The Eagles and the Philadelphia Identity

Neal Chan

In preparation for celebration or disappointment, city officials coated poles in Crisco to prevent would-be climbers before the NFC Championship Game. Yet in the delirious, beer-soaked aftermath of the rollicking 38-7 victory, some revelers climbed the greased poles they were told not climb. And the Philadelphia Eagles have stormed into the Super Bowl that they were told they would not make. They were told they couldn’t possibly ruin the Minnesota Vikings’ fairytale season. They were told they couldn’t win with a backup quarterback. Now they’re being told they can’t beat Tom Brady. This team’s resiliency has been a constant throughout the entire season. Injuries started from the first week; it is a testament to the coaches and players that they have gotten this far after losing an All-Pro left tackle, starting running back, top special teams player, starting linebacker, starting kicker, and star quarterback Carson Wentz, the face of the franchise. The Eagles are gritty and resilient in the face of doubt and skeptical outsiders—very much like the city they represent.

Part of the reason why the Eagles and their fans have fully embraced the underdog role is because this city has been playing the role for decades. Yet to most outside Philly, the Eagles are not lovable underdogs. People say we are the worst sports fans. They cite the age-old refrain of every rival fan: that we threw snowballs at Santa. Back in 1968.

The catch is, Eagles fans don’t mind being hated. As a group, Philly sports fans will always take unmatched passion and energy—no matter how bad our teams are—over a good reputation in other cities. Running back Jay Ajayi noted that only Philly’s fans match the passion and undying love that soccer fans back in his native England have. This fanbase is toughened from many years of listening to tired jokes about Super Bowl rings and missed chances and is even more resilient from it.

Our city has always been blue collar and a little rough around the edges. The Philadelphia mentality is well represented in the Eagles’ starting quarterback—every day, Wentz arrives to work hours before nearly anyone else. On the field he is fearless and tough. And he lives and breathes football 24/7, just as the wild Philadelphia fans do. The defense is terrifying—and if there’s any aspect of a football team Eagles fans love, it’s a good defense. Fans loved Brian Dawkins of the early 2000s for his driven, almost psychotic, desire and love of the game.

Sure, the 2017-18 Eagles are gritty and scrappy with a downhill running style and ferocious defense. But they are also fresh and invigorating. Wentz is a gunslinger and has been launching deep bombs to new faces all year. Chris Long has donated his entire season’s paycheck to charity for education. Malcolm Jenkins is using the NFL platform to pave the way for racial reform. Lane Johnson has donated all proceeds from his underdog shirts to charity benefiting Philadelphia schools.

Ultimately, Philadelphia is a mix of the old and the new. It is tough and gritty and trendy and exciting. Rabid sports fans, the American Revolution, cheesesteaks, and Rocky, with his fists raised above his head in determination, have comprised the Philadelphia identity. But we are a hidden modern hub as well, underrated and overlooked. Center City is expanding with new businesses. The Franklin Institute, Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia Museum of Art, brand new Museum of the American Revolution, and others form a great collection of institutions. The art and food scene is already incredible. The city is working towards progressive policies in mass incarceration, transportation, and race.

The outcome of the Super Bowl on Sunday will go down in the history books. Depending on the result, rival fans might make jokes. The national media might continue to disrespect. However, no matter the result, Eagles fans will continue to love their city and their team. This blue-collar town wants to know that the players are giving just as much on the field as the fans are off it. They want a team that is always fighting like Philly itself is; unrelentlessly, with resilience, fearlessness, and for each other. This year’s Eagles certainly fit the bill.