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Team Dispirit

Why I'll never bleed green.


From the October 3, 2007 Philadelphia Weekly

I hate the Eagles.

I didn't always. For the first 29 years of my life I just didn't care about them. I'm a baseball man - living, breathing and usually dying by the Phillies. Baseball is a cerebral sport that involves as much skill as sheer strength. Football, to me, is just a bunch of big guys rubbing bellies while wearing shiny tight pants.

That never appealed to me.

Seven years ago I developed a hatred of the Eagles.

I was in the team locker room at Veterans Stadium, waiting for star running back and franchise player Duce Staley. He'd just held a press conference regarding a foot injury that would force him to miss the remaining 11 games of the 2000 season as well as the postseason. I was a photojournalist for the Daily News, and I wanted a picture of Staley on crutches, hobbling through the room that represented his world.

When he shuffled into the locker room with his head hanging low, I popped off a few frames. Staley looked so dejected, defeated - while the initial injury came during a game, it had been exacerbated by a slip in a pool of water on Veterans Stadium's slick concrete floor.

His expression was dour - he was in pain, and not just physically. He couldn't play the game he loved, and his team suffered because of his absence. He was broken.

After a quick three or four pops of light from my flash, Staley glared at me and snarled, "What the fuck you doing, Bruce Lee, taking my picture?"

Calling an Asian guy Bruce Lee is really uncool - even if the guy is only half-Japanese like I am. It's like calling a woman a broad or asking a guy named Kowalski how many Poles it takes to screw in a lightbulb.

It's really just plain ignorant.

So when I snapped back, "You're an ignorant motherfucker," Staley growled something and lurched toward me.

As I stepped forward, Harold Carmichael - who's 6 feet 8 inches tall - cut me off, grabbed me by the front of my shirt, whisked me aside and held me off the floor with my back against a locker wall. Carmichael told Staley to keep moving, which he did after a few more barbs. Then Carmichael, who was part of the club's administrative staff, lectured me.

"You're in our house," he said sharply as my feet dangled in the air. "You can't do that stuff in our house."

I had no response as I shook my body frantically, trying to force him to release me.

To this day I can't think of a witty comeback that would've sufficed. I was astounded that Staley, whom thousands of people around the region adored, could be such a jerk. I understand his mind was on his injury and all, but his first reaction when he saw me - a guy simply doing his job - was to make a racist comment.

Carmichael tried to tell me I did look like Bruce Lee, that it was really a compliment. But if I'd have called Staley by another African-American's name - even if I'd have called him Stanley Pritchett or Brian Mitchell (his fellow running backs that season), I would've been hobbling on crutches myself very soon.

When I told Marcus Hayes, then the Daily News' Eagles beat reporter, about the incident, he was outraged. He went to the team and demanded an apology.

I never heard a word from Staley, Carmichael, coach Andy Reid or the Eagles brass.

I cursed the team that day and wished them to never be successful. Ever.

I've relished every Eagles loss since. It wasn't easy in a town that starts cheering for the Eagles the minute the Phillies are done for the season. And the Eagles were good in the years following my run-in with Staley. But each season ended satisfactorily, for me at least. Three consecutive losses in the NFC Championship game? I loved every minute.

When the Eagles played in Super Bowl XXXIX, I was working as a Daily News reporter, and I covered fan reaction around town after the game. I think I annoyed each of the drunken fools I interviewed because I couldn't stop smiling after the Patriots won 24-21.

Of course Staley was gone by then.

After the 2003 season free-agent Duce departed Philly for Pittsburgh, but he was plagued by injuries that lingered for the remainder of his career. When the Steelers went to the Super Bowl in 2006, Staley didn't even get in the game. The team released him before the next season.

I enjoy the feeling the city has when football season rolls around. People seem so excited, so alive. It's almost like we're one giant team.

But what I love more is the midseason groaning and the end-of-season bitching.

I just wish Duce were still a part of the disappointment.