Special to Page 2
For 21 weeks, from late-summer heat to autumn chills to the deep frost of winter, I have heard from all of you deranged, hilarious, inebriated, passionate Philadelphia Eagles fans. And truth told, I expected what I got: Comedy in a green jersey, from a blue-collar fan base unafraid to tell it like it is.
I heard it all -- from the bravado of the 700 Level at the dearly-departed Vet, to your 21st century-fashioned insecurities and fears about what your team had in store for you in yet another, bitter January.
It was not, however, until I received an e-mail from one of the more esteemed writers I've met in this business that I realized just how deep the bond runs. Because I'll be honest: I love the interactions I've had with Philly fans this year at The Hangover, and I'm happily rolling out another special edition of the Philly Corner for Page 2, but -- and I'm just being honest here -- I'm having trouble seeing a scenario where the bloodless New England Patriots lose on Sunday.
Easy! Easy! Easy, partner. We're still friends. I'm not saying I want the Pats to win. I'm just saying I've seen them be too good for too long to think they'll lose on the big stage. And I could be wrong; I've made a career of being wrong. And I'd hope you all appreciate my forthrightness on this topic. We're close enough pals to be honest, right? All that said -- I'm amazed at the True Believers in Philadelphia.
Let's get back to that e-mail from the esteemed writer. I won't print his name, because he didn't tell me to run this. I'll just say he works for a big-city newspaper, and has a very responsible position at it, and has written some very important and engaging stories.
And he's a Birds fan.
And his e-mail went like this:
"I was at the NFC Championship, and it was colder than the freezer set at 10, but it was still one of the happiest days of my life. I'm having a Super Bowl party at the crib on Sunday, and a few of my oldest homies from Philly will be in the house, including one who's flying in from L.A.
"Trust me, these cats do not know how to act. An Eagles Super Bowl, a wedding, or a funeral are the only three reasons why my wife would allow these guys to be in our house at the same time. I expect 'For-Sale' signs to be popping up around the neighborhood by Monday morning.
"I too have drunk the Kool-Aid, and I believe the Birds can pull it off. Win or lose, no way the Eagles are giving up 40 points to New England like Pittsburgh did. If we score 24 points or more, we win."
Understand, these aren't the words of a guy in his 30s, living in his parents' basement, lighting a candle at his Ron Jaworski poster. This is a responsible adult, with a family to care for and a glamorous gig.
A friend flying from L.A. just for the game ... a wife allowing grown men to act like giddy children in her home, risking her abode's neighborhood reputation ... a full-on drinking of 'the Kool-Aid' ... I believe the Birds can pull it off. Eagles Nation, you are united.
Time for me, now, to get out of the way, and let the anecdotes and e-mails tell the story of a city, a team and a dream -- convulsing in sweaty, nervous joy.
Setting the Tone
We need a table-setting e-mail, and I believe Birds fan Jason G. in Louisiana speaks for all of you when he e-mails simply these words: "Seriously -- I really think I am going to have to start drinking Thursday, to take the edge off Sunday." Bottoms up, J.
A scene from the Linc
Lest you get too caught up in the hype from Jacksonville, remember that it was two short weeks ago you were all at the Linc, witnessing visions of subtle beauty such as the one e-mailed by John Leyh of Hockessin, Delaware. Leyh works for Budweiser, but happily transmits the following tableau: "So we're in Section D3 of the Wachovia Center parking lot. Some guy gives absolutely the best impression of Merrill Reese I have ever heard. I've never seen Reese in person, so for all I know it was really him."
Leyh continues: "He delivers a huge speech about our Birds and why this time is it for us. All of a sudden, this other guy appears on the roof of a U-Haul trailer. He starts the E-A-G-L-E-S cheer, then takes off his jersey and throws it in the air."
Leyh's eye for detail is keen: "I swear," he writes, "within three seconds the wind had that thing on I-95."
It goes on: "He's going nuts, and he calls for a beer. Like, 30 cans of beer (Miller Lite, no less) go flying through the air towards the guy. Some go past him, and he catches a couple. He gets hit by a few more, yet manages to crack open and pour three beers down his face and chest."
Here is where Leyh has a gut-check moment: "It was hard. I'm an Eagles fan, yet I was torn between this guy's intensity for the Birds, and the fact that I'm a Bud guy -- and he's drinking Miller, for God's sake!"
