When I was a kid my dad use to carry me through the silver turnstiles that guarded the concrete spaceship known as Veterans Stadium so we could watch bad baseball, together.
In the mid 1980’s the Phillies were a bad baseball team.
So bad that if you went to the supermarket and bought an 8 pack of Phillies Franks you’d have a plastic ticket soaked in hot dog juice for an upcoming home game waiting for you.
But to avoid buying another ticket (or another pack of hot dogs), dad and I shared a ticket. Which meant he would hand the usher one ticket, smile and carry me into the game.
When we got to our seat, even though there were always plenty of empty seats in the Vet, I sat on dad’s lap cracking peanuts, arguing balls and strikes with the umpire and cheering on Juan Samuel.
Since those hapless baseball games, that marked so many hapless seasons, I have always thought of watching sports as a father-son bonding event. Like fishing or shaving. But with sports you could high-five, laugh and show emotion in a very nonthreatening, masculine way.
For Philadelphia sports fans, a championship game is a generational event.
This Sunday the Philadelphia Eagles are playing in the Superbowl LII.
Their first Superbowl since 2004. Before that, 1980. They have never won the big game.
Since the Eagles advanced to the Superbowl two weeks ago, dad and I have crafted armchair game plans for the Birds. If they run the ball, they will win. If they attack Tom Brady and his 40 year old legs, if they force him to move, they will win.
By mid-Superbowl week my Superbowl excitement reached a-kid-on-Christmas Eve level.
At 6:30 am I awoke my children with a Superbowl countdown. A flick of the bedroom light switch followed by a slow-clap and a thunderous reminder, “TIME TO GET UP!!! 3 MORE DAYS UNTIL THE SUPERBOWL BABY!!!”
I think about the game while brushing my teeth. I think about the game while driving home to and from work. I think about the game while my wife is talking to me.
There’s a constant swirling in my gut, electricity zipping up my bones as if my Bingo numbers were just called and I’m bouncing up the aisle about to claim my prize wondering, “Are grown men suppose to get this excited?”
I made a Superbowl playlist on Spotify stacked with AC/DC, Rage Against the Machine and the obligatory songs from the “Rocky” soundtrack.
I’ve already picked out my seat on the couch for Sunday.
Scoff at my zest, but championship games are rare for Philadelphia teams.
Since the Eagles last played in the Superbowl in 2004, I have grown up a bit. I got married, bought a house and fathered three children–a daughter and two sons.
(My boys have bought into the Superbowl mania, my daughter would rather watch Fuller House on Netflix.)
And so if growing up is simply a matter of perspective, I realize, in the rush of life, how important these father-son experiences are.
I’ve learned that watching the big game with your dad and sons is a small moment that extends well beyond final whistle. It’s a seminal chapter in the father-son novel.
My dad turned down Superbowl party invitations from his friends. He told me he had to watch the game with his sons and his grandchildren.
He told me that there’s just something special about having your grandson on your lap, cheering on your team together. He then reminded me the big game doesn’t come to Philadelphia often.
Like all Eagle fans I crave, I pine, I yearn for a Superbowl win. A win that would knit wounds knifed by years of sports futility.
So on Sunday you will find me on the couch with my dad and my sons rooting for Eagles, together.
And even though the mighty Vet is now just parking lot the lessons learned during those hapless Phillies games remain, as I sat with my dad, rooting for our team, and in subtle ways, rooting for each other.