It’s Dallas Week in Philly, Monday Night Football, prime-time trumpets blaring in Big D ... and no one seems to care.
Usually, Dallas Week would be eight days of Bounty Bowl, and Pickle Juice, and How ‘bout them Cowboys. Eight days of tales retold about the 1980 NFC Championship game and the scabs of 1987. Alas, we are distracted by the bizarre, the incredible, and the unexpected, and await MNF like it’s NBD.
Ben Simmons and his pending contract breach commanded the attention of the city since Tuesday, when ESPN recycled the three-week-old Inquirer scoop about Simmons vowing to boycott training camp, which begins Monday, the regular season, and perhaps the playoffs, too — not that anyone would notice his absence from the latter.
Nick Sirianni’s first big mistake as a head coach commanded the attention of the city since Sunday, when he outsmarted himself on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, culminating with a fourth-down Philly Not-So-Special.
Even the Phillies, thanks to National League MVP shoo-in Bryce Harper, are adding to the distraction. Their refusal to die quietly in this farce of a NL East title race keeps them relevant, thanks largely to Harper, who, as we knew two weeks ago, was the league’s best player this season.
But come on. It’s September. The Jersey Shore is empty, the air is getting brisker, we’ve settled into our school and work routines. This is the week that Philly, the City of Brotherly Love, changes its motto to “Dallas Sucks.”
So, where’s the hatred? More accurately, where’s the resentment? Where is the suffocating jealousy Eagles fans, with their one, flukey Super Bowl win, direct southwest at the twin Dallas Dynasties and those five Lombardi Trophies?
It has been diffused by events and by occurrences.
Sad. We miss the loathing.
But maybe that’s been tempered, too, by Eagles exhaustion.
Beat Dallas, I guess
To his credit, Sirianni’s trying to gin up some fire. He wore one of his two “Beat Dallas” shirts to his Thursday press conference. Like his predecessors, Sirianni dropped the obligatory lines about unidentified random fans imploring him to triumph in this strange, one-way rivalry:
“I can’t tell you how many times since I’ve been here having an interaction with a fan, it’s, like, ‘Hey, beat Dallas.’ ... I love the fact that I’m able to partake in this rivalry and it means a lot to the city, to our team, it means a lot to this building.”
It does, of course, mean a lot to the people at NovaCare, which festers in the shadow of the Star. Outrageous owner Jerry Jones has three Super Bowl titles, former coach Tom Landry is a football god, and quarterbacks Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman rode to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as Cowboys. Jeffrey Lurie, Andy Reid, and Eagles short-timers Norm Van Brocklin and Sonny Jurgensen, are, frankly, meager comparisons.
It just seems that, this season, it doesn’t mean as much to the people outside of Sirianni’s building. Then again, consider what they’ve been through the past year.
In 2020, Super Bowl winner Doug Pederson went 4-11-1, benched incompetent, insubordinate Carson Wentz, tanked the season finale, and got fired. Wentz began demanding a trade as soon as he was benched, stood by that demand both when the season ended and after he’d gotten Pederson fired, then was traded for a bag of old tuna fish sandwiches. Two stories broke in the offseason that centered on Lurie’s meddlesome, critical nature and general manager Howie Roseman’s intrusive habits. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the Eagles passed over fan favorite Duce Staley, offensive genius Josh McDaniels, Super Bowl-winning coordinators Todd Bowles and Eric Bieniemy to hire Sirianni, whom no one outside of Indiana and Buffalo had ever heard of.
So yeah, it’s been a lot.
Which might help explain the caution.
Gotta have faith ...?
The most realistic and optimistic pundits asserted that this could be a 12-win team before the season began, and that Jalen Hurts was an upgrade over Wentz after the Week 1 win in Atlanta. Both of those declarations were met with skepticism. The clumsy, 17-11 loss to the 49ers on Sunday didn’t help.
Nevertheless, there should be greater anticipation of Sirianni’s first Dallas game, and Hurts’ Dallas debut, and exactly what they’ll see.
They will be facing an improved Dallas defense well-employed by coordinator Dan Quinn. However, that defense lost end Dorance Armstrong to an ankle sprain and tackle Carlos Watkins to a knee injury Sunday, and placed linebacker Keanu Neal on the Reserve-COVID list Wednesday. The possible absence of Neal — a former safety who would be the most likely player to spy Hurts — could limit the freedom of Penn State rookie Micah Parsons to rush the passer from his linebacker spot.
That stuff might seem pretty granular, but in a normal Dallas week it’s the stuff of shrill headlines:
COVID, Leg Injuries Cripple Cowpokes!
Instead, we have debates centered on which donna is more prima, Simmons or Wentz (it’s Wentz).
Instead, we have hand-wringing conversations about whether Wentz’s bilateral ankle sprains will keep the conditional second-round pick the Colts traded for Wentz from conveying into a first-rounder, since Wentz has to play at least 70% of this season’s snaps. (By the way, who sprains BOTH ankles on the same play? Grandpop?)
All things considered
Since his nightmare introduction to Philadelphia, Sirianni has evolved to present himself as an authentic, knowledgeable football mind mature beyond his 39 years, but one clearly fogged by analytics. Hurts has started six NFL games. He played rather brilliantly in four of them, played passably well in two of them, and stands at 2-4 as a starter. His 86.6 passer rating which is only slightly misleading; all things considered, he has been better than that number, but only slightly.
This is fascinating. This is an early referendum on a rookie coach and a young QB.
It’s a chance for the Eagles to return from Texas with a 2-1 record, on top of the NFC East.
Ben-edict Simmons, Sirianni’s Folly, and Bryce and the Harperettes can’t matter this much.