Last night, the Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl. I am only a little ashamed to say that I cried. I didn’t mean to, but I felt like 38 years of hoping and wishing for that moment finally happened and I was overwhelmed with emotion.
Silly, isn’t it? Not to Philadelphians. It’s something Philadelphia has been waiting for for 52 years. And while I was born into a Philly sports family, I’ve really only been waiting 38 of my 49 years. I’ll explain in a second.
You see, there were several levels of emotion that came into play last night. Besides the obvious jubilance of my favorite, and hometown, team finally winning the coveted Lombardi Trophy, and besides the fact that revenge against the Patriots for the 2005 loss had finally been exacted, a lot of my tears were for my father.
When I was in sixth grade, the sports fan in me was born. I don’t know what prompted it to happen that particular year, but when it hit me, it hit me hard. My father was a die-hard Philly sports fan: football, baseball, hockey and basketball- in that order. (That order is coincidentally my order of preference, except I have no interest in professional basketball whatsoever. I digress.) I watched every Philly sports game that was on tv that year; most sitting side by side with my dad. I asked him for the sports page at breakfast in the mornings to read the highlights for any game I didn’t stay awake through, and to check the players’ stats. I knew the batting averages for my favorite Phillies (Manny Trillo and Larry Bowa), how many touchdowns Ron Jaworski threw that year (27) and all the standings in the Patrick Division of the NHL. I also was on top of stats for Dr. J. and Steve Mix. At breakfast, I was able to talk to my father about whatever game we had watched or one that was upcoming. I remember feeling badly at that age that my father only had daughters and no sons. I felt sad that he didn’t have a boy to play sports with or watch play- I was not an athlete by any stretch, so taking an interest in the Philly sports scene was a way I could try to be a “son” to my dad.
Gussie, South Philadelphia (Southern) high school football team
My dad never asked me to take an interest in sports or play sports or anything like that. Maybe it was my weird guilt for not having been born a boy as they expected me to be or just sadness that my mom got to do girlie things with me and my sister and my dad was relegated to a few father-daughter camping trips when we were Girl Scouts that made me want to throw myself into sports. I remember talking about the previous night’s hockey game with my dad one morning and my mother admonishing him: “Stop indulging her! We’re not raising a tomboy!” Tomboy? I couldn’t even do a layup! And with that my passion for Philly sports grew even more. I wasn’t going to give up watching sports because it wasn’t “for girls.”
My first Eagles game- 1983. Dallas crushed them. 😦
I used to love the fights in hockey (something I cannot stand to watch now) and if I had gone up to bed before a game was over and a fight broke out, my dad (knowing it took me an hour to actually go to sleep) would thump on the ceiling-at my request- so I could go back downstairs and cheer for the fighting Flyer. (That’s a little weird, I realize.)
Baseball was boring for some people but not for me. I learned the rules, the jargon and in high school I was the team manager, learning to keep score in the big, unwieldy book and call the newspapers to give them the stats. I watched every Phillies game on tv. My grandfather, an avid baseball fan, had season tickets and took me to Phillies games. This was sometimes surprising to my father who thought he was going only to find out that I would be in the other seat instead of him). In fact, when Larry Bowa was traded to the Cubs, I was so upset that my grandfather bought more tickets for the Cubs series and took me to the games so I could see Bowa play.
So, having spent every Sunday in the 1979-80 and 1980-81 seasons watching the Eagles with my father and feeling the excitement after a win and the sadness after a loss, I was giddy when the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl. My father and I talked about the possibility all season, with me continually offering my suggestion to send Dick Vermeil a letter to ask him to put my favorite play in the repertoire: the Flea Flicker. (I had seen Jaworski and Louie Giammona do this once and I thought it was the most exciting thing in football.) I never sent that letter but as that Eagles gained momentum that season, my excitement- and my father’s- grew. “They could win the Super Bowl,” he told me. I believed they could, too.
Eagles’ logo in 1980’s
But Oakland had a different plan for Philly that year and they handed the birds a loss in their only Super Bowl championship appearance to date. I felt crushed. My father and everyone at the party were sullen. The sadness I felt over a football game was new and weird to me. I cried a little that night and I felt stupid for doing so. I couldn’t explain why that game, played by a bunch of men I didn’t know, was so important to me at 12 years old. But inexplicably, it was. I asked my father if he was sad, too. He said he was and I asked why. I’ll never forget his answer: “Because Philadelphia deserved this.” I thought maybe that was why I was sad. I was proud to be from Philadelphia, and I took the loss personally. Maybe that was it?
Years would go by and the Eagles would not get close to the Super Bowl. My father and I held steadfastly on to the hope that our team would make it to the championship again. We didn’t jump ship when they had losing seasons- that was unthinkable. We just kept hoping. I remember asking my father why they were so bad one particular year (13th place, I believe, the year of the strike). He said “Well, somebody has to be the worst- it’s our turn this year.” I mulled that over for a few minutes then asked him in a way that only a kid could do: “So, when do we get to the be the best?” He laughed and said “I don’t know. Soon, I hope.” It’s strange how some conversations stick in your head so many years later.
Fast forward to 2018. I had seen the Phillies win the World Series twice and had the Flyers break my heart too many times to count. I no longer cared about basketball and I stopped keeping stats on most players (just my favorites). The Eagles had lost to the Patriots in the 2005 Super Bowl and this time both my father and I were livid. No tears, no sadness, just anger. Not enough anger to ditch our hometown team, of course. The following two seasons I watched half-heartedly, trying not to get my little green heart broken, and acting like I didn’t care if they won or lost. My father, however, held on to that Super Bowl dream for both of us every year.
Over the past 9 years I have gone to training camps, games and watched every game intently, often calling my dad after the game to get his thoughts. As the Parkinson’s Disease closed in on him, however, he was less and less able to watch a game and by 2014 he didn’t even know when the games were on. I felt compelled to watch the games for both of us and report to him what happened. While he was still lucid, he appreciated those reports. But by 2015 he no longer knew what football was, or baseball either for that matter. But the passion I had for those sports was still alive and well in me and I was determined to keep them that way because it was what linked me and my dad together from the time I was 11 years old.
So when Nick Foles saved the season-and the day-last night, when Brady’s last chance went up in smoke and I realized the Eagles had won, I started to bawl-out of happiness and out of sadness. My father, the man who taught me about the game- about all games- wasn’t around to celebrate the one big day he had wanted to experience. I couldn’t call him and yell “THEY DID IT!” or share my tears of happiness with him. So part of those tears were for the past 38 years that I had waited for since the first Super Bowl I watched and also for the past 3 years I have lived without my father to share all things sports with and everything else. So yes, I cried. I cried for Nick Foles the underdog and that Philly Special; I cried for Doug Pederson for bringing triumph to our city, and I cried for my dad, who didn’t get to be a part of the most exciting Super Bowl anyone has ever seen and the one that took Tom Brady down several pegs to where he belongs- with the mortals.
Dad, I hope you have a satellite dish in heaven, because that was one hell of a game!