PHILADELPHIA – It’s a potent combination: intense passion plus relentless disappointment. That is what has shaped Philadelphia Eagles fans over the past 55 years.
Those fans were dubbed the “most hated” in the NFL by SI.com this week. That wasn’t all that surprising. And in a way, it’s almost a compliment. According to the SI piece, the “most hated” coach (Bill Belichick) and franchise (the New England Patriots) also happen to be the NFL’s most successful of this century.
If Eagles fans have distinguished themselves by annoying and offending opponents and their fans, then that is hardly an insult. It seems a little tired for SI’s Doug Farrar to open with a retelling of the 1968 incident in which Eagles fans booed Santa Claus.
But Farrar does get most of the story right. The Santa Claus in question, Frank Olivo, was a 19-year-old fan. He was asked to fill in when the original Santa Claus hired for the Eagles’ halftime show did not show up. Olivo was not a convincing Santa, but most of the fans’ ire was directed at a team that was effective on the field as it was at staging halftime entertainment.
Not only were the 1968 Eagles bad, they were bad at being bad. After losing their first 11 games, the team went on an absurd two-game winning streak. That knocked the Eagles out of contention for the No. 1 pick in the 1969 NFL draft, which was used on USC running back O.J. Simpson. They finished the season 2-12.
The Eagles have been to two Super Bowls. They lost both of them. After the first loss, popular head coach Dick Vermeil resigned, citing burnout. After the second loss, wide receiver Terrell Owens staged a campaign for a new contract that tore the team apart, embarrassed quarterback Donovan McNabb and ended with Owens being released in the middle of a ruined 2005 season.
That second Super Bowl appearance came after the Andy Reid-coached Eagles lost three consecutive NFC championship games. The team lost another NFC title game after the 2008 season and hasn’t won a playoff game since.
In many cities, that would mean an empty stadium or apathetic fans. Not in Philadelphia. Through decades in joyless Veterans Stadium and years in Lincoln Financial Field, they are always there. If their disappointment occasionally manifests as anger – at the home team or at the opposing team – that shouldn’t be surprising.
Covering the NFL for 30 years, I’ve seen fights in the stands and heard fans cheer opponents’ injuries all over the country. Nobody ever seems to make a big deal out of it unless it happens in Philadelphia. If Eagles fans are the most hated, it’s safe to say the feeling is mutual.