The Eagles captured the hearts of Philadelphia sports fans a long time ago. Now the Eagles have captured, if not the heart, at least the interest and the imagination of the rest of the country. The Eagles can now make a legitimate claim to being America’s Team. They may not be the team for which everybody in the country roots, but they are team that everybody wants to watch.
Of the Top 10 rated shows on television last season, three were Eagles games. Their NFC East matchup with Dallas on Dec. 12 was the highest-rated show in the five years of Sunday Night Football and the highest rated game on Sunday or Monday night since 1998.
The Cowboys – the original America’s Team – have always been a TV draw, but in this case viewers weren’t tuning in to see Jon Kitna throw the ball. No, most of the estimated 19.1 million viewers wanted to see Michael Vick in action.
The networks, of course, noticed those impressive numbers. That’s why, the very next day, the Eagles’ game against Minnesota was moved (or “flexed’’) from 1 p.m. to 8:20 p.m. on Sunday night. A blizzard forced it to be moved to Tuesday night, when the Eagles played in their sixth prime-time game of the season, the most of any team in the NFL. They finished 5-1 under the lights while averaging 35.4 points per game.
The Eagles became must-see TV because of two players, most notably Vick. He finished second overall to New England’s Tom Brady in Pro Bowl voting and there’s an even better indication of his popularity: According to SportsOneSource, three different Vick jerseys were among the top 10 sellers in NFL apparel in 2010. That’s right – there are about 1,700 active players in the NFL and one player had three jerseys in the top 10. Vick’s green jersey was No.1, his white youth jersey was No.3 and his black jersey was No. 9.
That’s not just people in Philadelphia and Atlanta and Virginia Beach buying all those jerseys. Michael Vick has become a national attraction and that’s also put the spotlight on his team.
However, Vick isn’t the only Eagle with star power and perhaps the only other player in the NFL who can compete with him from a must-see standpoint stands in the same huddle as he does. When the NFL put together its Highlights or the Year reel, wide receiver-punt returner DeSean Jackson was prominently featured, including his 91-yard catch-and-run for the clinching touchdown against Dallas and his 65-yard punt return for the winning touchdown against New York, which ESPN viewers voted as the top play in the 2010 season.
“DeSean Jackson is the most dynamic player I’ve ever been around,’’ Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said, which is notable because Mornhinweg coached superstars like Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, John Taylor and Ricky Watters when he worked in San Francisco.
Those two Eagles share something special, something that makes you hesitant to go to the bathroom or grab another beer when they’re on the field. You don’t even want to blink because they might do something you’ve never seen before and will never see again. Brady might be a better quarterback than Vick and Atlanta’s Roddy White might be a better receiver than Jackson and Chicago’s Devin Hester might be a better returner. But no players in the NFL put you on the edge of your seat, and keep you there, like Vick and Jackson.
“With Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson, you’ve got athletes and you’ve got entertainment, baby,’’ Eagles defensive end Trent Cole said. “They get it done in all kinds of different ways – crazy ways.”
Or, as Jackson said of playing Robin to Vick’s Batman: “We just try to show everybody in America how much excitement me and him have together.”
America has noticed, and that’s why the Eagles are now her team.