One of my favorite films of the decade is Greta Gerwig’s 2017 coming-of-age tale Lady Bird. I connected with the main character’s single-gender Catholic high school experience, the financial instability of her middle-class upbringing and her love-hate relationship with her hometown of Sacramento, California.
In a scene where Lady Bird’s meeting with her vice principal Sister Sarah-Joan, that nun says to her, “I read your college essay. You clearly love Sacramento… you write about Sacramento so affectionately, and with such care… It comes across as love.” Over the course of the movie, Lady Bird was doing everything possible to leave the only town she’s ever known and get to an East Coast college despite her clear affection for Sacramento.
I’m from South Philadelphia. I went to high school in North Philly. I could’ve tried to go to any school across the entire country, but I ended up attending college in University City, less than two miles from the neighborhood of my youth, Grays Ferry. I could’ve escaped my dissatisfied teenage woes and started anew anywhere else, but I ended up studying Creative Writing at the University of Penn.
“This town rips the bones from your back. It’s a death trap. It’s a suicide rap,” so to speak. I felt as if I couldn’t be released from the grip Philly had on me. I questioned my decision to not leave for years. At the time of writing this, I have zero regrets.
Being in the city of Philadelphia when the Eagles are good is an unparalleled feeling. You get high off the group chats you have with your childhood friends, listening to sports talk radio on your drive to work and the brisk fall breeze in the infamous Jetro Lot. People say that football fandom is a watered down version of religion, but in Philly, religion is a watered down version of Eagles fandom. Saint Reggie, Saint Jerome and Saint Brian line the walls of basements and dens throughout the area.
Being an Eagles fan is the essence of being a Philadelphian.
For the first 23 years of my life, being an Eagles fan sucked. Dreaming of the Lombardi Trophy was a season-long con. It was death by 1000 cuts. It was the inevitability of earth-shattering, colossal disappointment. Hope was fleeting. Pessimism was the norm. I had an unrequited love for the Eagles. It was a frankly toxic relationship, as I lied in bed every single night, dreaming of what I’d do if the Eagles won the Super Bowl and how many beers I would guzzle down on Broad Street with my best friends. I would then roll over as the dreaded thought that the ultimate day would never come permeated my mind.
But things changed. You know the story. 2017 came. Jake Elliott hit a 61-yard field goal. Carson Wentz looked like Aaron Rodgers. Patrick Robinson had a pick-six. Nick Foles looked like, well, a god. Brandon Graham had a strip sack. My dad, all 6’4” of him, with tears flowing from his face looked at me and said, “The Eagles are going to win the fucking Super Bowl,” after that play. I collapsed into his arms while hysterically crying, a common scene throughout the city on the night of February 4, 2018.
For the first 23 years of my life, I hated my life. I was miserable. I tried to drink until I forgot my name before passing out on my buddy Joe Anzur’s couch in college. I was so insecure. I obsessed over the way I looked, beating myself up over my wildly fluctuating weight. I spent a decade trying to lose my South Philly accent after being made fun of on the bus to school during my freshman year at Saint Joseph’s Prep.
I felt worthless compared to the rich suburbanites that populated my high school and college. I didn’t ask to be from South Philly. I had no choice. I only got into Penn because I was from Philly according to some of my Prep classmates. It ate at me constantly. After failing a handful of classes during my “senior” year at Penn following what I later learned to be a manic episode, I was dropped from the college. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and placed on a one-year medical leave of absence, something I internalized as “failing out” of school.
The wild highs and crippling lows of my Eagles fandom were a microcosm of the mania and depression that bipolar disorder brought me. I was a mess of a human being. I fucked my life up.
But things changed. I met with a therapist. I met with a psychiatrist. I started taking medication that helped fix the chemical imbalance in my brain. 2017 came. I was allowed to re-enroll in college. As I was getting ready to finish my final semester of school in the fall of 2017, the Eagles were no longer the Eagles I knew. They won eight games in a row at one point. It was like listening to “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers on repeat for two months straight to me.
It felt like the universe had issued me a challenge: if you put your life back together, the Eagles will reach the promised land. I did. And then they did. I graduated from Penn. I reached salvation that February, running out of my best friend Mike Leitner’s living room to Broad and Shunk, with my dad and my South Philly friends. It was akin to a series finale of a sitcom. I saw all the characters from my life, people I hadn’t seen in months or sometimes years. We hugged and laughed and cried.
The most anticipated day in Philadelphia history came a few short days later: the Eagles Super Bowl Parade. I met my girlfriend Ashley there. We kissed. We went on the news to discuss it. We now live together in a cosy apartment in South Philly. What a life.
So why am I an Eagles fan?
Yes, I love watching Wentz scramble and throw touchdowns across his body and Fletcher Cox crush quarterbacks, but it’s more than that. I’m not just rooting for the Eagles. I’m rooting for my dad, my friends, Ashley, the crazy South Philly people I tailgate with and the city itself. I’m rooting for myself and the things I’ve overcome in my life. For a team that had for so long given me nothing, I now owe the Eagles everything.
At the end of Lady Bird, now at college in New York City, Lady Bird leave a voicemail for her mother back home, as she says, “Did you feel emotional the first time that you drove in Sacramento? I did and I wanted to tell you, but we weren’t really talking when it happened. All those bends I’ve known my whole life, and stores, and the whole thing. But I wanted to tell you I love you.” I think about driving down I-95 or Pattison Avenue, honking my horn at Lincoln Financial Field and the ghosts of Reggie, Jerome and Concrete Charlie. I pump my fist as a lump grows in my throat. I couldn’t imagine being from anywhere else.
So that brings me to Bleeding Green Nation. I’ve known BLG for a long time. I’ve even written a couple of guest articles for the site over the last handful of years. I was looking to add something new to my writing career ahead of this upcoming Eagles season. In talking with Brandon, he presented a role to me that perfectly plays on my strong emotional bonds to both the Eagles and this city. Whether it’s hopping on a BGN Radio podcast to go on a post-game rant about a DeSean Jackson touchdown or organizing a watch party for an away game, I’m going to immerse myself into the Bleeding Green Nation community and get at what truly makes Eagles fans tick.