Friday, December 07, 2007

25 Years of Philly Sports Hell: The Worst Moments, Part I

The latest in a series of of soul-cleansing moments for Philadelphia sports fans as we complete a 25 year cycle of unmatched sports futility. For a full explanation of this series, look here.


A lot of moments on this list can be summed up with short phrases, so it's appropriate to open with one. Who is Bryce Paup, you might ask? If you're asking, then you're either not an Eagles fan, or you've opted to bury this moment and block it from your memory.

Bryce Paup is currently the head football coach at Green Bay Southwest High School. He is also on the Board of Directors for the Green Bay Packers. But it's what he did in his earlier career that earned him the lasting enmity of Eagles fans.

Put it this way - I mentioned Paup's name to two Philly sports fans this week. Both responded with obscenities, with one using language that I would normally reserve for describing somebody like Hugo Chavez. Heck, in a bar fight between Hugo Chavez and Bryce Paup, I would probably root for Hugo Chavez (although I wouldn't object if both of them somehow lost).

Why the hatred? September 1, 1991. Eagles v. Packers on the not-yet-frozen tundra of Lambaeu Field in the season opener. Late first quarter. Eagles QB Randall Cunningham, one of the best players in the game, drops back to pass. Bryce Paup, a second-year linebacker for the Packers, comes in and hits Randall on the knee as he releases a pass.

Diagnosis: Torn ACL. Cunningham is out for the season.

With time, I've come to realize that this Eagles team may not have won the Super Bowl. Granted, the defense was historically great, finishing first against the rush, first against the pass and first overall. Granted, the team somehow overcame a four game mid-season losing streak where snaps at quarterback would be taken by Pat Ryan, who began the season as a construction worker, and Brad Goebel, an undrafted rookie from Baylor, to finish 10-6. Granted, the team's defense brutalized Troy Aikman for 11 sacks in one game, gave up 300 yards just once all season, and only lost 6 games because the offense turned the ball over 26 times in those games. Granted, that offense would have been much better with Randall at the helm -- potentially even great.

But the Redskins were a great team that year. And we were coached by a complete idiot in Rich Kotite (and I'm being kind with that description), while the Skins were coached by Joe Gibbs, in his first iteration, when he was a Hall of Famer. And as good as the Eagles might have been with Randall, the NFC was murderously tough that year. Eight teams finished with records of 10-6 or better. Randall's playoff struggles were legendary. There's no guarantee the Birds run the table and make it to Super Bowl XXVI against Buffalo.

But Bryce Paup didn't even let us find out if it could have happened. The 1995 Cowboys were coached by a moron (Barry Switzer) and won a Super Bowl; there's a chance we could have overcome Kotite's idiocy and done the same. We would have played the Redskins well, even though Randall had struggled against them; we friggin owned Dallas until we had to play them without Randall at home. We damn sure were better than the rest of the NFC playoff field -- the Lions(!), Bears(?), Saints(!) and Falcons(!!). Hell, the Lions and Falcons were coached by bigger morons (Fontes and Glanville) than Kotite. When Randall made the playoffs in 1992, he put up a brilliant performance against the Saints (right before nose-diving against a superior Dallas team, but that's another tale). If that same QB is there a year earlier, that could have been our title.

But all of that went to hell when Paup popped Randall.

The 1988-1992 Eagles were one of the most popular collections of athletes in any town ever. For some reason, many of us had hoped that the firing of Buddy Ryan meant the Eagles, who had lost multiple playoff games in crazy ways, could get over the hump with the goofy Kotite leading the way. Hey, call it the triumph of hope over logic (it was the only triumph we ever really got from Kotite). Paup ended that chance, and the Eagles' window closed the following year when Dallas got really good, Jerome Brown died, and the Eagles defense started to get old and/or departed en masse with the onset of free agency (because Norman Braman was a cheap SOB).

By the way, I found this loss particularly galling. I was a high school kid who lived and died with that team (yes, I was a loser... maybe "am" might be a better verb there). Three years later, when Nancy Kerrigan got knee-capped by goons, I remember somebody in Philly wondering whether those guys might stop by Wisconsin and take a pipe to Paup's knee. I'm still not sure they were joking.

The great irony in all of this is that Green Bay, about a year later, would find a QB who would start over 200 games in a row without getting hurt. Yes, I'm pretty sure this means God hates us.

Bryce-friggin-Paup. Maybe we can all let it go. Or at least just hope his high school team loses 50 straight games.

Take a deep breath, fellow Philly fans. Let this one go, and let's move on to the next. Only 24 more to go.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Get over it already. It's football. One man doesn't make a team. Remember a couple of years back when new england lost tom brady for the season in the first quarter of the first game of the season because of a chiefs safety named bernard pollard? They didn't cry. They posted an 11-5 record that year with their backup. Sh!t happens and you move on.

11:14 PM  

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