On Sunday afternoon, green-clad Eagles fans filed into bars across Philadelphia to watch the game.
At one bar, they were ushered right back out.
So a half-dozen Eagles faithful, some of whom had traveled from as far away as Maryland, stood blinking in the midday sun outside Big Charlie’s Saloon: the curiosity that is a diehard Kansas City Chiefs bar in the heart of South Philadelphia. Michael Puggi, a manager, told them that, given the nature of the game — the first Eagles-Chiefs face-off in four years — he had no choice.
“If someone wears green, it’s disrespectful to us,” he said.
According to bar lore, this aberration at the corner of 11th and McKean Streets began decades ago, when the late owner, Charlie Staico, won a bet on the Chiefs. His son, Paul, got a bike out of the deal, making him an instant and lifelong fan.
In 1986, Paul Staico got a satellite dish. He began showing games in the bar – and embarked on a makeover. Today, Big Charlie’s is decorated with wall-to-wall Chiefs memorabilia: bobble-heads, signed helmets, lockers, license plates, street signs, stuffed animals, pennants, a cross-stitch and wallpaper border. The building’s red-brick exterior is marked with a Chiefs flag. (There are also Flyers and Phillies logos; this is Philadelphia, after all.)
Staico’s fandom turned out to be infectious.
Now, on game day, dozens of South Philly-bred, arrowhead-tattooed loyalists commune with pilgrims from the Midwest and beyond. On Sunday, the crowd included fans visiting from Virginia, California, and Florida.
Big Charlie’s has no phone, and during the week it can be dark, empty, a bit dreary. There are video slots; a snack vending machine that sells chips, candy and cigarettes; and a fridge of beer, not of the craft variety.
On game day, though, it’s a high-energy, standing-room-only crowd: a hundred fans in red, packed shoulder to shoulder. Others are in a back room that is adorned with even more Chiefs gear and that is accessible by invitation only.
No one embodies the energy more than Puggi, dressed in a Kansas City twist on the South Philly uniform: a Chiefs shirt, high black socks with sandals, and cargo shorts. He spent the game – a close one — drenched in sweat, worried equally about the game’s outcome and its effect at Big Charlie’s.
“If someone says something wrong back there, it could go off,” he said.
To him, Chiefs games feel personal. He once put a song on the jukebox when the team was up 31-10. They lost. He was thrown out of the bar.
“We watch the game differently from other people,” he said. “We play the game.”
Regulars are accustomed to TV cameras; the Emmy from an NFL Films documentary is displayed behind the bar. On Sunday, a 6ABC cameraman stopped by. People threw their hands up and whooped obligingly.
As the game progressed, there were groans and curses, high-fives and cheers. There were unfortunate, pantomimed tomahawk chops. Chiefs touchdowns induced sheer bliss.
When the Chiefs closed in on a win, a stout older man leaped up onto the bar with surprising agility, dancing and waving a red scarf like a bullfighter. Once the score was final, Puggi played “Jump Around,” the official sound track of the Big Charlie’s victory dance.
“As an Eagles fan, this is a cool place to watch a game,” said Michele Chermela, a Willow Grove resident who’d come with her boyfriend, Chris Stanton, a Chiefs fan from Jenkintown. (In order to gain admission, Chermala had purchased a Big Charlie’s shirt to layer over her Eagle’s tank top, and she scrunched her Eagles knee socks around her ankles.) For Stanton, it was something else. “To see this many red shirts in South Philly?” It felt like a homecoming.
Big Charlie’s Saloon
1953 S. 11th St., (no phone)
When to go: Before and during Chiefs games. Anthony Mazzone, who was working Sunday, said the hours are, “11 a.m to midnight, about in that area, pretty much every day.”
Bring: Kansas City fans. Sociologists. Anyone who’s not rooting for the opposing team.
What to order: There’s a full bar with assorted liquor and an impressively large jug of red wine. The safe bet, though, is beer. Bud Light is $4.
Bathroom situation: A portable toilet was set on the sidewalk for the occasion. There’s also a urinal-only men’s room in the main bar. Women can talk their way into the back room to access a more fully outfitted, pink-tiled bathroom.
Sounds like: A baseline of 92 decibels of chatter and cheers during the game – and much louder if a victory dance is in order.