My parents and I were not born Eagles fans. We earned our Eagles pride. It took years, but we were persuaded of the righteousness of our city’s gritty underdogs.
In the 1950s, I recall visiting my grandfather on Ritner Street in South Philly and listening to him place bets with the local bookie. I saw how passionate and agitated all the neighbors were about local sports. Near Wadsworth Avenue, where I grew up in West Oak Lane, the men would sit outside in their cars in the summer, doors open, one foot on the ground, with the radio blasting, listening to the Phillies game, while pronouncing the players “bums!”
Dad was a walking compendium of baseball statistics, but I don’t recall him talking about the Eagles when I was young. I later moved away to New York and then Seattle. The whole time I was gone, I missed the gritty atty-tood of Philly and decided to come home. When I returned in 1975, I heard my dad begin to talk about the Eagles.
In the early 1980s, I dated a man who told me that I was never to plan any activity for us on a Sunday, because Sunday was sacrosanct: Football Day. I couldn’t figure out the allure of football. I considered it a violent, confusing sport. Years later, my husband at the time didn’t have the slightest interest in football, which seemed like a plus to me. On Super Bowl Sunday, we were elated because all the restaurants were empty, and we had our pick.
My mom, always a passionate Phillies fan who rarely missed a game, only became enchanted by the Eagles when she reached her mid-50s. She suddenly started learning everything she could about football and our team. She watched them play every Sunday, and tried to persuade me to join her.
I resisted at first. I was incredulous that she could follow such a barbaric game. But we were very close, and she kept hounding me, saying it was another activity that we could share.
When I hit age 55 (12 years ago), I finally took mom up on her offer and began to join her every Sunday during football season. She plied me with snacks of hummus, nuts, fruit and cheese, and then, for dinner, what she called “doctored pizza.”
Even more fun than the food was watching my mom get into the game. She was a real pistol, feisty as they come — a Philly girl, through and through! She’d start out lying on the sofa, but would quickly jump up to scream at the TV, cursing like a truck driver. Periodically she would march in place, encouraging me to join her. When we scored, she’d sing the Eagles fight song and pump her fists. Pretty soon, I did the same.
When one of “our guys” made a stupid move, she’d shake her head, yell, and sink back onto the sofa, bemoaning the fate of the Eagles. At times, I was so worried about how dejected she became, that I’d say, “Mom, it’s only a game!” That would make her furious, and she’d lecture me on the importance of team spirit, of loyalty to the Eagles and, by extension, to Philadelphia.
We had a weekly ritual: just the two of us, watching the game at her house, with the captions on and the volume at a deafening level. We didn’t want to miss a play or a commentator’s explanation. Together, we tried to puzzle out the complexities of football. What was a flea flicker? Why do quarterbacks lick their fingers? When we couldn’t figure it out, she’d throw up her hands and tell me to ask my father (her ex-husband), who was far more knowledgeable than both of us. I would dutifully write out lists of questions, and he would patiently enlighten me.
Unfortunately, my dad didn’t have a television. Rather than watch the Eagles, he would ask me to call him during the game to give him a running score, and then he would read all about it in the Inquirer on Monday.
He, too, bled green, and he coined a term to describe how his kishkes (Yiddish for intestines) would be in an uproar during any game he managed to watch: Eagle-itis. Sometimes Dad would groan and say he couldn’t take any more abuse from the Eagles’ continual losses. He didn’t want to watch the games, unlike my mom, who couldn’t get enough of them. I’d call Dad during the week, and we would dissect the plays, the excitement, and the inevitable letdown. It was understood that the Eagles would always break our hearts.
When the Eagles’ season ended each year (almost always before the playoffs), mom would go into a funk, bereft on Sundays without football. Amazingly, I started feeling the same. I’m not sure when I became as crazed about the Eagles as my mom and dad. It was a dizzying, yet seamless transition, as if I’d been a fan since childhood. I started to appreciate the beauty, grace, and strength of the players, and how their scrappy, gutsy spirit was true Philly. I felt like I had to make up for lost time, so I religiously read the sports pages, poring over all the back stories of the players, and listening to sports radio in the car on my way to work. One day, I even called in to one of the stations with an impassioned comment. Now I really felt like part of Eagles Nation!
It was as if I’d been admitted to a secret yet huge club. Sports was the great common denominator that united every neighborhood in Philly. All I had to do was ask any fan, “How ‘bout them Eagles?” and we were off to the races.
In 2014, my mom suffered a devastating stroke that incapacitated her in most ways. Last year, my dad passed away. I wondered if my passion for the Eagles would survive these terrible losses, but I didn’t need to worry. The transformation in me was complete. I had become a full-fledged, full-throated Eagles fan! What better legacy for parents to pass down to the next generation?
In the fall of 2017, I moved from the suburbs to Center City, just in time for our winning season. I was surrounded by fans wearing Eagles jerseys and talking trash about the competition. I felt right at home, in the midst of the city I love, a city of underdogs with heart.
When we won the Super Bowl, I realized that the hollow feeling in my gut was the absence of Eagle-itis. It was replaced by ecstasy and delirious disbelief. I walked over to Broad Street after the win, wanting to be surrounded by a jubilant Philly crowd that had waited so long for this win. The whole time, I was choked up, thinking, “This one’s for you, Mom and Dad!”
Donna Greenberg is a writer and acupuncturist, happily living in Center City, Philadelphia.