by Bill Lyon

Bill Lyon is a retired Inquirer sports columnist

And still they come.

Season after season. From venue after venue. Still they come.

From venerable old Franklin Field, where, it is whispered, the ghosts of Chuck Bednarik and Steve Van Buren dance at midnight. From Veterans Stadium, where, it is whispered, human sacrifices were flung from the storied 700 Level. From Lincoln Financial Field, whose current residents await a merciful end to their suffering.

And still they come.

Generations after generations after generations, coming to swear their undying allegiance, only to be met with heartbreak.

And still they come.

The last championship won by the E-A-G-L-E-S of Philadelphia is barely visible through the fog of despair:

Nineteen sixty.

Or, Fifty-five years.

And counting.

Or, Moses plus 15.

But from whatever angle you look, it is disheartening.

And still they come.

And now, Sunday, here they come again, betting against all logic, living on hope, blinded by devotion.

It is a strange, intriguing, fascinating love affair, this tumultuous relationship between a city and its professional football team.

The Iggles own Philly. Oh there may be brief flirtations, should a World Series happen along, or a Stanley Cup or an NBA triumph, but as we know those come along about as frequently as a lunar eclipse.

No, through thick and thicker, the Iggles faithful soldier on, humming that Willie Nelson classic "You Were Always on My Mind."

So then, what of the latest odyssey? It begins Sunday, against Cleveland, which strikes you as an opponent looking for a soft place to land, with 15 more to follow, more if the Birds have reached the postseason.

Which they won't.

This forecast is not out of spite, rather out of objectivity.

For starters there is the unavoidable, inescapable fact that they are virtually starting from scratch, courtesy of the deposed Chip Kelly, who managed to gut an entire franchise and whose three-year coaching stint was marked by mystifying personnel trades and drafts and roster purges.

As a lamentable result, the Birds find themselves locked in some puzzling situations, which were summed up by GM Howie Roseman's admission that they enter this season "a little uncomfortable."

Not exactly as inspirational as Teddy Roosevelt's charge up San Juan Hill.

Roseman: "We knew we had to get a little uncomfortable for this season and next season, really, to build something that hopefully lasts and gives us a chance being a really good team again for a long period of time."

Translation: "Button up, hunker down, we're going to stink on ice for the next couple of years."

And, yes, still they will come.

Every thing and almost every person is new, starting with the coach. Doug Pederson is the name, separating the wheat from the chaff is the game, along with clock management, the two-minute drill, changing on the fly, fair but firm in the locker room, spar adroitly with the media, and deal with the 37 other duties that require tending to . . . well, it can be a little overwhelming, especially when this is your first day on the job.

In a move that will turn out to be swashbucklingly bold or monumentally stupid, the Eagles have pushed a heaping pile of all-in chips into the pot. They have entrusted a raw rookie with their offense - Carson Wentz is touted to be not just a game-changer at quarterback but a franchise-changer.

He is 6-foot-5, the better to look over snarling, blitz-happy linebackers. He is possessed of a cannon arm, which is admirable, but he also is possessed of a fondness for contact, and in the NFL they have a separate category for such a fondness - injured reserve.

This is what they will be screaming into his helmet: "Slide, Carson, slide!"

And still they will come.

They will come shouting their spelling-bee defiance and with their faces painted green and they will huddle around the campfires in the parking lot, where, it is rumored, a man might secure himself an adult beverage.

They will spend their passion on the defense, for that is, after all, what they identify with most closely. It is the umbilical that tethers them, that enduring, grit-splattered image of tough team, tough town. And vice versa.

It says here their defense will have to row the heaviest oar and they might win seven games. Maybe eight.

And still they will come.