AT THE RUMBLE — In a town desperate for a championship, fans will latch on to any ray of hope, even that of a professional wrestler. Welcome to Philadelphia.

I saw this first hand at the Royal Rumble in Philadelphia, home of the Eagles. A team that lost in the NFC Championship game last Sunday, their third straight loss in the title game. Which begs the question, can outside events influence the reaction of a crowd? I say yes.

As a die-hard Eagles fan, I had visions of the Wachovia Center being a sea of green for the Royal Rumble. I bought my Rumble tickets weeks before the NFC Championship game. After the improbable comeback win against the Green Bay Packers, a so-called ‘Team of Destiny’, I thought there was no way the Birds could lose to the up-start Carolina Panthers.

In the week leading up to the game, I though ahead to the Rumble. How the Wachovia Center would be a sea of green and silver jerseys, with the chant of ‘E-A-G-L-E-S’ breaking out during every match. How I would blend into the crowd, adorned with my Eagles apparel. How I would be talking Super Bowl strategy with total strangers. And, most importantly, how my fellow SLAM! Wrestling writer, Nick Tylwalk, would hate it, him being a Cowboys fan and all. I was looking forward to a hot crowd at my second-ever PPV event.

The Eagles didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, though. They were thoroughly beaten by the Panthers, and a city and its fan base were shocked and left in total disbelief. I was part of that crowd. Instead of my Eagles jersey, I wore my Phillies throwback, in support of John Cena of course. More importantly though, as I entered the Wachovia Center, I could feel a diminished sense of excitement.

Don’t get me wrong, the crowd popped for the start of the event. They popped for the first match of the evening with the Dudleys. But that excitement didn’t last long, partially due to poor booking of matches, and the hangover from the Eagles’ loss. The Dudleys are local heroes in the Philly area from their ECW days, but a match that ended in under 10 minutes and with them losing, just sucked the life out of an all ready deflated crowd.

The rest of the card was pretty uninspiring, don’t even get me started on Lesnar/Holly debacle. Then the music of the Heartbreak Kid filled the arena. Shawn Michaels inspired the crowd, making them believe he could pull of the win over Triple H. With both men down, and the ref counting to ten, the crowd grew tense as HBK tried to pull himself off the canvas before the count ended. But, like every Philadelphia franchise since 1983, HBK couldn’t pull himself up and claim the championship. Had HBK climbed to his feet and won the Heavyweight Title, a new roof might be on order for the Wachovia Center right now, as Philly fans would finally have a champion to celebrate, even if it’s only sports entertainment. Alas this match ended in a draw, with Triple H retaining his belt. In any other city there may have been a riot, but this is Philly, where fans have been conditioned to handle disappointment.

The premier match was one of the best I’ve seen. The crowd was pretty hot through the whole thing. Mick Foley had one of the biggest pops all night, and so did the tolling of the Undertaker’s bells. Even if it was just a distraction to eliminate Kane. The crowd did leave happy, though. Chris Benoit, a fan favorite (except with Nick’s brother) won the Rumble. And he did it in a way the Philly fans could respect. He entered number one, and worked his butt off for over an hour to claim what he ultimately deserved. Even the fact that he’s Canadian didn’t stop the crowd from showering him with praise. He’s a blue-collar champion for a blue-collar town.

Hopefully the next time the WWE swings through Philly, circumstances will be better. Then the world can see what kind of wrestling fans really live in the City of Brotherly Love.

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    Dale is a close to entering his second year of service on the SLAM! Wrestling staff. Dale was hoping to have some pictures from the Royal Rumble, but he would of had a better chance at getting photos from the Mars surface, than any in-ring action.