The Philadelphia Eagles learned the hard way last year: preseason proclamations are better off kept quiet. Public statements guaranteeing specific win totals and milestones are almost always embellished by the media, and the team responsible for the statement is expected to live up to their self-imposed standards. Approximately one year ago, after a lockout-shortened NFL free agency period, newly acquired backup quarterback Vince Young used a training camp press conference to announce the birth of a new nickname for his new team. “Dream Team,” Young remarked, in an attempt to label the Eagles’ star-studded roster following several high-profile free agent acquisitions that offseason, notably cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, defensive linemen Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin and running back Ronnie Brown. As Philadelphia stumbled out to a 1-4 start last, the “dream team” moniker increasingly symbolized the team’s arrogance, unmet expectations and mounting pressure while motivating opponents with less-heralded rosters and free agent signing histories. The Eagles would finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs.
In a year that began with so much promise and potential, the Eagles twisted their fortunes the moment they foisted their arrogance upon the NFL with one loaded two-word statement at one seemingly trivial training camp press conference. The Dream Team no doubt envisioned itself participating in the postseason, perhaps winning it, but its overbearing presumption contributed to its own failures. Whether Young’s boastful presser was the main reason for Philadelphia’s failed season—I tend to think weak linebacker and safety play, poor coaching and offensive play calling were more to blame—remains up for debate, though it’s fair to assume that its ripple effects only added to the Eagles’ struggles. If given the chance, Young likely would have retroactively canceled his statement, reserved his thoughts for a locker room huddle or family gathering, far and away from the sea of cameras and recording devices that captured his verbal faux-pas and spread its pretension and pomposity across radios, televisions and other mainstream media. By assigning a nickname to his team and its shiny new parts, Young conceptualized the Eagles’ conceit and vanity with a simple, memorable phrase that, for better or worse, was henceforth inextricably fixed to their failed 2011 season. Young made a mistake, and the Eagles were worse off because of it.
Which is why Michael Vick’s recent comments are even more troubling than their obvious semantic connotations suggests. Vick, in an interview Tuesday with Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, said he thinks the Eagles as currently constructed can become a dynasty:
“When I look at our football team and what we have on paper, I think about when I was growing up and the great San Francisco 49er teams, the great Green Bay Packer teams, and the Great Dallas Cowboy teams, how they just positioned themselves to compete and be one of the best teams out there. I think we have a chance to be that. I think we have a chance to become a dynasty.”It’s important to mention that Vick to a degree qualified his statement earlier in the interview:
“I think just getting to the postseason right now is our focus. The Super Bowl is going to come if it’s meant to happen.John Fennelly gave his thoughts on Vick's comments last week in a post that includes the full interview.
To be fair, people tend to ramble when responding to questions on live TV or in front of microphones, particularly when they don’t know the questions beforehand. I can’t say that was the case in this interview, but I get the feeling Vick didn’t have the word “dynasty” stashed in his back pocket before he went on air. More than anything else, it seemed as if he was struggling to come up with a way to clearly convey his thoughts. Vick’s interviewer, CSN Philly’s Derrick Gunn, posed a leading question that in many ways demanded the sort of confident, assertive answer that Vick provided. Vick took Gunn’s question and ran with it, embellishing his original assertion—that he believes his team is really, really talented—in a pretentious and boastful manner. Once he mentioned dominant teams of the past like the 49ers, Cowboys and Packers, Vick put himself in dangerous territory. It came off as a suggestion that the Eagles, like those other teams, would win multiple championships in close proximity, rather than a talent comparison, which doesn’t require a huge stretch of the imagination. I think Vick was simply commenting on his team’s immense potential to resemble those teams from a talent standpint. This was not, contrary to popular belief, some LeBron Jamesian declaration of future championhips, or at least it didn’t seem like it.
Whatever it was, the Eagles now face a situation they’re all too familiar with. Last season, Vince Young heaped unnecessary pressure on a team with tons of new pieces that clearly needed time to gel, mature and develop before realizing its “dream team” potential. Vick’s comments, while not quite as damning, will be miscast as an audacious claim promising postseason success and Super Bowl championships. The word “dynasty”, much like Young’s “dream team”, will serve as a rallying cry for opposing teams as well as a justification for any regular or postseason loss. After a drama-filled season that saw Philadelphia fall well short of preseason expectations, the last thing it needed was another bold, far-fetched label hanging over its head. Confidence and trash talk are regular occurrences in the Monday-Saturday portion of NFL life. Every team—including the Giants—participates in this practice, with mixed results. Teams take pride in verbally harassing their opponents before they meet on the field, and it often provides comfort to inferior or less-talented teams. Vick’s comments are different…in a bad way. They’re completely unprovoked, and, whatever their actual intent, will be construed as a generalized declaration of perceived talent superiority.
The Eagles may have finished last season on a high note, and perhaps this is the year when their free agent spending spree pays dividends. But Vick may have disrupted the positive momentum building in Philadelphia. The Eagles, powered by a sense of newfound optimism, hoped to begin their 2012 season differently than the last, free from the same sort of pervasive media scrutiny and league-wide pressure. Now the word “dynasty” will weigh over them all season in much the same way that “dream team” saddled them last year. It’s championship or bust in Philadelphia. After all, that’s what dynasties do: win championships.