Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

John Smallwood: Eagles are the best - globally

I GET IT. During a season when the Eagles have failed so miserably to meet their on-field expectations, it's hard for fans to get excited about their continued success off the field.

The Eagles won the Beyond Sport Team of the Year Wednesday in South Africa. (Michael Perez/AP)
The Eagles won the Beyond Sport Team of the Year Wednesday in South Africa. (Michael Perez/AP)Read more


During a season when the Eagles have failed so miserably to meet their on-field expectations, it's hard for fans to get excited about their continued success off the field.

When Philadelphia has been waiting for 51 years for the Eagles to bring home another NFL championship, the organization winning an international competition for commitment to community service and social change isn't going to inspire a parade down Broad Street.

The award that Eagles Youth Partnership executive director Sarah Martinez-Helfman received for the organization yesterday in South Africa as the Beyond Sport Team of the Year has little resemblance to the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champion.

But on Sunday, while the Eagles are playing out the string of their season against the Miami Dolphins, a specially trained dog in Sri Lanka named Little Swoop might sniff out a hidden land mine in a field where unsuspecting children play.

Little Swoop is a joint venture between the Eagles Youth Partnership and the John Wister School in Germantown.

EYP sponsored the dog's training through the Marshall Legacy Institute, which has delivered 900 mine-detection dogs to work in 24 countries since launching the campaign in 1999.

The sixth-grade students at Wister didn't just adopt Little Swoop, they began a fund-raising program to help get prostheses and rehabilitative therapy for children who have lost limbs because of land-mine explosions.

The children monitor Little Swoop's life-saving adventures abroad.

How much value do you assign to a web of social change like that?

A dog, through a football team, opens a gateway for inner-city children at a Philadelphia school with a student population that is 96.4 percent African-American to help maimed children in Sri Lanka.

What does a link like that do for a group of children who are a world apart but will someday help determine our future?

Beyond Sport, a global organization that promotes, develops and supports the use of sports to create positive social change across the world, thought enough of the Eagles' commitment to Philadelphia and its surrounding communities to select them as the 2011 Team of the Year in a competition that included entries from teams in more than 130 countries.

The Eagles had been nominated for the award because of their three signature community service programs - Eagles Youth Partnership, Tackling Breast Cancer, and Go Green.

"It's a huge honor," Eagles co-owner Christina Weiss Lurie said yesterday at the NovaCare Center. "It just shows what sports can do in a community.

"To be voted the best team in the world, I'm not sure that it has quite hit us. The reality is that this is a group effort. This could not have happened without the support of all of our partners, whether it's the fans, whether it's the entire organization, the players, the coaches, the employees."

No, beating out finalists like soccer teams Manchester City and Liverpool of the English Premier League and the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies for a world community-service award isn't the same as beating the New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers in a Super Bowl.

But much of the passion involving the Eagles, or any professional sports team in Philadelphia for that matter, is the belief that the team owner is really just directing the stewardship of the franchise.

The team, in every way that matters other than actual legal possession, actually belongs to the fans and citizens of Philadelphia.

Real or imagined, its success or failure is considered a reflection on the city and its citizens.

We rose to unimaginable heights of euphoria when the Phillies finally ended the Philadelphia curse - not winning a championship since Sixers' in 1983 - by winning the 2008 World Series.

We've fallen into a numbing funk of despair as the Eagles slipped from preseason Super Bowl contenders to a 4-8 squad that has us calling for the coach's head on a platter.

In the face of this on-field failure, it is difficult to put perspective on a community service award.

But look at it this way: If the Eagles truly are a representation of the people of Philadelphia, how does winning the last game truly compare to sponsoring the training of a dog that might save a husband, wife or child from being maimed or killed by a land mine?

It doesn't ease the pain that the Eagles are the only team in the NFC East not to have won a Super Bowl, but being recognized as the best professional sports team in the world at helping its community does count for something.

"This season is unbelievably frustrating," said Weiss Lurie, noting that she is not the Lurie who will decide whether Reid returns as coach. "It makes us want to work even harder to make it right and that's why what we do in the community is just as important as what we do, [on the field] if not even more, in years like this one.

"We recognize that our fans are really loyal. And, yes, they're frustrated, too. But they're so supportive of what we do, whether it's through Eagles Youth Partnership or one of our other campaigns."