EDITORS NOTE: Holy shit this blog was awesome from one of our listeners Ben. The perspective of Carson’s short career here was on full display how quickly things can change. Kinda nice to put down the pitchfork for a second and read something from someone who has a realistic perspective of fandom and the business of the NFL. Give Ben a follow on Twitter.
Given the choice, I’d rather laugh than cry. I’d also rather buzz with happiness because the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Cowboys than stew in anger from an unexpected loss. I maybe take some of this a little too seriously – I suspect many of us do. In fact, I know this to be true because I can tune into a Philadelphia radio station for a four-hour show in February, when the basketball team is 18-7, and hear wall-to-wall coverage of whether or not a quarterback for the football team will be traded, who’s to blame, and whether the franchise is headed for a period of sustained mediocrity. The escapism of fandom seems to necessitate all of this.
In June of 2019, the Philadelphia Eagles and Carson Wentz signed a historic contract extension that would begin with the 2021 season. But in February 2021, before the actual extension has kicked in, it appears the team and its once prized star player are headed for divorce. Do those two sentences make sense? Here’s another wrinkle: in April 2020, the Eagles selected a quarterback in the second round of a seven round draft. When pressed about the decision, Eagles’ GM, Howie Roseman, invoked the idea of the franchise’s ability to be a ‘Quarterback Factory’. The $128 million dollar contract extension to Carson Wentz would begin in earnest roughly a year from this comment.
There’s a business side to football, there’s a football side to football, and there are the mortal flesh and bone men who, in exchange for large sums of money, expose their bodies to pain, injury, and potentially long-term ailments. There are families with partners and children, brothers, sisters, friends, moms, dads, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, all forming a network for each player, far outside what occurs on grass, real or fake, or at signing tables in the offseason when contract negotiations have come to a head.
But when you turn on sports radio for any of those four-hour blocks, you’ll mainly hear well-produced debates pitting one host against another regarding a position on a particular sports franchise. In Philadelphia, this often concerns the Eagles, and as of late, the topic has been a twenty-eight year old once thought to be the football savior of the city. In recent weeks, established radio hosts and their callers have referred to the once beloved player frequently as “soft”, “a baby”, “a jerk”, “selfish”, [insert redundant descriptor here]. I haven’t heard it explicitly said yet, but would it surprise any of us to hear something about “this generation” and “participation trophies”?
Take your ball and go home, why don’t you?
Honor your contract!
You’re rich! Who cares?
And all of this is cyclical. Star rises, star falls, star is criticized.
And why won’t he say something?
Our entitlement as fans leads us to believe we are owed something by those we once revered, by those who’ve enjoyed our distant support for however long. As an unexpectedly abbreviated era appears to wind down in Philadelphia sports history, it is fair to be critical of what was and was not. Carson Wentz was once great; he was once pretty good; and he once, most recently, was very much not good at all. I’m just not sure what any of that says about Carson the person or even the leader, as some have suggested. Maybe I wouldn’t like the guy if I knew him personally, or maybe I would. Frankly, I’m not sure it should matter. But beyond front office and personnel disputes, beyond mistakes and ineptitude on the football field, is a person many of us once raved about (see: Dutch Destroyer, Thy Kingdom Crumb, Giovanni, kids in Haiti). Until it was no longer popular to do so, until we needed somewhere to place our disappointment.
Popularity, acceptance, and lack thereof, are familiar to us from our own lived experiences. And so we’ll choose to remember a big kid from North Dakota – who was thrust into the toughest sports climate in America – each in our own way. Once popular, now maligned. Maybe we’ll be happy for the first round bye in 2017. Maybe we’ll only remember the shortcomings , the injuries, and the anonymous reports. That’s fandom.