People compare football to religion all the time. It’s a weekly ritual with traditions and customs that can shape a region, a town, or an individual person to their core.
Texas high school football feels biblical. An SEC game resembles a televangelist-led megachurch. NFL games consume Sunday afternoons for fans across the country, like services gobble up Sunday mornings for Christians everywhere.
Philadelphia’s love for the Eagles is not religious. It’s more than that. It’s deeper and richer.
People stop going to church or only pop in for the holiest days. People question their faith. People change their beliefs.
Nothing about Philadelphia’s love for the Eagles changes. The players, the coaches, and even the shade of green may change, but the love remains strong and true. Missing a game is not an option. Questioning your commitment never happens. No matter what, every fall arrives and Philadelphia is consumed by love for the Birds.
When the Eagles made the Super Bowl, waited two agonizing weeks to play, went toe-to-toe with the evil Patriots, and came out on top, my mind didn’t necessarily think of Philadelphia as one unit. We all knew the fanbase would collectively go nuts, and they did, but my brain shifted in the moments following the Super Bowl to individual Eagles fans. I sat there in US Bank Stadium as confetti poured down around me and thought about what this win meant in the hearts and minds of every Eagles fan.
I thought about my mom, who watches every Eagles game on the edge of her seat. She hates going to parties for big games, fearing being stuck away from the TV with a collection of uninterested female friends. She listens to sports radio more often than a woman as sweet as her should. She coached her high school basketball team in an Eagles jersey Saturday. I thought about the smile on her face and her screams of joy.
I thought about my dad, who spent countless afternoons freezing his ass off in the 700 Level of the Vet. I thought about how he chose not to renew his season tickets when the price went from $10 per game to $15 (and about how much more every single fan around me paid for their Super Bowl ticket). That decision came a quarter century before the Vet was imploded, which was still another 16 years before an Eagle held the Lombardi Trophy. I thought about how he probably could not believe what had happened, because I couldn’t believe it either.
I thought about my grandfather, who skipped work in 1960 to see the Eagles win the NFL Championship game, before the dawn of the Super Bowl era. On Sunday, my wife and I took a sip from the same flask he brought into that game 58 years ago to remember him, for good luck, and to get us ready for a roller coaster of a game.
I thought about my wife, who was right by my side. She works for the team and she knew when Tom Brady’s last gasp pass hit the turf, her life got a lot harder over the next several weeks. She’d work more, sleep less, and be burdened by workplace stress like she’s never seen. That would scare the hell out of most people. It scared the hell out of her. But even as a pit dug into her stomach and anxieties danced around her head, there was pure joy in her eyes, her voice, and her smile. She thinks about the Eagles every single day. They pay her do to so. She sees the ins, the outs, the ups, the downs, the good, the bad, and the ugly of the team, the fans, and the city for 365 days every year. I thought about the mix of relief and ecstasy she must have felt when the clock hit zero and I hoisted her into the air.
I thought about her brother, sitting above us in the upper level. I’ve been to dozens of Eagles games with him and watched plenty more by his side. We’ve dissected every Eagles player and play over the last decade with surgical precision. We moped out of the Linc following the playoff loss in 2013 and the Redskins game in 2014. We’ve commiserated far more than we celebrated, but when we hugged on Sunday, none of the sad moments mattered.
I thought about my friends who always believed in this team. We seemingly broke records texting about the ins and outs of the Eagles’ season. We poked and prodded at every possibility, and even when things got dark and I was ready to lose hope, they assured me of one thing: the Eagles were going to win the Super Bowl. Not someday in the future. They believed in this team like a family member does. It was intrinsic and unfiltered love.
I thought about the man in front of me at the game, a cliche from a sports movie if there ever was one. An Eagles fan in his mid-60s, he feared at every turn that the game would be lost. Corey Clement’s miracle catch? He knew it would be called back. Same for Zach Ertz’s game winning score. The inner-Eagles fan in his soul couldn’t believe when good things would happen.
I thought about the guy next to me, who was the perfect yin to that guy’s yang. He never doubted a win. He was adamant the defense would continue to bend, and bend, and bend but not break (even after they broken a few times). We believed the Eagles defense would make a play — force a turnover or a sack. Even when Tom Brady sat in the pocket untouched and threw all over the field, he and I knew the play would come. I hugged that guy when the game ended , like I’d never hugged any stranger before. I told him the embrace felt like something between two lifelong friends and he replied, “Oh, we are lifelong friends now.” He apologized for being so loud, so vocal throughout the game and I assured him that I wouldn’t have preferred it any other way.
These were the Eagles fans in my life. Everyone has their own. Some we share, like the knuckleheads on the Ritz Carlton awning, Larry Poff, the all-stars of Eagles Twitter, and the Joel Embiids and Miles Tellers of the world.
It didn’t matter who the Eagles fans in your heart were that day. It didn’t matter if they were old or young, black or white, male or female, or even dead or alive. What matters is the joy, the relief, and the sheer happiness each of them felt.
The Philadelphia Eagles won a Super Bowl. It didn’t take an act of God or a religious awakening. Instead it was a backup quarterback, a trick play, and an ice cream-slurping head coach.
There will be a parade down Broad Street. Dreams do come true.
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, Rush The Court, SALTMoney.org, Larry Brown Sports, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.