It was a weird scene. It stood out - even in a stadium and a city that are no strangers to strange moments.
During the wild-card game against the Packers, David Akers trotted onto the Linc turf late in the fourth quarter. The Eagles trailed, and Akers had already missed one field goal. You no doubt remember it well, though not fondly.
While much of the crowd cheered Akers, one fan a few rows in front of the press box became extra animated. He started hopping around and waving his arms. Then, in a dramatic gesture, he whipped off his coat and pointed to the name on the back of his midnight-green Eagles jersey.
He looked like a would-be Clark Kent trying to transform into Superman, only he was missing the requisite phone booth, and his costume wasn't nearly as cool. The name "Akers" was spread across the fan's shoulders. The 20-something seemed mighty proud of that.
He seemed less proud when Akers missed his second kick of the game and the Eagles lost by 5. The kid put his jacket back on and hung his head, as though he had gone out there and let the crowd down instead of Akers.
"We can all count," Andy Reid said after the loss. "Those points would have helped."
Following the game, there were questions about whether Akers was finished as an Eagle after 12 seasons. Those questions remain. In most cities, the fans would shrug or ignore the matter completely. In Philly, people have an opinion about whether the kicker should return.
Akers' agent recently told Inquirer reporter Jonathan Tamari that his client wants to remain in Philly. The story was one of Philly.com's most popular of the day and generated a heated debate in the comments section.
All of which raises a question: Why?
Somewhere along the way, Akers became a big deal in this town to a certain segment of the fan base. The 36-year-old, who has played in a franchise-record 189 games for the Eagles, made his fifth Pro Bowl this season. He's known as a martial artist and a man of God, and a nice guy, too. But, in the end, he's a kicker - a better than average one over the course of his career, but a kicker nonetheless. Doesn't run routes or throw bombs or make crushing hits or cover dangerous receivers. Doesn't even climb inside a big bird costume and shoot himself down a zip line like the guy who masquerades as Swoop.
Akers goes out there when called upon to kick an oblong ball before returning to the sideline. Then, when it's cold, he gets to put on a big jacket and warm his backside on one of those nifty benches with the heaters built in.
For that, he made $1.65 million in 2010. If you have small children with working feet, you should find a football and some uprights immediately.
Before the Akers acolytes have a meltdown and fire off nasty e-mails about how unfair all this is, it should be noted that the kicker has had a good run with the Birds. Truly. It was swell.
But in other cities kickers are disposable commodities. They have good seasons. They have bad seasons. They come. They go. No one notices. No one cares. And hardly anyone spends good American currency on a jersey bearing their names. Unless it's a Jeff Reed or Sebastian Janikowski jersey, at which point it's more of a symbol, an ironic nod to their bizarre off-field exploits or maybe a signal to attract other like-minded freaks.
That's not the way it is with Akers. People wear his jersey proudly here. They're earnest about it.
All of which raises another question, which upon closer inspection happens to be the same as the first question: Why? Seriously, someone has to explain this. What's the fascination with Akers?
After the Packers game, reporters spilled into the Eagles' locker room. A large knot of media members encircled Akers' cubby. It made sense. He had just blown the game, and he was one of the biggest story lines of the day.
"Looking back now, 12 years, it's been a nice run," Akers said. "It's not really the way I wanted to go out as an Eagle."
He said some other stuff after that, but it was hard to hear. There were a lot of people around him, and he was pretty emotional. He was speaking in a hushed tone and trying to prevent himself from totally breaking down.
When he stopped talking and the crowd dispersed, one reporter turned to me and asked, "Can you believe it?" I thought he was making a wisecrack, as in, "Can you believe all this nonsense?" That wasn't it.
"It's going to be odd when he's not here anymore," he said.
I'm not sure how anyone will tell. It was odd when he was here.