About last night: I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime. I truly, honestly didn’t.
That’s what I told everyone in the odd afterglow, numb from the foreign feeling of victory, hoarse from screaming at the television, buzzed from the champagne. My mom, maybe 10th in the line of celebratory phone calls—not quite as incredulous but no less appreciative of the feat than the long-suffering friends and family ahead of her in the queue—told me I was insane. “You’re only 30! There’ll be plenty more!”
She was wrong; technically I’ll hit that milestone in two weeks, but I’ll chalk up her mental gaffe to the magnitude of the moment. God knows I couldn’t really—still can’t—think straight, at least. The crux of her message, however, was that I’ve only lived about a third of my life, and it was foolish to believe I’d never see the Eagles win the Super Bowl with all those decades to go.
Of course the sentiment sounds crazy to a rational person with rational thoughts, but I’m a lifelong Birds fan, and we don’t really do rational. If the Cubs can go 108 years without capturing a World Series title and subject their supporters to a century-plus of misery, then Philly’s 57-year stint of torment and torture looks relatively tame by comparison. Despite all the extraordinary moments you savor—4th-and-26, 44-6, the Miracle at the New Meadowlands, Michael Vick on Monday Night Football—it’s those other enduring memories that force you to accept your fate at a formative age, like Donovan McNabb throwing away (and throwing up) the franchise’s best—last?—shot in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXIX.
When we lost Carson Wentz for the season in December, it was another cruel dagger, but one we’ve been conditioned to anticipate and, weirdly, embrace. This is just the way it goes. When you sign up to love the Eagles, you sign up to pray for the Big One just like 31 other fan bases—well, maybe not Cleveland—but never to actually expect it. We’re content to dream and happy to hope that by the time our grandchildren grow up to be appropriately jaded, maybe it’ll finally be the year.
My Grandpop, my mom’s dad, would’ve been 92 this month, the same week I turn 30. He left us a dozen years ago, and I remember a little less about him every day. He was stern, but fair, and by all accounts good, even if I only saw him a few times a year as a kid and much less so near the end. I can’t tell you a whole lot else about him, but I do know he was a simple man with simple pleasures—starting and ending with Philadelphia sports.
My mom likes to mention he lived and died by the Birds and the Phils, just like I do. And after chiding me last night for not believing I’d ever see this happen to my team, she said she cried tears of happiness for me, my brothers, and her father. “You’re his legacy,” she said. “He’s smiling for you. Enjoy this for him.” Bud Klinkowstein never got to see his Eagles win a Super Bowl, but his grandsons did. What a gift.
That’s the power of sports. While I’ll lord this win over everyone I meet (especially Cowboys fans) for as long as I live, it’s not the smack talk or offensive fireworks or geographical proximity or misanthropy that draws me to the Eagles—it’s the overwhelming emotional connection I feel to the team, and to everyone who gets sucked in by the same magnetic force. Last night, when the clock hit 0:00 and green confetti rained down on the gridiron, I looked around my basement in a blur, scanning to meet the eyes of those who understood. We wrapped our arms around each other, we fell to the floor, and we cried—okay, I cried—with the kind of intensity reserved for an experience we’d long imagined, but hadn’t actually lived. It was bliss.
About last night: I didn’t sleep. As the hours went on, I devoured every article, video, tweet, and text from the game and the ensuing parties in Philly, Minneapolis, and beyond, absorbing each one as I beamed with pride for the 53 men—castoffs, draft busts, afterthoughts, has-beens—who fought like hell together for five months to reach the pinnacle of their profession and irrevocably transform a franchise, city, and fan base in an instant. I’ll never tire of their stories.
After 57 years, the Eagles’ road to victory has finally, astonishingly reached its most illogical, wonderful destination point: the promised land. My heart is full for everyone who invested a percentage of themselves in this team and lived to see a real, honest-to-God, world-f’ing-championship. It’s fuller still for those who didn’t, but sure as hell tried, like my Grandpop.
Last night, they were there, too.