Ladies and gentlemen -- a pregame scene from the parking lot at an Eagles game. Take it for what it's worth.
A report from a Hangover legend
Longtime readers know that Philly resident Paul (20 Pound Motionless Quaker Head) Manion has been a key component of The Hangover and the Philly Corner, and Manion must be heard at this time. His vignette from the afterglow of the NFC Championship: "I walked past one of the ubiquitous snow drifts that are filling our city streets the other day," Manion writes, "to see someone had written EAGLES in bright green spraypaint on the snow. A fan SPRAYED PAINT ONTO SNOW." (Manion's caps provided for emphasis.)
A report from another Hangover legend
Gabe from Philly has been a consistent and comedic contributor. In fact, it was Gabe from Philly who got the whole Meat Sweats wagon rolling, way back in Week 1 or 2. Now, Gabe is in heat. He's in Jacksonville, but before he left reported that the Eagles are doing what even the holidays sometimes cannot do -- bring families together. He says stories are legion of expat Philadelphians flying home to be with grandparents, or mom and dad, or brothers and sisters, just for the game. But not all of Gabe's feelings are warm and fuzzy. He dares to enter the world of comparisons between Eagles fans and Patriots fans, between Philly and Boston.
"Philly and Boston might have a lot of similarities," he writes, "but Boston is most certainly a baseball town and Philly is most certainly a football town. Throw in the 'Yankee-fication' of their fan base and you've got a big group of people who don't deserve anything more than seeing Tom Brady on 'Hollywood Squares', in the Jim J. Bullock spot."
Whoa! Count it as the first anti-New England salvo in the Philly Corner, and let the floodgates open.
Let's be honest. The Philly Corner has long ignored -- convieniently -- the darker side of Philly's soul. We don't endorse the physical assaults, and like to think the majority of you are funny and endearing, not violent. That said, we must recognize that, when pushed, Philadelphians will defend their turf. Last week's Philly Corner included a couple of e-mails from New Englanders dismissing Philly as a second-rate town and team, and let's just say Eagles fans have responded with a collective snowball to New England's head. Their main argument: Not long ago, the Patriots were a forgotten franchise, doomed to obscurity. So, in Philly-speak, where do these jerks get off talking like their stuff don't stink? (Note: That last sentence was severely tidied up by the ESPN.com copy police. Please use your imagination for the real sentiment.)
Anyway, an Eagles fan known only as Rich D. writes: "I love both cities and have great memories of living in both. But Patriots fans are acting a bit nouveau riche. They're forgetting their Tony-Eason-jersey-wearing, Jim-Plunkett-in-a-Raiders-uniform-watching, please-God-let-the-toilets-in-Foxboro-work-praying, Irving-Fryar-meltdown-watching roots." Concludes Richard: "Four years back, guys. Four years back."
John Szczepanski from Buffalo isn't even an Eagles fan. He's a Bills fan, and experiencing AFC East envy. Szczepanski's message is the same to Pats fans: "Don't forget that your team was once crap, and unto crap thou shalt return."
Almost has a Biblical ring, doesn't it?
The ultimate comes from Pete L. in Conshohocken, Pa., who sees the game as nothing short of a clash of cultures. Excepting what he sees as real passion in Southie, Pete writes off Boston as a bastion of the effette. He writes to a Pats fan named Gabe from last week's column, a note that derided Philly as a "marginal town": "Enjoy the game, Gabe, make a day of it," Pete says. "Maybe soak up all the grandeur of your fair city with one of those duckboat tours in the day, maybe swing out to Brookline for some sushi ... I'll spend the day in my marginal town, soaking up anything and everything that might just clog up the remaining millimeter of my arteries that isn't already clogged."
Pete isn't done. "I'll run the Art Museum steps for exercise and visit Valley Forge to call on some real Patriots. I'll take a drive down to Penn's Landing to gaze on the Spirit of 76 and stroll Elfreth's Alley, America's first street. I'll kick by Pat's and Geno's for a pregame cheesesteak, double whiz wit, before rolling over to Chickie N Pete's to watch the game with real fans -- the kind who will live and die on every play not because we're underdogs, not because that is what marginal people do, but because passion isn't something you learn. It is innate, inborn and exists in every corner of this city."
Pardon me, reader, while I dab at the corner of my eye.
