In psychology, "anhedonia" is the condition of being unable to take pleasure in normally pleasurable things.
Philadelphia Eagles fans are suffering from "Andydonia" — the inability to take any pleasure from the team's success under head coach Andy Reid. Only now, on the eve of a second playoff game and after great hesitation, have Eagles fans been able to offer close to full-throated support of their team.
Although fans of other teams have been known to have love/hate relationships with the coach, it usually correlates to wins/losses. The current Eagles squad has been locally loathed win, lose or draw. Especially draw.
Reid took over as coach in 1999 and installed Donovan McNabb as his starting quarterback the next season. Since then, the team has piled up the most wins in the NFC. But when the Eagles found themselves mired in mediocrity through Week 12 of this season, a cry went out across south Jersey, through Bucks County and through the Delaware Valley: Fire the coach, bench the quarterback!
Mind you, the Eagles have made the playoffs in six of the past eight years. McNabb has never lost an opening-round playoff game, whereas the exalted Peyton Manning has lost six. That didn't matter to fans; they still wanted the top Eagles out.
Then, with less than a third of the season remaining — as if to stick it to their poor suffering fans who perceive themselves as more oppressed than Burmese monks — the Eagles did something really low. They began to win. First, they beat Arizona on Thanksgiving.
"You didn't know whether to cheer or grit your teeth while watching McNabb and a revitalized Brian Westbrook carve up the Arizona Cardinals," said Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Phil Sheridan.
Grit your teeth, Sheridan reasoned, because the team looked so good that it makes you mad that they ever played bad. Uh-huh.
Inquirer columnist Bill Conlin celebrated McNabb's four touchdowns by saying, "He has reached his expiration date here."
The next week, the Eagles beat the team with the best record in football, the New York Giants. Philly sports blogger Lee Russakoff, a pal of mine, saw it as a terrible sign. "The last two games shouldn't save Reid's job — they should be the final nails in his coffin," he said. Russakoff's reasoning was similar to Sheridan's: that wins are nothing to celebrate, just occasions to rue past failures.
The next week, the Eagles went out and beat the Browns 30-10 on Monday Night Football.
All of this damned winning prompted this exchange between local ESPN radio host Mike Missanelli and ESPN football reporter Sal Paolantonio:
Paolantonio: Everyone I talk to is like, "Oh, this is just going to delay [firing Reid and McNabb], it's just going to set the franchise back if they make the playoffs." ... Nothing is for sure in sports! You just gotta enjoy the moment. Why can't we just enjoy it?
Missanelli: I'm a sports talk show host! I can't enjoy, I have to go to the next level — the next level is, will the QB be back if they get into the playoffs?
A Philadelphian through and through, Paolantonio is also a national reporter whose knowledge of the history of the game is unparalleled. That was obviously getting in the way of his Eagle logic.
Social scientists actually do have a term for what's going on in Philadelphia, and it's not Andydonia. It's called the habituation effect, which economists refer to as declining marginal utility. Those aren't the words being screamed on talk radio, but they basically mean that sometimes more is less.
Human beings can't seem to take pleasure in what they have, be it a good income or a good football team, in absolute terms. There's a need to keep getting better, and to convince yourself that good isn't good enough. Right now, the Eagles fans are like the Wall Street trader who just made a million dollar bonus but is surrounded by co-workers who all got $5 million bonuses. Circumstances like these gave us the saying, "I never knew how good I had it."
Overextolling Sproles' Role
The sports media world went a little nutty over LaDainian Tomlinson's little buddy this weekend. In the San Diego Chargers' win over the Indianapolis Colts, backup running back Darren Sproles accounted for 328 all-purpose yards — the third highest in playoff history. This prompted columnist Mike Lupica to say on ESPN's The Sports Reporters that Sproles put forth one of the great games in playoff history.
Come now. At no point during that game did a viewer wonder, "My God, how are they going to stop Sproles?!" Sproles had a nice game. His all-purpose tally reflected a good, but not mind-blowing 150 yards from scrimmage against the league's No. 24 run defense. He got the bulk of his yardage on punt and kickoff returns. It's unusual for a starting tailback to return all the kicks and punts, so Sproles' accomplishment was something of a quirk.
I don't want to denigrate Sproles. Without him, how could we note that if the Chargers' goals include Super Bowls, then Sproles' many roles will have him wearing out his soles.