A fan base in need of its savior packed the Lincoln Financial Field lobby last Thursday night, drawn by free tickets to the Eagles draft party, but more so by the belief they were first in line to witness the resuscitation of their franchise.
At 8:22, Roger Goodell approached the podium, and the thousand-plus in midnight green started to cheer. “With the second pick . . .” the commissioner said, and that was enough. Cheers and high fives and rapture from the faithful. As Carson Wentz strode on stage for his Commish bear hug, the boys at the Linc reacted as if Margot Robbie had just knocked on their door to hand them a winning lottery ticket and eternal virility.
And with that, the future began. Except . . .
. . . Except that the future figures to sit with a clipboard for the next year.
Now comes the tough part for Eagles fans. Fed up with Sulking Sammy Bradford, they have been shown the attractive option. But, realistically, Carson Wentz doesn’t – shouldn’t – play until he’s ready. This isn’t Andrew Luck stepping into the NFL after 38 brilliant Pac-12 starts. Wentz is raw material, in need of molding and refinement.
So in the meantime, we gobble up the tidbits. Wentz’s airport arrival drew three camera crews – as well as a dog pack of moronic autographic seekers threatening to boo when he didn’t stop to sign. His first appearance in No. 11 sparked a run on that Eagles jersey at the NFL’s shopping site. It became North Dakota week, as we learned trivia such as Wiz Khalifa being the most famous native of the Roughrider State.
Well, not anymore.
Imagine the August pandemonium when Wentz shreds third-string cornerbacks in preseason garbage time. It is a fan’s right to dream and project. A few glossy summer stat lines and Eagles loyalists will be projecting their rookie QB right into the Hall of Fame at Canton.
Not since Allen Iverson or Eric Lindros has one of our franchise’s futures been so squarely placed on the back of a single player. If – perish the thought – Wentz is a bust, the Eagles are doomed for years. But if the Bismarck Bison is as smart, talented and competitive as projected, the Eagles will enter the 2020s ready to dominate a division that boasts no other talented young QBs. And, no, I’m not yet buying into Kirk Cousins.
Truth is, if Bradford ever dries his crying eyes and commits to the season, the Birds can win the weak NFC East even in 2016. That would be fun, no doubt. But the big story will be watching Wentz’s career unfold over time – from observant rookie, to skittish first-time starter, to developing star to – dare I say – Super Bowl winner. There is no guarantee, of course, and the odds are always long. But there is hope.
For now, however, hope has to sit on the bench.