BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – This is a story about love and loyalty and football in Philadelphia. It does not involve batteries or booing or snowballs or Santa Claus or any of the stereotypes and cliches that, for so many people ready to believe that the worst of Philadelphia is all of Philadelphia, have come to define Eagles fans. It is about a father and a daughter and the thing that bound them tighter than anything else — and still binds them. It is the sort of story that, with the Eagles having never won a Super Bowl and about to play in their third, deserves to be told.
Paul Campise was born in 1930 and grew up in Southwest Philadelphia, in a rowhouse near the corner of 28th and Mifflin. When he finished eighth grade, he went to La Salle High School on a scholarship, back when its campus was a three-story stack of lecture halls in Olney. In 1948 and 1949, just as Paul was finishing high school and going to work on the railroad, the Eagles won back-to-back NFL championships. Their stars were Steve Van Buren, Al Wistert, Bucko Kilroy – names not too many people remember anymore. Paul was hooked, a fan for life.
After a while, Paul moved to Mount Laurel, N.J., to work as a court reporter. He and his wife, Lillian, started a family and had six children, three boys and three girls. He bought Eagles season tickets in 1971, the year that Veterans Stadium opened – 700 Level, 50-yard line, perfect. He worked 12-to-14-hour days during the week, opening his own court-reporting business in 1973, building a client base, handling all the administrative duties. Tina, his youngest daughter, became the biggest football fan among the kids. Her brothers and sisters were several years older and weren’t around the house as much, and Sundays were when Tina got to see her father and spend the most time with him, just the two of them, and that time revolved around the Eagles or the Phillies or the Sixers.
“Those were my memories of my dad,” Tina said in a phone interview. “He would walk me through a doorway and explain how much Wilt Chamberlain would have to duck to get under it. Growing up, that was our connection. Sports was our connection. And the Eagles were number one.”
When the Eagles were playing on the road, Paul sat in his den every Sunday, never missing a game, taking his slippers off and throwing them at the television whenever Ron Jaworski managed to heave a pass over the head of wide receiver Harold Carmichael, who was 6-foot-8. How can you overthrow him? Paul would yell. He’s a giant! Tina would join him at the Vet for home games. Over the years, she went from being his pupil, learning the sport from him, listening to him explain what a first down was, to witnessing him become a showman himself.
Paul taught Tina the lyrics to the Eagles’ fight song long before they were common knowledge among the team’s fans. “They used to play it when they scored, but not one person knew the words,” she said. “He would be the only one singing.” He would run from section to section, starting E-A-G-L-E-S chants. He made a gigantic banner, with “Philadelphia Eagles No. 1” and a rendition of a giant talon-flashing bird splashed across it, from a horse blanket. Leonard Tose, the team’s owner then, draped it from the window of his box at the Vet.
The family moved from Mount Laurel to Barnegat Light, more than 70 miles from South Philadelphia, but Paul still was there for every home game. In 1987, during the NFL players strike, he showed up outside Veterans Stadium with a homemade sign that read: “Keep Your Flabby Scabs. We Want Our Green Machine.” He told the Daily News that day, “I have six kids. If they’re bad, I whack ’em in the rear end. If they’re good, I pat ’em on the back. Like all fans, I boo [the Eagles] when they’re not doing the right thing. When they’re doing the right thing, we cheer. … I look at ’em like they’re my own kids. As far as ‘scabs’ are concerned, these aren’t my children. They’re somebody else’s.”
His name appears in The Eagles Encyclopedia. In 2007, a writer for Philadelphia Magazine used Paul as the opening anecdote for a piece entitled “Why Do We Care So Much?” It didn’t matter that the Eagles didn’t have a winning season for the first six years that Paul had tickets, or that they once went through a 12-year stretch without winning a playoff game. He had said yes to the team, and he assumed that yes lasted forever.
“He’s a perfectionist, and when he puts his claws into something, there’s no halfway,” Tina said. “He’s full-in. Praise them when they’re good, scold them when they’re bad, but love them unconditionally – that was what he passed on to us.
“No matter what, we don’t waver. You don’t leave a game early. There were games we went to that were ridiculous. It was freezing cold, during the Marion Campbell years and the Rich Kotite years, but you did not leave. You stayed there until all the seconds were gone, and then you left.”
Maybe it was all that running around the stadium with that heavy banner that led to Paul’s first heart attack. That’s what Lillian believes, anyway. Paul sold the court-reporting business, and his season tickets, to Tina in 1999. On Jan 19, 2003, Paul and Tina were at Veterans Stadium for the Eagles’ final game there, the NFC championship game, that disheartening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Tina looked at him there, struggling in the cold. “He just couldn’t handle it health-wise,” she said. He caught a few games at Lincoln Financial Field but, before long, decided he would stop going. Nevertheless, when the Eagles finally reached the Super Bowl in 2005, in Jacksonville against the Patriots, Tina and her sister Georgeanne bought two tickets and sent their parents to the game.
“And watched them lose it,” Tina said.
Paul is 87 now. He and Lillian are back living in Mount Laurel, in an apartment not far from Tina’s house. He has had four heart surgeries: two triple-bypasses, a valve replacement, and the installation of a pacemaker/defibrillator. A year ago, blood clots forced him to spend a few days in the hospital, and he has been different since he got out, almost childlike. Tina can’t talk sports with him the way she used to. “I’ve always been like, yeah, he’s tough as nails,” she said, but these last months have been difficult.
But then the Eagles started winning, and Carson Wentz played brilliantly, and they kept winning even after they lost Darren Sproles and Jason Peters and Jordan Hicks, after they lost Wentz to that torn ACL and Nick Foles took over at quarterback. And Paul kept hanging in there, and the dread that Tina felt when he got sick, that her dad would never get to see the Eagles win a Super Bowl, subsided a bit. She took her eldest daughter, Lauren, to the Eagles’ divisional-round game against the Falcons, so that Lauren could see a playoff game in person for the first time, so the circle could remain unbroken…
“I’m going to lie to myself and believe they can still do it, because I have to,” Tina said. “This team has overcome too much for me to give up on them, and if it takes me lying to myself that Foles can do it, then that’s what I’m going to do until further notice.”
This Sunday, Tina will not go to the Super Bowl party that she goes to every year, the one her friends throw. They kept texting her, asking if she was coming this year, and she kept putting them off and putting them off until the Eagles beat the Vikings in the NFC championship game and she finally said no. She and her husband, Rich, and their three daughters will be home to watch the Eagles in the Super Bowl. Paul and Lillian will be there, too, because as Tina said to her friends, Sorry, I have to watch this one with my dad.