I'm not a superstitious person - knock on wood - about anything except Philadelphia sports teams. I once drove to Delaware on my way to South Philadelphia from Center City because I refused to take an exit off I-95 while the Phillies were in the midst of a six-run, eighth-inning rally.
Would the Phillies have lost if I had gotten off the highway? I don't know, but I wasn't going to take that chance. As the tagline for the beer commercial goes, "It's only weird if it doesn't work." You can thank me later.
But I've been getting the yips all week about this weekend's prime-time, division-championship-deciding game between the Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys. This looks like too much of a sure thing. And, as we all know, the only sure thing in the NFL is that, on any given Sunday, the Eagles can break our hearts.
Not the same way the Eagles can break the hearts of New York Giants' fans, of course, but we've seen more than our share of sure things go south with the Birds. Tampa Bay at the Vet in the 2002 season's NFC championship game leaps to mind. That game plays on a continuing slo-mo reel in my brain. ("Will someone please tackle Joe Jurevicius.") And fuhgeddaboud Ronde Barber's 92-yard interception with the Eagles driving in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
The horror. The horror.
The first innocent omen of bad juju for the Dallas game was the strange On Deck graphic on page D2 of The Inquirer's sports section on Tuesday. Next to the logos of the four Philadelphia pro sports teams currently in their regular seasons (Eagles, Flyers, Sixers, Wings) were empty boxes under Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
Not one local team was playing during the shank of a holiday work week. There was nothing to distract our attention from the Dallas game. It was eerie, all those blank boxes. And below that was something even more unsettling.
In the daily Sports Poll, the results of the previous day's question appeared: "Has [Cowboys quarterback] Tony Romo finally gotten the monkey off his back? Yes or no." Ninety-four percent of the 1,844 who responded answered "No."
Ninety-four percent! That's not mere hubris, that's baiting the gods.
I can almost visualize an offended Zeus dressed in a black-and-white-striped referee jersey looking down from Olympus at game time and sneering, "Release the Kraken!" as Dallas backup quarterback Kyle Orton trots onto the field for the Cowboys' first offensive series against the Eagles.
Of course, the Eagles should win, and probably will win, but . . . . And haven't Philadelphia sports fans seen enough "but" to last a lifetime? "But" happens. There are some cynical fans who would describe rooting for Philadelphia sports teams as nothing but a "but sandwich." And every day is another bite.
Look how crazy being an Eagles fan made the Robert De Niro character in the movie Silver Linings Playbook. His obsessive-compulsive need to arrange his TV remotes just so before and during games made complete sense to me.
My son Dan and I used to watch Eagles games on TV in different rooms on separate floors of our house, after first lighting the candle atop the sacred kelly-green-with-silver-wings Eagles' helmet in the den.
We gave up that weird ritual after multiple "but storms" in the fourth quarter proved the pagan ceremony to be ineffective poppycock, if not an actual jinx on the Eagles' fortunes. It was so obvious, in retrospect, placing an open flame near symbolic birds' wings - what were we thinking?
We were thinking like Icarus, of course - another over-prideful, ancient Birds fan who mixed wax with feathers. But most long-suffering Eagles fans can relate more to the fate of Prometheus, who had offended the gods by attempting to steal a Super Bowl ring and was condemned to be chained for all eternity to a Spectrum-shaped rock while having his liver eaten each February by Wing Bowl contestants.
But I digress. This is the Cowboys we're talking about. We don't need mythology to explain our fear and loathing for a team from a city that owes its very name to Philadelphia.
Before there was a City Hall, there was a mayor of Philadelphia named George Mifflin Dallas (1792-1864), who later served as a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and vice president of the United States under President James Polk.
As something of an act of historical mockery, Dallas was chosen as the name for a settlement in Texas in honor of the new vice president elected in 1844, the same year Philadelphia suffered a spasm of violent disturbances called the Know Nothing Riots.
People were murdered, Catholic churches were burned, and, not unlike today, nobody knew nothing about who did the murdering. No doubt it was during this hotly contested presidential campaign that angry shouts of "Dallas sucks!" were first chanted in South Philadelphia.
So, let us unite, my brothers and sisters, to face this faceless foe tonight. Let us not underestimate the power of the Know Nothings with their despicable symbol of a silver star that seems to beguile the Know Less Than Nothings.
Let us humbly implore the gods to sneer, "Release the Eagles!"