For the Philadelphia Sports Fan, Championship Games are Generational

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.

Veterans Stadium (The Vet), Philadelphia

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.

Go Birds!

Be well,

Jay

Why Fatherhood is Like Being an NFL Quarterback

My beloved Philadelphia Eagles trail their division rivals, the Washington Redskins by 5.

There’s 20 seconds on the clock.

The Eagles are 5-7, floundering in last place a highly competitive NFC East, with their playoff lives on life support.

Our quarterback, our white knight, Carson Wentz the strapping young lad from the North Dakota plains, who after 13 games this season appears to have all the tools–the strength, the speed, the football IQ, the moxie to deliver the starving Philadelphia fan base its first ever Superbowl title, takes the snap and drops back to pass.

19…18…

He looks right. Rolls left.

17…16…

Bodies clash, muscles strain as 70,000  fans roar like lions under the soft gray December sky.

The enemy pass rush presses forward clawing at the offensive line as our white knight stands bravely, squaring his shoulders, in the quickly collapsing pocket.

25 miles away and sensing victory, I rise up off the couch as Tostito crumbs tumble down my shirt.

Carson cocks his right arm back. Bodies fall all about him. He sees a receiver open in the flat. I see a receiver open in the flat. All of Philadelphia sees a receiver open in the flat.

In my living room I mimic our hero. I square my shoulders. I cock my right arm.

15…14…

Then, a mighty paw like the paw of God appears from nowhere and swings and swats the pigskin from Carson’s hand.

Carson falls under the collapse of white jerseys. The football waddles across the green grass like a lost duck.

25 miles away I’m pointing and screaming, “Get the ball! Get the ball!” as if I’m saddled between the Lincoln Financial Field hash marks, when a monstrous Redskin lineman rushes the duck. Pounces the duck. Swallows the duck.

The Redskins celebrate. The Eagles hang their collective heads.

The game is over. The Eagles playoff hopes flat-line.

I deflate back to the couch with my hands on my head as if covering from enemy fire.

To my left, Chase sits with his hands on his head.

To my right, Dylan is holds the same position.

Both of my boys are waiting for my next move.

And that’s when I began to realize that fatherhood is like being an NFL quarterback.

wentz

This season, Eagles fans slid Mr. Wentz under the proverbial  microscope. We dissected every pass. Every decision. We examined how he handled the pressure of being stalked by bloodthirsty linebackers. We scrutinized his press conferences. His poise when probed with tough questions. His willingness to shoulder blame.

We judged his ability on the field and his character off. We wanted to know if this quiet Midwestern boy was worthy of our faith.

What the entire Philadelphia fan base did to Carson Wentz this season is what children do to their fathers everyday. Our children study moves. They listen to the cadence of commands. They take mental notes on what we value and what we don’t. They scrutinize our interactions with the world. They take in how we treat people.

In his timeless interview with Bill Moyers, an interview that was ultimately turned into one of my favorite books, The Power of Myth, American scholar Joseph Campbell explained that since the beginning of man, children have always looked needed fathers to teach them how to engage the world.

Mothers give birth to a child’s nature and fathers give birth to their social character.– Joseph Campbell

I’ve seen how my children study my subtleties. My facial expressions and mannerism.  How I celebrate. How I handle defeat. And at the tender ages of 8, 6 and 3 my children are beginning to mimic my behaviors. Behaviors that are weaving the fabric of their little mythology.

Fatherhood, like quarterbacking, is a tough business. You’re going to get beat up. Lose confidence. Question everything you know.  You may even find yourself sitting in some darkened corner, ice packs on your joints, towel draped over your head, wondering if you were cut out for this business.

There are no moments more painful for a parent than those in which you contemplate your child’s perfect innocence of some imminent pain, misfortune, or sorrow. That innocence (like every kind of innocence children have) is rooted in their trust of you, one that you will shortly be obliged to betray.– Michael Chabon

It can downright terrifying to acknowledge how much influence dads have on their children. Yet as the dad, as the quarterback, we must accept our responsibility to lead and inspire. That’s what we were drafted to do.

Now, if we can correct our mistakes, survive our trials, if we can rise up after defeat– we can instill a belief, a spirit, a love in our familial fan base. A fan base that so desperately wants and needs a hero.

Be well,

Jay