It was an especially sunny day as a small boy, no older than 6, sat in the backseat of his father’s Chervolet barreling down I-95 to visit his brother in Virginia. His mother sat quietly in the front seat so her son could listen to the game that was blaring out of the speakers. She hadn’t known him to concentrate so intently but, one could assume, it gave her peace.
Philadelphia was trailing New Orleans late in the 3rd quarter as the signal began to fade. The boy became agitated and barked at his Dad to slow down. They were almost out of range. This was forty years ago. There was terrestrial / over the air radio and, well, that’s it. No satellite. No internet. Just a tower blasting a silent signal to antennas across the Greater Philadelphia area from which this particular Chevy was racing away.
It was the first time either of his parents saw their youngest son lose his mind over a sporting event. Not even that the Eagles were losing but that he couldn’t hear the damn game!
Twenty-five years passed and the boy had grown, his fandom intensified and he became fortunate to work within the league he cherished. Standing at midfield in the Louisiana Superdome, he turned to future Hall of Fame Quarterback Drew Brees and said, “you know, in a way the Saints are the reason I love the Eagles so much.”
That began the only private conversation I ever had with Drew but it’s one I will never forget. 5 years later, the Saints won the Super Bowl. I sent him a congratulatory email and he wrote back a few weeks later…”thanks, man. Hope you’re well. I think of you when we play Philly.” He was probably lying but so what?
Fandom usually begins in childhood. Mine did. I was part of a hockey family but I always gravitated to football. Everybody has their thing. The Eagles were my thing. They’re still my thing.
Years pass and in Philadelphia, it means heartache. Suffering. Devastation. Sports, more than most cities, is where this fanbase turns to for hope, for meaning, for validation. On Sunday, the genesis of our passion reaches the precipice of immortality. Make no mistake about it, the Eagles are winning Super Bowl LII.
I am so sick of waiting, wishing, hoping. That wait will soon be over.
A tortured soul, I chase ghosts every day. My mother. My father. The pain never subsides and at times like these, when I turn to the Eagles for resolve or, at least, distraction, I chase other ghosts and not just those who have left us. Reggie White. Randall Cunningham. Frank LeMaster. Mike Reichenbach (inside joke). Keith Byars. Bill Bergey. Clyde Simmons. Junior Tautalatausi (not really). The sick tandem of Anthony Toney and Michael Haddix (I’m getting carried away). Buddy Ryan. Marion Campbell. Dick Vermeil. Harold Carmichael. Jerome Brown. Ghosts are getting exorcised on Sunday.
It’s time for Philadelphia to lose the stigma of heartbroken losers. I will be dancing on Broad Street with my daughters and stand arm in arm with cousins and close friends. I’ll hug strangers and kiss my wife, a woman I hardly deserve who has dealt with her maniac husband for two decades. I will hug my brother and cry on his shoulder and break his balls about forcing that drive down to Virginia.
Back in that Chevy some forty years ago, I still remember that anger and frustration. I felt lost. Why the hell would we drive to Virginia during the game? I couldn’t process that as a child and I still can’t as an adult. If only I could tell that young guy, settle down. It will all be ok. You just have to wait forty years or so.
On Twitter (@darrendegaetano), I am a documented 17 – 1 picking Eagles games this season, including the playoffs. As for Super Bowl LII, I’ve got Philadelphia 34 – New England 20. The Eagles are a better football team up and down the dial. I’m aware of Brady and fully aware of Belichick but the Birds are well coached and have the advantage at every single position except two and one of them is obvious. Soak it in, Philly. Our time is here. We all we got. We all we need.
Follow Darren DeGaetano on Twitter: @darrendegaetano
Listen for him on Sportsradio 94WIP in Philadelphia for NFL juice.