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An Ode to Philly Sports Fandom

Hey, Philly fans: you’re awesome! Keep doing that.

NFL: Super Bowl LII Champions-Philadelphia Eagles Celebration Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Over the years I’ve written about a few different topics with my sporadic contributions to BGN, but I’ve never really broached the topic of being an Eagles fan. I was originally inspired to write this back in April, but between the busy weekend I had and endless draft coverage, I felt it was best to postpone it until the dead zone of the offseason when there’s nothing football-related to read, because I’m nice like that.

But what was this inspiration, you may ask? This inspiration was a package that finally came in the mail, over two months after I had ordered it. I knew exactly what it was when it arrived, and eagerly tore the packaging open like a young child on Christmas, revealing the glory hidden within (sorry for potato quality - I blame Chorus):

I could have snagged myself a normal backpage for about fifteen bucks but decided to splurge and get the framed print. It was totally worth it, because the sheer beauty of what arrived in the mail left me breathless. In fact, I was so overwhelmed that within a few seconds the following thought popped into my head:

“I’m going to be buried with this.”

There was a big logistical issue with that thought – namely, up until that point I planned on being cremated – but that was an issue for another day. The more relevant take from that thought was that, after mulling it over, I didn’t consider it to be something all that crazy or out of the ordinary for an Eagles fan. It was a perfectly natural reaction, one I would guess many of you have had with some of your own Super Bowl memorabilia, and it stirred me to dive into the topic further with this post.

While I will readily admit that every fan base has their share of diehard fans – and that I have no perspective of professional sports fandom outside of Philadelphia – it’s impossible to shake the feeling that Philly fans are simply different. This feeling is validated by our reputation, which is unique in professional sports, even if it is an unflattering one. My standing on this will always be that Philly sports culture isn’t really in any way malicious, we are just misunderstood. The best (and most recent) example of this is with the NFC Championship Game.

Ah yes, the Vikings. I know this topic has been beaten to death, but if you’re on a football blog with two weeks to go until training camp looking for fresh content, I’m not sure what you expected. I’m not going to rehash the statistics about other fans, or call Vikings fans whiners, or talk about “bad apples,” or any of that. I’m going to touch on what I felt was the crux of everything that occurred outside the football field on that mild January Sunday: the Rocky statue.

When I first saw the tweet of the Rocky statue dressed out in purple and yellow garb, one thought came to mind immediately.

“Oh, they are so fucked.”

The “they” was not the Vikings, but the Vikings’ fans, even though the Vikings were thoroughly fucked in the NFC Championship Game. And lo and behold, many Vikings fans found themselves on the receiving end of aggressive (and at times wholly unacceptable) Philadelphia fan behavior. Now, I can see where Vikings fans are coming from with the Rocky statue stunt: a little harmless, all-in-good-fun jabbing at the host city of the most important game of the year so far. But that position is one of ignorance, and goes to show how little outsiders seem to understand of Philadelphia sports culture, and the collective soul of the city in general. Vikings fans thought they were pulling an innocent prank with the Rocky statue, but they may have well as defecated on all of our grandparents’ graves.

And while that imagery may be a little crude, I also think it’s what makes Philadelphia sports culture so special: for the majority of us, the fan base might as well be our extended family, with the imagery and culture afforded the same dignity as a family crest or photo album. It is an unspoken bond that unites fans wherever they are. Whenever I go out and wear Eagles gear, it does not take long to hear someone yell, “Go Birds!” (as I commonly hear at the grocery store), or flap their arms like wings (as I saw in New Haven), or discuss the team while waiting for a haircut, or get a shout-out over the PA system from a ride operator while being seated in a roller coaster (as my friend received during a recent trip to Six Flags New England). Hell, when I visited Philly in 2016 and sat down at Jim’s with a cheesesteak and a Yuengling, some random dude came over to my table and talked to me for five minutes about the Eagles’ prospects that season, all because I was wearing my Eagles t-shirt. In Philly. Where Eagles fans are everywhere.

Of course, this bond spills over to the players as well. While outsiders deem our treatment of players as fickle and unnecessarily harsh, it all stems from a desire to see the players pour their heart out onto the field (or diamond… or pitch… or court… or ice) because we pour our hearts out following them. If you give it your all, lay your body on the line for the team, but never amount to anything more than a role player or substitute? We will love you forever. If you’re a star player that makes highlight-reel plays but gives up when the going gets tough? Get out. We don’t want you. We don’t care how talented you are. If you’re not giving it everything you have, you don’t deserve to wear a Philadelphia sports uniform.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It’s for this reason why nobody even cares about Alshon Jeffery’s career lows in 2017, since he played the whole damn season on a torn rotator cuff and showed up big when it mattered the most, or why Sean Couturier will forever be in Philly sports lore for playing on a torn MCL in the playoffs, or why Brent Celek will probably be in most Eagles fans’ list of favorite all-time players. One of the best memories (in my opinion) from the 2017 season was during the Broncos game – one that Zach Ertz missed – and Eagles fans at the game went wild when the ancient Celek caught like a 7-yard pass for a first down. Why? Because he fought for it. That is the one mantra underscoring the heartbeat of Philadelphia sports: If you’re not fighting, you’re not playing.

You may be asking yourself, why am I writing 1400+ words about Eagles fans on a site full of them? Aside from the easy points scored pandering, I really wanted to thank you. When I chose to start following football (almost entirely because I joined the marching band in school and had no clue what was going on – cue “NERD” gif), I could have really picked any team. I could have picked the Steelers, the 4-time Super Bowl Champions (at the time) that my mom’s entire side of the family followed. Or the Cowboys, my brother’s team. Or the Raiders, who my dad followed religiously. And while I admittedly picked the Eagles because most of my friends were Eagles fans, it’s you that makes them so easy to root for, be crushed by, and celebrate. I never thought I would stumble upon a fanbase that I could identify with so personally, with the tough-as-nails, tell-it-like-it-is, chip-on-our-shoulder attitude and the unbreakable bond that comes with a shared passion.

And the fact that almost everyone else hates us for that? Well, people hate what they don’t understand, so that’s their problem. The fact that we literally couldn’t care less about being liked is just gravy. One of my favorite Eagles fan moments occurred on the Eagles subreddit, when a displaced Chargers fan asked the community why he should switch teams (for a “team-picking bracket”), and the top comment was, “I don’t know who the fuck this guy is and I don’t give a flying fuck what team he roots for.”

In other words, “If you need to ask why you should be an Eagles fan, then you shouldn’t be an Eagles fan.” And if feeling that way makes us a bunch of big ol’ meanies to everyone else, then so be it. After all:

No one likes us,
No one likes us,
No one likes us,
We don’t care.

We’re from Philly,
No one likes us,
We don’t care.

We all we got, we all we need.

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