Anybody else hear Ray Charles' "America the Beautiful" in the background when you read that?
We the people, in order relieve a more perfect bladder
If Pete's Philly-phirst screed doesn't touch you, we turn to Joe W., a Philadelphian now living in Florida who tries to find the right way to describe what it means to be an Eagles fan. He settles on this poetic image:
"2003, first year of the Linc. At the Eagles-Panthers NFC title game, I'm proud to say we treated our new palace with the respect it deserved: No more urinating in the sinks."
Touching, but Joe isn't done: "Showing decorum beyond our years, my buddies and I displayed the level-headed temperament heretofore only found in 'top-drawer' cities. Our group of eight wandered the concourse area, with one in the middle and seven forming a 'human shield.'"
Still with him? Joe goes on: "The 'middleman' would casually empty his bladder into an empty beer cup, and upon finishing, simply deposit the contents into a nearby trashcan and take his place as a member of 'the shield.' This process was repeated until the mission was successfully completed. To the untrained eye, it was nothing but an innocuous halftime gathering of friends."
The mere description of the act moves Joe, and he finds himself struggling to keep his eyes dry. "It's that kind of team-first attitude that makes me long for my time in South Philly," Joe writes.
Andy Reid as Maori Warrior
Eagles fans, know that a globe is watching on Sunday. An e-mail comes from Birds fanatic Eric C. in New Zealand. He moved to Kiwi Land recently, and while he loves it, and plays rugby, he has trouble convincing the locals of the importance of the Green and White. Eric writes that he will be, quite simply, wigging out in Wellington come Sunday.
"On Monday the 7th of February, at 12 p.m. in New Zealand, nothing else will matter to me. I will be in front of the TV watching the game I've waited my whole life to see. Nothing can stop me. I've called off work, put a lock on the door and told the housemates to leave, if they wish to live."
Writes Eric: "You can take the Philadelphia fan out of Philadelphia, but you can't take the Fan out of the Man. This game makes me feel at home, makes me feel like an American, makes me feel proud to be alive, because my team is in the Super Bowl and I can watch them win -- because they can."
And if they do?
Writes Eric, from the Southern Hemisphere: "If they do what we all know they're capable of, you'll be watching celebrations in Wellington, New Zealand, of one man, one flag, drunkenly marching proudly in front of the government houses -- and even they will understand that in American football, or 'gridiron' as they call it, the Philadelphia Eagles are world champions."
Did somebody cue up Ray Charles again? Damndest thing.
A final thought
The more brilliant of you Eagles fans are what have touched me the most and, hopefully, have touched the readers the most. Eagles fans aren't all idiots, drunk and felonious and bizarre. Many are funny and smart and dying -- just dying -- for Sunday.
My favorite comes from a reader named Alex M. He is real, he is honest, he is a Birds fan -- dying, just dying for Sunday. Alex's point: Philly is flawed. Philly is cold and miserable. Philly is not glamorous. Philly is hard-bitten and frostbitten.
But Philly is his town. And the Eagles are his team. Writes Alex: "I can't wait to tell my friends what we have to put up with in this second-rate city. The winters are wretched, the summers humid and oppressing, spring and fall don't even exist here."
He goes on: "In most cities, college guys brag about how many girls they have hooked up with this semester. In Philly, we brag about how long we've gone without. We brag about how bad our hangovers are, and how many Gatorades it took to get our sight back."
Alex's question: If the Eagles win the Super Bowl, will Philly lose its identity of the ne'er-do-well town of America, the burg that can't get it done, the city that never wakes up to find itself top of the heap, king of the hill, A-Number-One?
Alex finds the muse. He writes: "The suffering. The pain. The misery. We love it. We hate it. We need it."
Could Alex be right? Is Philly destined for phailure? He didn't want to believe it. He wants to believe the best. He is, however, speaking from the heart.
I prefer to think of my friend's e-mail, the one that opened The Hangover's Philly Corner at the top of this piece. I prefer to think of his crew from childhood in Philadelphia, gathering at his home this Sunday. I prefer to think of the hugs, the Eagles jerseys, the spirit that brought them together, through all these years.
I prefer to think they believe the Eagles can win. Godspeed, Birds fans. It's been a fun ride.
E-mail Brian Murphy at email@example.com with thoughts, questions and unanswerable philosophical rants -- and Philly stories, especially from Jacksonville.