Life is pretty sweet for your average D.C. sports fan these days. The Washington Redskins are riding a division-leading 3-1 record into the bye week, and the Capitals are ready to kick off their season with legitimate title hopes on the line.
Those hunky-dory sentiments stand in stark contrast to the prevailing mood of sports nuts in Philadelphia, where many fans seem on the verge of rioting in the wake of the Eagles’ pitiful 1-3 start. Lofty preseason expectations have made the Eagles’ three-game losing streak doubly painful for the Philadelphia faithful, whose nerves already are stretched with their similarly touted baseball team facing elimination against the Cardinals.
The defending NFC East champion Eagles are in last place; the Dallas Cowboys are 2-2 after blowing big leads in each off their losses; and the often-overlooked Redskins sit in first place, tied with the New York Giants (Washington holds the edge, having beaten New York in the season opener).
The attention surrounding the Eagles’ slow start has been amplified by the litany of high-profile offseason signings that seemed to beef up an already-intimidating squad. Free agents poured into the Philadelphia training camp from all directions: corners Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive end Jason Babin, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, quarterback Vince Young and wide receiver Steve Smith among them.
Even after a 31-13 spanking delivered to the hapless St. Louis Rams in Week 1, however, Philly fans began to see warning signs. A run defense that ranks 30th in the NFL was exposed on the first play from scrimmage, when Rams tailback Stephen Jackson shot through the Eagles’ defense for a 47-yard touchdown. Had Jackson not left the game with a quadriceps injury, the Eagles might be staring at 0-4.
“Everybody was super excited about all the moves they made in the offseason,” said Rhea Hughes, co-host of the Angelo Cataldi Morning Show on Sportsradio 94 WIP in Philadelphia. “But it was funny because every concern that the fans and the media had, everything has come true. People are upset about it, but they’re not surprised about it.”
Indeed, the preseason hoopla disguised some significant concerns. While the defensive line was no doubt improved, the linebackers behind them looked inexperienced, and rookie defensive coordinator Juan Castillo was making a head-scratching transition from offensive line coach. On offense, worries surfaced about an uninspiring offensive line protecting injury-prone quarterback Michael Vick.
Despite the rocky start, though, the Eagles might find hope in their coach, Andy Reid, whose teams are typically strongest toward the end of the season. In fact, Reid boasts the gaudiest December record of any active coach, posting a 35-14 mark during his 12 years with the Eagles. Compare that to Giants coach Tom Coughlin and Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who are 32-33 and 32-34, respectively.
Still, those two possess something Reid doesn’t: a Super Bowl ring. That fact doesn’t sit well with an impatient fan base that has seen its team get outscored 36-0 in the fourth quarter of its past three contests.
The mood in Dallas, meanwhile, is no less jolly for a fan base divided by conflicting feelings about their franchise player, Tony Romo. Many Cowboys fans point to their quarterback’s gutsy performances in come-from-behind wins against the 49ers and Redskins as reasons to believe in him, while others see his costly second half interceptions in meltdowns against the Jets and Lions as part of an unalterable gunslinger mentality that will keep the team from reaching its potential.
“Right now in Dallas it’s about one thing and one thing only, and that’s Tony Romo,” said Jeff “Skin” Wade, co-host of “The Ben and Skin Show” on 103.3 ESPN Dallas Radio. “You hear a lot from the irrational sports fan: Either he’s the greatest ever or he’s the biggest bum ever. … In terms of having the polarizing Romo thing going on, you can imagine what this first month of the season has been like.”
While their team’s painful first month has produced plenty of heartache and panic, Dallas fans can at least take some solace in the struggles of their Philadelphia counterparts, whose self-dubbed “dream team” label caught fire across the country.
“Here locally, everyone got to experience the Miami Heat and the ‘dream team’ aspect of that going against their [Dallas] Mavericks,” said “The Ben and Skin Show” co-host Ben Rodgers. “So people heard all the hype about the Eagles and they were concerned because the Cowboys haven’t done anything in free agency in a long time, and they watched the Eagles make all these genius strokes. Cowboys fans felt like they were the sick kid inside looking out the window and seeing the Eagles having all the fun.”
Yet even as they comfort themselves with the Eagles problems, Cowboys fans must deal with the hated Redskins‘ superior standing for at least the next two weeks. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia fan base, which will see its team roll into Washington Oct. 16, is changing its attitude towards a team it playfully derided just a few weeks ago.
“It’s making us all feel really bad about all the bad things we said about Rex Grossman,” Hughes said. “I think he said the Redskins were going to finish first in the division, and we all laughed at him. Nobody’s laughing now.”
Redskins fans are relishing the tumultuous state of the NFC East, but they’re also not about to spring for playoff tickets just yet.
“I think the fact that they’ve won games in a fashion that they normally wouldn’t have been winning them has given people different things to hang their hat on and given them more reasons to be excited, but cautiously excited,” said Ryan Estorninos, lead writer for Redskins blog Riggo’s Rag. “Once they lose a couple games in a row, people are going to get ready to pile on them and jump off bridges.”