicion.

All of this is why TB loves being at a school like Princeton, where the names on the back of the uniform make it easy to root for the name on the front.

1 comment:

CZ said...

The same holds true for the coaches. People like John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski and of course Pete Carril will always stand miles above jerks like Rich Rodriguez, Lane Kiffin and John Calipari.