Rich Hofmann: Goldie the original Philly Phanatic

DAVID BERKO sent the e-mail late on Friday night, which was the day his grandmother died at the age of 89. He said he wasn't exactly sure why he was writing, but he was. He just wanted somebody to hear Goldie Chavenson's story.

It is a Philadelphia fan's story, unique but not necessarily unusual. It is the story of a woman who went to her first Eagles game in the 1930s at Municipal Stadium and cheered for them into the Linc, a woman who lived the Eagles and the Phillies, who lived them and loved them and relied upon them to make her life complete.

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Goldie Chavenson sits at Veterans Stadium in April 1994, getting ready for Phillies' game.

And, yes, she pronounced it "Iggles."

"I'm 37 and she was almost 90 but she would call me for almost as long as I can remember," Berko said Saturday, on the phone. "I'm a Steelers fan - for part of the time, I grew up in Pittsburgh and that was my team. We always had our discussions about that. But in the end, she always said, 'Through thick and think, they're your team. You can't be a bandwagon fan. They're your team.'

"She would get down when the Eagles lost but it would never change. The coach? Stick with him. The quarterback? Stick with him. They're your team. She really did bleed green and white - and it was red and white for the Phillies, too; same thing. She lived for sports. But with she and I, it was football.

"Even at the end, it was the same," he said. "Even when she couldn't see, even when she couldn't really understand, we would talk and she would always ask me, 'When are the Eagles on? What channel?' I think about it and it's why I'm a football fan, because of my grandmother."

You get as close to sports as a sports writer does and you get jaded sometimes. You see enough games up close, and you see enough athletes after the television lights have been turned off, and the cynicism can flow pretty freely.

It is so easy to forget what this all means to so many people, how it fills their lives and how it ties together the generations of their families.

For many, like Goldie Chavenson, the sports teams were companions. Born in Philadelphia, raised mostly in Chester, a widow for three decades, a person who did thousands of hours of volunteer work at Christiana Medical Center in Delaware, she still needed the Eagles to make her life complete. As her grandson said, "It made her a more emotionally rich person."

Berko remembers her visits when he was a little kid, "When she would show up with a crisp one-dollar bill and tell stories about the Phillies and the Eagles." He remembered that her favorites were always Ron Jaworski and Dick Vermeil, but that she also sometimes told stories about Steve Van Buren.

And Terrell Owens?

"No, she wasn't a fan of T.O. because of his mouth," Berko said. "She never liked people who were arrogant, in life or in sports."

He said that she wasn't averse "to putting a dollar on the line" when it came to her football team, and that a vodka-and-something was often a game's perfect accompaniment.

Another grandchild, Sima Krusheski, added another detail, that Goldie had another identity: Goldie from Claymont. Back in the day, she would call WIP all the time and meet any belligerence she encountered with her own special cantankerousness, finishing with this punctuation: "Up your nose with a rubber hose."

"The sports teams in Philadelphia added 5 years to her life, I'm convinced," Berko said. "She just lived it. Until 4 or 5 years ago, she could tell you anything about the teams. They kept her going. She bought a green Dodge Neon when she was about 80 years old because it was the

Eagles' color. That's the kind of thing she did. She could have lived in Guam and they still would have been her team.

"She had been a widow for a long time and sports filled a huge void in her life. It made up for a lack of money, a lack of companionship, maybe even a lack of happiness sometimes. It really meant so much to her."

When the Eagles made their run to the Super Bowl during the 2004 season, Goldie still followed it, still could get excited about it. It was her last hurrah, in many ways.

"For 60, 65 years of her life she had been cheering that team," her grandson said. "And then they lost in the Super Bowl. You want to say that she took the loss like the loss of a family member, but that wasn't exactly it. She was very upset but I don't think she cried. I can't imagine - 65 years, second trip to the Super Bowl, still hadn't won it. She was upset for a couple of days but I don't think she cried.

"And by about Wednesday, she was herself again. She always said, 'Life will go on, it's only a game.' Even with everything, she did keep that perspective and it helped me. To my grandmother, there was always the next game. There was always next year."

Her family will bury Goldie Chavenson today. Next year will have to be for the rest of us, now that we have been reminded again what this can be all about. *

Send e-mail to hofmanr@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to http://go.philly.com/hofmann.