By Tim McManus
The day Michael Vick plays his first game as an Eagle.
Everyone wondered what The Day would be like. Just how big of a circus would come to town? How large of a demonstration would encompass the sports complex? And how much of the hostility would spill into the Linc?
In terms of grandeur, the scene fell short of a spectacle. Turns out, most of the battles were subtle if not internal.
The demonstrators were few. A small cluster of independent protestors gathered at the corner of 11th and Pattison, just across the street from Citizen’s Bank Park and in the direct path of Eagles faithful making the trek into the stadium.
A light rain set the mood for what was a dampened protest.
“I wish there was more of us. Maybe the weather has something to do with it,” said Denise Dinacola, holding one edge of a large sign that read, ‘NFL, Eagles Tolerate This’ above a picture of a mauled and bloodied dog, in full color.
Ron Lonero was holding the other edge.
“I just came down trying to find somebody holding a sign,” Lonero said. “You have to wonder why bigger organizations aren’t here.”
There were about 20 protestors in all. The signs included:
‘Ethics Over Athletics’;
‘National Felon League’;
‘Stop. Think. Boycott. Your wallet bleeds green while the tortured bleed red.’;
‘Buying a ticket = supporting murder’.
Overwhelmingly, the pedestrians who chose to react vocally to the demonstrators had a dissenting opinion.
Scathing remarks ranged from “Get a job, hippy!” to “You are the ones that are sick!” as fans worked there way through the gathering. Arguments were heated at times, but never escalated – plain-clothed Philadelphia Police Officers were there to ensure that.
“Stupid. Seems to be a waste of time,” said Jon Schauer, watching from the edge of the sidewalk with two of his friends. “There are more people here that want Vick than there are protestors.”
And some who wore their support of the Vick signing on their back.
Donald Folks was one of dozens who sported a Vick Eagles jersey, contrasting sharply with the posters he had to walk by.
“They can do what they want,” Folks said of the demonstrators. “The guy paid his dues. They should be holding up signs for health care, or helping the homeless guy walking down the street.”
Is the jersey to support Vick?
“Nah, man. I bleed green,” said Folks.
“We support forgiveness,” added his wife, Queen.
Moments later a father and his young daughter passed through the demonstration; the little girl clearly distressed, the father already in the midst of explanation.
“That’s because of Michael Vick. He used to fight dogs and…”
Jeff Cox and his two sons walked through soon after. They were silent, but clearly moved, as they took in the scene.
“I hate him,” Cox finally said. “I am a lifelong Eagles fan and I can’t believe they made me choose between my team and ethics. It’s my son’s birthday, that’s the only reason I’m here.”
More protestors arrived sporadically as kickoff approached, greeted warmly by their kin and then mocked in the next blink by a disapproving Eagles fan.
The exception to the trend was Fred Shaffer, a man appearing in his 70’s who donned a military-style crew cut and a white Eagles poncho as he marched toward the stadium.
“I agree with you,” he shouted to the outnumbered protestors. “Keep up the good work!”
When tracked down, he provided the following explanation:
“I have been an Eagles fan since 1957. I have been to, watched on television or listened to every Eagles game since then. I think it’s disgusting he’s on the football team. Does he deserve a second chance at life? Absolutely. But not in the NFL.
“I will always be an Eagles fan, but it’s a disgrace he is on this team.”
With that, the rest of the fans scurried into the stadium to see the opening kickoff. And when Vick took the field on just the second play of the game, most of the crowd rose in unison and greeted their new weapon warmly.
Left unspoken in that gesture of team support is a division that is unlikely to be sealed, and internal strife for many that is unlikely to be soothed by quality play.