While obviously being excited about the prospects of the return of the National Football League this fall in lieu of the lockout that had the season in doubt for months, I was lukewarm about the prospects of my beloved and favorite franchise this year.

No, it is not the New England Patriots, which would lead people to believe I am a transport from another state or another region of the country. Not so. In fact, born and raised here in the Pine Tree State.

Also not a New York Giants fan, which for some reason is socially accepted up here in the Northeast and I’m sure caused a lot of hard feelings after the 2007 Super Bowl.

No, I have been a diehard Philadelphia Eagles’ fan since I was 10-years-old, when I was first introduced to the greatness that is “The Shield.”

My brother-in-law, Jack, who was then just my sister’s latest abomination of a boyfriend, turned me on to the Eagles and I’ve bled Eagle green ever since. And back then, who could blame me? With the likes of Randall Cunningham, Herschel Walker and the late Reggie White on the team, it was a fun team to watch. For those doing the math in their heads, this was the pre-Drew Bledsoe era for the Pats, when the incomparable Hugh Millen was taking snaps at Foxborough Stadium.

Fast forward to two weeks ago and well past the 2005 Super Bowl when Donovan McNabb blew his Chunky Soup all over the field attempting to drive Philly past New England in the big game, I had been tepid heading into this year, managing my expectations for the season. After all, I am also a huge Boston Red Sox fan, so I’ve had plenty of time to figure out the proper ways to do so (thanks for nothing Aaron Boone), with the exception of two desperately needed World Series titles in 2004 and 2007.

I’d find myself driving to work most of last week with thoughts drifting through my head like “Hey, 8-8 would be reasonable” or “The NFC East looks weak this year, maybe we’ll get a few breaks and win the division.”

And within literally a 72-hour period, everything changed. Emphatically.

It all started innocently enough when the Eagles signed defensive end Jason Babin to a five-year deal. Not a household name, but a solid player with a recent Pro Bowl to his credit. Then quickly thereafter, the inevitable Kevin Kolb trade became a reality, shipping him to Arizona for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick, which was by far the best deal the Eagles could have gotten. Kolb has the potential to be a great quarterback, but the verdict is still out on a guy with less career starts than I have fingers.

Then literally, out of nowhere, Philadelphia signed the most coveted prize of the free agency period, former Oakland cornerback Nnambi Asomugha, who has been one of the top defensive players in the game over the past few years that few people have heard about. Throw in former Tennessee quarterback Vince Young, Green Bay defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins and tight end Donald Lee, and the Eagles may have well turned themselves into, not only the favorite to win the NFC, but perhaps the Super Bowl. This would be a good time to point out that players such as Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, Asante Samuel, Trent Cole and Mike Patterson still play for Philly.

People, of course, are now drawing the comparison of the Eagles’ to the Miami Heat of the NBA, making Philly one of the most hated teams in the league.

As a long-time fan, that comparison is well off base. The biggest difference being that Miami is Miami, and Philadelphia is Philadelphia, plain and simple.

Miami has warm weather, beautiful scenery and a 2006 NBA title won by the Heat. Philadelphia has cold winters, blue-collar people, no Super Bowl, and cheesesteaks. That’s it. The town actually is a lot like Boston was before the Patriots finally won the Super Bowl: Cold winters, rabid fans that are loyal almost to a fault, and probably care a little bit too much.

If the Eagles lose, fans are angry for days. If the Heat lose, the people that were given free tickets go to the beach. The climate, no pun intended, is different here in the Northeast.

The point is that the city of Brotherly Love won’t let the Eagles turn into the Heat, because they care too much. They haven’t won a Super Bowl, they’re hungry, they’re true fans and they want it badly.

Now, I must reiterate that, on paper, this team looks incredible. And in theory, this team should be the favorites to win the NFC at least. But as we all know, more than any other sport, football is team oriented, not individually. And going along with that point, is that seeing really is believing. And until I see the team meshing on the field, buying into a team concept and not be about “getting theirs” individually, I’m treading cautiously. Confidently, but cautiously. I’ve seen these things go bad before.

I watched on television when the Rams beat the Eagles to move onto the Super Bowl in 2001. My brother-in-law and I were physically in Veteran’s Stadium at the NFC championship game in 2002, only to see Ronde Barber run down the sidelines with the game-winning touchdown. I saw Ricky Manning Jr. pick off McNabb three times in the NFC title game in 2003, watching a team that had no right to be there in Carolina move on to the Super Bowl.

And, of course, when Philly finally got over the hump and beat Minnesota to advance to the Super Bowl, they were spurned by of all teams, the Patriots, which literally flooded my voice mail with calls from my obnoxious New England friends.

The point I’m trying to make is: I’ve been here before. I’ve seen the show, and I know how it ends. Will this year’s team win it all? Not for me to say. But I’m excited about football again, and that’s a start.

Village NetMedia Associate Sports Director Mark Haskell can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email at mhaskell@villagesoup.com.