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Who's the Tebow of Philly?

Tim Tebow is perhaps the most maligned winning quarterback in NFL history, and his legacy will best be remembered as much for the wacky phenomenon of Tebowmania as it is for his quarterbacking abilities.

The Eagles went just 18-26 during Vince Papale's tenure.
The Eagles went just 18-26 during Vince Papale's tenure.Read moreMICHAEL PEREZ / Inquirer Staff Photographer

Tim Tebow is perhaps the most maligned winning quarterback in NFL history, and his legacy will best be remembered as much for the wacky phenomenon of Tebowmania as it is for his quarterbacking abilities.

Even though football logicians (and atheists) attribute his 7-1 record as a starter to a very good defense and special-teams play rather than to baptized footballs and divine fourth-quarter interventions, it's a lot more fun to believe in the miracle.

Philadelphia has never had an athlete with Tebow's national appeal, but we've certainly had our share of fleeting folk heroes/athletes who have become temporary symbols of unrestrained optimism and hope, based on either their blue-collar grittiness or opportunistic success - only to eventually fail due to their overall baseline suckiness.

Here, then, is my Hall of Tebows:

Vince Papale

Everyone realizes that Vince Papale never actually scored a touchdown against the Giants even though the movie "Invincible" made it seem that way, right? But he was just scrappy enough and Italian enough to become a nice PR story for the Eagles from 1976-78, during Dick Vermeil's early years, despite the fact that Papale's career yielded just two fumble recoveries as a special-teamer and one 15-yard reception to propel the Eagles to a lofty 18-26 record during his tenure here. His career was "cut short" by a shoulder injury, but most likely the Eagles decided there was no reason to carry two mascots on their roster. Swoop got the nod.

Backup quarterbacks, circa 1996-2010

Rodney Peete, Ty Detmer, Koy Detmer, A.J. Feeley, Jeff Garcia each became saviors for the Eagles at various times over that period. Some of them led the team to inexplicable playoff runs. Feeley, who the Eagles traded to Miami for a second-round pick, won the heart of soccer gal Heather Mitts, after his 4-1 run as a starter in 2002. Feeley returned to the Eagles again in 2006 and provided one more glimmer of competence the following season, with a three-touchdown performance on national television against the New England Patriots that almost denied the Brady-Belichick juggernaut their perfect season. He came up short, though, with three interceptions and after that returned to his rightful place as the Eagles' No. 1 clipboard-holder until his release in 2009.

The Wolf Pack, et al

Randy Wolf's Phillies career ranged from mediocre to above-average. But thanks to his surname, he built a bizarre legion of woolly masked fans in the upper deck at The Vet who enthusiastically responded to every strikeout with choreographed routines and visceral howls. The Wolf Pack spawned even more fan clubs during the early aughts, a phenomenon that somehow created the illusion that a pitching staff full of unremarkable stiffs was something worth cheering about. So here's to you, "Person's People," "Chen's Pen," "Daal House," and "Padilla's Flotilla." You made turd-shining an art form.

Sal Fasano

In 2006, the Phillies needed to acquire a journeyman catcher because of Mike Lieberthal's deteriorating kneecaps. They were looking only for a competent backstop, but came upon a legend. Fasano was a career sub-.250 hitter with little power and limited mobility, but was so popular in Philadelphia during his brief stint with organization that his rabid fan base, "Sal's Pals," became one of the most memorable footnotes of an otherwise uninspired second-place season. Squat, surly looking and hirsute, Fasano resembled one of the scruffy '93 Phillies. After being traded to the New York Yankees to make room for Chris Coste (another aging catcher with a career arc from a Disney movie), Fasano was openly heartbroken, telling a reporter that he'd hoped to retire in Philadelphia due to how wonderfully the fans treated him here. In fact, I bet if you polled the fans, few would object to having a Sal Fasano Day next season to retire his number and hang it next to that of Schmidt's, Carlton's and Ashburn's.