<em>“What’s more American than a cowboy?”</em>
<em>“Benjamin Franklin. That’s what’s more American.”</em>
<em>“Benjamin Franklin. The founder of our country, here in Philadelphia.”</em>
— from the film “Silver Linings Playbook”.
December 15th, 1968. That’s when it started.
On that day, the Philadelphia Eagles would play the last game of the NFL season against the Minnesota Vikings. The venue was Franklin Field, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.
The Eagles were terrible that year. They had been bad for many years. Ironically, they were not so bad as to procure the first pick in the next college player draft. The Buffalo Bills would have that pick and use it to draft O.J. Simpson. Simpson would go on to be become one of the greatest running backs in professional football history and an American icon. In the 1990’s, Simpson would slip into anonymity, never to be heard from again.
Typical Eagles. They sucked at sucking.
Back to 1968. That last game was played in freezing temperatures. It had snowed that week, and no one thought to clear the snow from the bleachers.
And in this mess Frank Olivo walked to infamy. Olivo went to the game dressed as Santa Claus. Some genius from the Eagles front office thought it would be a good idea if Olivo walked onto the field at halftime. That would fill the crowd with Christmas cheer!
The fans, cold and overspilling with bitter angst—as well as imbibed with a bounty of spirits—booed Olivo. Then they pelted him with snowballs.
That was 50 years ago. The reputation of Philadelphia sports fans has digressed since then. Simply stated, no other region of the country is less respected, and the target of scorn and ridicule in the realm of sports, more than my hometown…the City of Brotherly Love.
Massive brawls during games? Yeah, that has happened. I was there: December 27th, 1981. On that day I attended a playoff game between the Eagles and the New York Giants. Two brawls broke out. The second melee seemed to clear out an entire section of fans. The Eagles lost, 27-20.
Philly fans cheer when opposing players get hurt. We throw snowballs at the television announcers. We openly harass fans of the other team as they walk to the venue. This happens. I cannot deny it.
My question is this:
Is there a difference between a Philadelphian and a Philadelphia sports fan?
My editor has me on a word count that I break often; still, I am unable to list the multitude of these offenses. But I would ask my dozens of readers to trust me when I tell you that many of the incidents that make national news regarding Philadelphia sports fans are perpetrated by morons who live outside the city, usually New Jersey.
But that does not matter. So long as any violent incident at a sports event is committed by someone in gear emblazoned with a Philly team’s logo, the story will go national. And then the Comment Section Warriors will attack my hometown as sociopathic thugs.
Nearly everyone in America has a negative opinion of Philadelphia sports fans. And few people from the city proper have anything to do with the unfortunate stereotype that is branded on to us.
And now, the Philadelphia Eagles are going to play in Super Bowl LII. It would seem easy for most Americans to root against my beloved Birds, if only because they would not wish to see Philadelphians celebrate a Super Bowl victory. But then you consider who the Eagles are playing and the moral dilemma becomes evident.
The New England Patriots.
Yes, the Patriots. The living embodiment of evil in all of sports. The team caught cheating more than once. The team that seems to be the beneficiary of every controversial referee or instant replay decision. The team with an owner and quarterback who cheerlead for Donald Trump. The team with a head coach who might be the most dour, nasty human being alive.
For two decades, the Patriots have cheated their way to five Super Bowl wins. They have done this with no care about how they are perceived. They feed off the disdain most football fans hold for them. Everytime someone roots for a Patriots win, a puppy shivers in fear.
Face reality. If you plan on watching the Super Bowl, you must hope for an Eagles win. You just don’t have another choice. As dirty and amoral as it might feel at the time, rooting for me and my fellow Philadelphians to experience a moment of unbridled joy is less painful than seeing Tom Brady holding another Lombardi Trophy with the cocky look on his face again.
How can you do this with a clear conscious? To quote Bluto from the film “Animal House”: My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.
I am serious. Drink large amounts of alcohol. Philadelphians are much more digestible when your senses are impaired. Sometimes, we are almost likeable. By your eighth cocktail, you might find yourself singing “Fly, Eagles, Fly”, the Eagles fight song.
What other option is available? Watching a marathon on the Lifetime Movie Channel? Spoiler alert: The cheating husband did it.
Super Bowl Sunday is a national holiday. You could ignore the event, but few actually do that. You will watch the game and you will pick a side. You could root for the Patriots, but you will never feel clean again.
Jump on the bandwagon! Pull out that green shirt from your closet that you wear every year on March 17th and root for the team and the fanbase that has not won a championship since 1960. Americans love an underdog. We love when an evil empire gets its comeuppance. It is your duty as an American to root for the Eagles. Love us, and feel no shame doing so.
And after the game, win or lose, when some Eagles fan makes national news for an act of criminality, please remember one thing: he is most likely from New Jersey.