It’s okay if you don’t like Philly, because Philly probably doesn’t like you.
That doesn’t mean we can’t be on the same side for a day, though.
On Super Bowl Sunday, the majority of the country will stand united behind the Philadelphia Eagles; many of you will do so grudgingly, having chosen what you see as the lesser of two evils. Sometimes you need to form troubling alliances in defense of the greater good.
And have no doubt that the Eagles, who last won a championship in 1960 (and have never won a Super Bowl), are the greater good here. They are underdogs, their roster is stocked with likable and socially conscious players, and they’re coached by an affable man who looks like Tank McNamara.
But there’s more! Their quarterback, Nick Foles, has shocked every football fan in the country and resurrected his career (watch him getting choked up about making his daughter proud and tell me you can still root against him). Chris Long has donated his entire salary to schools in Charlottesville and other cities. Malcolm Jenkins is one of the leading athlete activists fighting for reform of the prison system. The team’s group celebrations have provided some of the most memorable and joyful moments of the NFL season.
It helps, of course, that they are up against the most loathsome organization in professional sports.
The New England Patriots are the only franchise that is regularly and credibly accused of systemic cheating. They are coached by a man who treats most conventions of simple humanity with contempt. Their star tight end, Rob Gronkowski, is a sentient LMFAO song who can’t make it through an interview without giggling at the mention of the number 69. When he dreams, all he sees are commercials for new shows on Spike TV.
Even before Tom Brady partnered with an obvious snake oil salesman, he’d become the Tom Cruise of the NFL. He’s a great player, infuriatingly so, but over the past five years, he has become reclusive, standoffish, and undeniably weird. He also spent most of last season with a red MAGA hat conspicuously on display in his locker, but was too cowardly to speak about the hat or its implications.
Bill Belichick, who is rightly hailed as one of the great coaches in sports history, wrote a letter of support for Candidate Trump, using bizarre syntax and vocabulary so similar to Trump’s own that many people initially thought it was a fake.
This isn’t all about Trump, though he has infected every aspect of our culture. If he manages to stay awake until kickoff, he will be rooting for the Patriots, whose owner donated $1 million to the inaugural celebration. In the morning, he will be waiting to hear from Steve Doocy that his friends in New England have won again. He will ask one of his assistants to smile for him, and then he will mash his fingers into his phone until it produces a tweet about how the Eagles deserved to lose because they don’t adequately respect our troops.
The Patriots have won more than anyone, and they’ve done it for nearly two decades. They’ve experienced every possible permutation of winning, and done so with a joylessness and an arrogance that makes them impossible to like. To root for them in this game is to root for the 1 percent. We’re living in an era of nearly unprecedented inequality, and choosing to support the Patriots in this environment is like being one of those people who spends all day on Twitter defending the honor of their favorite CEO.
There are, of course, deeper reasons to stand with the people of Philadelphia.
The most Philly moment I have ever personally experienced: I was in college and working at Dalessandro’s, one of the city’s famous cheesesteak shops, and the Philadelphia 76ers were in the NBA Finals. They were led by Allen Iverson, a fearless point guard who played with the kind of rage that made him a hero to the city. They were heavy underdogs against the Kobe Bryant/Shaquille O’Neal Lakers, but they won the first game of the series. Over the next two days, the city lost its collective mind and many of us had convinced ourselves the Sixers were locks to win the series.
I was working the night of the next game, glancing constantly at a small TV positioned on a shelf above our roll bin. The people in the house next door were having a party, and every few minutes, someone else would come in to buy another cheesesteak and some beer. The Sixers eventually lost a close game, and within seconds of the final whistle, two men came tumbling out of the house next door. I heard a woman scream, “He’s got a knife!” The man with the knife scrambled toward the street corner while the other man chased him with a baseball bat. He swung the bat, badly, at the other man’s head, and it clanged off a stop sign, bending it back at the corner. The woman shouted, “That’s your fucking brother!” The rest of their group poured out of the house and broke up the fight. Ten minutes later, both men came into the shop together, sat at the counter, and shared a 40 ounce bottle of Budweiser. “They got the next one,” one of the brothers said, and then they drank silently.
The whole sequence was obnoxious and stupid and funny and beautiful all at once. It was everything I love about this city. The waves of optimism and anger and reconciliation. The moment of quiet regret, knowing they would do it all again. This city is always either developing a hangover or trying to cure one.
Usually when Philly sports fans get national attention it’s for something embarrassing, some violence or vulgarity. Sports writers often portray the city as a hellscape populated by Neanderthals communicating exclusively through Eagles chants and hurled batteries. And, look, I’m not going to pretend the bad stuff doesn’t happen. But if all you know about this city is that one time, many years ago, some fans threw snowballs at a very shabby Santa, then you don’t know anything about the city.
After the Eagles won on Sunday, tens of thousands of fans gathered on Broad Street and went crazy. Despite dire predictions of riots and arrests, nothing bad happened. The entire city came to life and, at least for the night, loved one another with the kind of exuberance you cannot manufacture. Ever since then, this place has buzzed with an energy and optimism that is hard to explain. I went to Wawa on Tuesday and someone bought my coffee for me because I was wearing an Eagles hat. A friend texted to say he’s thinking of selling his car so he can go to Minneapolis; not to buy tickets for the game, just to go to the city while the game is happening.
Of course it’s a terrible idea. Of course I told him he should do it. Life is a long string of frustrations punctuated by occasional moments of ecstasy, and it’s healthy to hurl yourself unthinkingly into those moments.
Sports are meaningless; sports mean everything. It’s dumb to invest one’s hopes and dreams into a single game, especially in a sport like football that is so often decided by chance, and yet, what else are we supposed to do?
The outcome of the Super Bowl will have no bearing on our larger problems, and will do nothing to quell the daily flow of nightmarish stories from the White House. But it will feel better for a minute. It will put something good into the universe.
We’ve been living through two years that feel like the middle movie of a trilogy, where all the bad guys just keep on winning, and there is only the faintest glimmer of hope. So why shouldn’t it be Philly that begins to turn the tide? Why not the birthplace of American democracy? Why shouldn’t this place that I love — with all its anger and anxiety and passion and restless energy — be the one to finally put an end to the tyranny of the Patriots?
This is what I’m saying: We don’t need you on Super Bowl Sunday. But you need us. ●
Tom McAllister is the author of the novels How to Be Safe and The Young Widower’s Handbook. You can find him on twitter @t_mcallister.