(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Why The Eagles Might Have Lost Some Fans

Of course, the Eagles haven't lost any fans in Philadelphia. They probably have more fans than the Phillies, Sixers and Flyers combined, and you have to remember that in 1980 the Phillies were huge, as they won their first World Series ever, and that they drew over 3,000,000 last season in a new ballpark. Everywhere you go in the Philadelphia area, you see a tribute to the Eagles. The city and its suburbs are pumped.

But then there's the matter of air travelers. Philadelphia is a huge USAir hub, and you might have read around Christmas how travelers got stranded in Philadelphia, had an awful time getting their bags and even making their connections. What happened was that there were bad storms in the Midwest, and those storms delayed air travel all over the country, pushing some travelers' plans into Christmas day. Christmas is perhaps the lightest travel day of the year, and USAir didn't appear to have its normal "full" crew working. To make matters worse, some who were supposed to work at Philadelphia International Airport called in sick. The result was a well-chronicled travel mess that drew the attention of U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who was less than pleased with the situation. There were numerous stories about how travelers had to offer stipends of $100 to earnest (the way Captain Reynaud was in "Casablanca") USAir baggage handlers who were trying to help them locate their luggage. (Imagine seeing a sea of piled up luggage and saying "Mine is the black one with the pull handle on wheels and the black baggage tag!)

Fast forward until today. I got up at 5 a.m. to get to the airport, and made it there okay over slightly slick roads because of a snow shower that had dumped another inch on the area and got to my gate, at the end of the "B" concourse, where I was all set to read my morning paper and eat breakfast. At that point, they announced that my flight was moved to "A" concourse, and, as it turned out, the most remote gate there. A fellow passenger told me that I probably walked two miles to get to the new gate.

Aaargh! (Or, at least, "Good grief.").

Trying to turn a disappointment into an opportunity, I viewed the experience as good exercise carrying weights (as my laptop briefcase is no trivial matter in terms of a workout). Within about 10 minutes of my arrival at the new gate, with the flight information board still indicating that the flight was "on time", we were told that the flight was delayed because of a problem with a security check and later that they were trying to get the attention of a crew to do the check. About an hour and forty-five minutes later, we get on the plane, and the pilot told us that whatever they told us inside the airport, the real reason was that when they moved the plane from one gate to another, they forgot to tell catering, and, as a result, the catering truck had failed to show up at the right gate. Then, we had to wait another 20 minutes to get the plain de-iced. All told, the plane was 2 1/2 hours late.

Great teamwork from the USAir crew, by the way. Bury your teammates, why don't you, as if somehow the flying public gives the pilots and airline a pass if something goes wrong that isn't the flight crew's fault. If your average sports team ran itself that way, they wouldn't be fighting for a title at any time soon.

So the delay ensued, basically, for boxed meals that they charged between $5 - $7 for and seemed to run out of the one that everyone wanted (like that seldom happens, either.). Haute cuisine, it isn't, and it isn't even haute cuisine on a night flight to France.

Waiting for the plane, I sat near a sales manager for a nationally known medical products company, and he was having some fun pointing out how many airport employees looked to be sitting around and not really working. Especially prominent among this group was a USAir employee whose sole mission this morning was to scout out the waiting area at this gate to grab abandoned newspapers for his reading pleasure and to eat, as my new friend almost burst into a play-by-play watching this gentleman peeling a hard-boiled egg over a trash can.

Needless to say, the image that this gentleman will take away from Philadelphia is not of Andy Reid's acumen in picking and coaching players, not of Donovan's McNabb's leadership or Brian Dawkins' fearlessness, but of a balky airline who resembled more the '72-'73 Sixers (you can look it up, but Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham were long gone by then) than the 2004-2005 Eagles.

While the Eagles' hot streak is admirable and they have many compelling figures on their team for whom an out-of-towner might want to root, USAir has been on an equal streak -- bad. The airline is in deep trouble, the Christmas debacle left many customers saying "never again" and sometimes day-to-day experiences like the one I had leave the average traveler shaking his head. And, since Philadelphia is a USAir hub, the city and the airline are unfortunately linked.

Which, to me, means that the average non-Philadelphian who roots for the Patriots either a) lives in Boston or New England, b) grew up in Boston or greater New England, c) loves (i) Bill Belichick, (ii) Tom Brady, (iii) Corey Dillon, (iv) Teddy Bruschi, (v) Adam Vinatieri, or (vi) Rodney Harrison or (d) had an unfortunate travel experience on USAir while changing planes in or waiting for luggage in Philadelphia.

Memo to Donovan McNabb & Company: if they're booing you in Jacksonville or their living rooms, they're not necessarily booing you personally or professionally. They're probably booing an experience that they had at the Eagles' city's airport.

As for me, I'll root for the Eagles no matter what, I really will.

But just in case, I booked next week's business trip to have me returning to Philadelphia (for other reasons, too, I might add) on Saturday instead of Super Bowl Sunday.

After all, it's hard to let anyone or anything interfere with the proud ritual of watching your team's first Super Bowl appearance in a quarter century, let alone a national airline that couldn't figure out where to send its catering truck.

Fly Eagles, fly!

Just make sure you continue to take charters.


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