The Braves fashioned a collapse of epic proportions. Through five games, the Falcons have been a damp squib. Yet again, we in Atlanta have cause to wring our hands. This time, however, we have company.
We have Philadelphia.
With a string of division titles but only one World Series coronation, the Phillies have become the Braves of not-so-distant vintage. The Eagles are learning what it is to be dazzled by the potential inherent in Michael Vick only to be disappointed in the results.
I mean this not in a gloating way — can’t really gloat if your teams aren’t winning anything themselves — but as a form of sympathy. Philly, we Atlantans have been there, done that and have the replica jerseys to prove it.
The Phillies swept the Braves to begin the historic skid and again to conclude it, and over those final three nights the thought occurred: Did the Phils really want to play St. Louis in Round 1? Had the Braves taken the wild card, Philly would have been paired against Arizona, the least imposing of the National League qualifiers. By beating the Braves so often, the Phillies chose the instrument of their demise.
They got Pujols and Carpenter and Berkman and, yeah, La Russa. They were eliminated in an excruciating Game 5, in which Rafael Furcal, former Brave, led off with a triple against Roy Halladay and scored the only run. It marked the third time in postseason history that a winner-take-all game finished 1-0. Not surprisingly, the Braves lost one of those: In Minneapolis in 1991.
The Phillies have won five consecutive NL East titles. Since taking the 2008 World Series, they’ve been eliminated a round sooner every year. The past two seasons they’ve been ousted at home. They have a ways to go to match the Braves’ 14-division-titles-with-only-one-championship and that deflating span from 1997 through 2004 that saw the Braves eliminated at Turner Field every year but one, but still … this is cut from that tattered cloth.
The Phillies would seem to have it all, same as the Braves of the ’90s did: Great pitching, stellar everyday players, a top-class manager and the resources to buy what’s needed. But playoff baseball, as we here learned too well, defies prediction. The best team doesn’t always win. The Phillies were the best team over 162 games last season and this, and they wound up the same way as the 1993 Braves, who won 104 games only to be ousted by the Phillies, and the ‘98 team, which won 106.
As for the Eagles: They loved what Vick did for them last season and handed him a new contract worth $100 million over six seasons. If this sounds familiar, there’s a reason. As Vick was leading the Falcons to the 2004 NFC title game — where they would lose, don’t you know, to Philly — Arthur Blank re-signed him for 10 seasons at $130 million.
Students of local history will note that Vick was never so good again after signing that new contract. Some of it had to do with him being coached poorly, and some with the Falcons’ inability to put comparable talent around him. (And some, to be sure, had to do with Vick’s personal excesses, which would land him in a federal prison.) But Andy Reid has been the ideal coach for Vick, and the Eagles spent so lavishly to flesh out their roster that they were labeled the Dream Team.
Yet they’re 1-4, having won the opener and not since. They lost to the Falcons here on a night Vick made three turnovers and left with a concussion. He bruised his right wrist and had to exit the next week, too. On Sunday he threw four interceptions in a loss to Buffalo, bringing his season turnover total to 10.
It would be incorrect to lay the Eagles’ fumbling start solely at Vick’s fleet feet. (He hasn’t been very good, but he still has a higher passing rating than, say, Matt Ryan.) But the promise inherent in Vick is so vast — again, we speak from experience — that it’s tempting to believe he can win games by himself. Lost in the blather over the Dream Team was that Philly had assembled a roster of more flash than smash.
Having spent no small amount of time around the Phillies and the Eagles, I can attest that these are strong organizations who are serious about winning big. But wanting to win guarantees nothing. Those Braves who kept losing in Round 1 wanted to win. Michael Vick wanted to win when he worked in Flowery Branch. Everybody wants to win. But sometimes you lose 1-0.
We’ve been there, Philly folks. We feel your pain. Heck, we’re feeling it still.