When the clock read all zeros on February 4, 2018, chances are you heard a familiar chant across the Philadelphia region: “E-A-G-L-E-S.” It was a tune sung by a chorus of voices that waited decades to sing it on the biggest stage. All the other times were just practice.
At my family’s house in Pennsauken, N.J., I’m confident the voice that sang it the loudest belonged to my dad. I couldn’t be there for the moment, but it’s an educated guess, rooted in years of what I consider an apprenticeship in watching football as I sat next to him on countless Sundays.
Watching my dad as we watched football taught me many life lessons. I learned what unwavering support is. Sometimes it means you can’t rationalize why you love something. You just know you do. You know that no matter the outcome – you have to throw your full support behind a cause because you’re confident it’s the right thing to do. That’s what being an Eagles fan meant to me; constantly getting knocked down, but always believing you could stand back up.
When the Eagles won their first Super Bowl, I wasn’t watching on the couch next to him as I have for the majority of games played in my 27 years. I was working. I was seated at my desk in the newsroom surrounded by colleagues grappling with the fact that, in the 189 year history of the Philadelphia Inquirer, we would be the group that would finally get to tell this story. Fine by me. But obviously, I couldn’t help but think about how my family was watching on the edge of their seats, just as I was.
When it was all said and done, my mind transported me to the familiar spot on the couch where I would usually sit with my dad. Well, sitting when he wasn’t pacing from room to room, trying to rationalize why Andy Reid called that play or why Donovan McNabb didn’t just tuck it and run. I took a quick break, stepped into the hallway and called my parents.
I didn’t really know what I’d say when they answered. I was bailed out of having to make a decision because, of course, that same old chant was there to greet me: “E-A-G-L-E-S.”
I couldn’t join in. It wasn’t that I forgot it. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to sing it while at work. It was because I never had to say that chant through tears.
After most big wins (and minor ones too), my dad would give my little brother and I an overly aggressive high-five followed by a hug and lift into the air. Those lifts stopped years ago. I’m not a child anymore.
But on that night, I couldn’t grasp the fact that I was talking to my dad on the phone instead of being tossed up into the air, somewhat carefully as to avoid the ceiling fan above.
When my mom and dad finished the chant, he checked on me using the nickname he’s called me for as long as I can remember, which on that night felt so wonderfully fitting.
“Are you OK, Champ?” Obviously, I was more than okay.
As Father’s Day approached this year, I knew what my dad’s gift needed to be. It had to be about the “E-A-G-L-E-S.” This would be the first Father’s Day of our collective lives where the Eagles are champions. His gift commemorates a championship we spent our lives rooting for and serves as a stand-in for a moment we weren’t able to share.
As an Eagles fan, I know watching your dad religiously don kelly or midnight green on Sundays is not unique to me. So I asked around. Turns out many of your stories are just like mine.
FaceTime and plane tickets
Take Michelle Willemin, for example.
She grew up glued to the television during Eagles games alongside of her superfan father, Lee. It was a ritual that most of life’s circumstances couldn’t derail. Even going off to college, FaceTime solved that.
This season was tougher, though. She moved to Florida – the day after the Eagles’ first preseason game.
“It broke my heart to think that may be the only game we’d watch,” she said.
The Super Bowl took care of that. While the FaceTime routine sufficed the regular season, that wasn’t an option when it came to the big game.
“Watching the Eagles in the Super Bowl, win or lose, is not something I can do without my dad,” Michelle said, telling the story of how she flew back to her familiar nest in Philadelphia before Super Bowl Sunday. To prepare for the game, Michelle and her father did something that by now feels like second nature to them. They watched Eagles football.
They popped in the DVD that she gave him of the “10 greatest Eagles-games of all-time.” They ended the reminiscing with the “Body Bag Game.”
Assuming that this Cinderella story was about to end, Michelle snapped a picture of her and her dad, just before kickoff, in case the smiles were soon wiped off their faces by the typical chain of events Eagles fans have become accustomed to. You know, the ones that end in heartbreak.
Yet, the excitement endured. Into halftime. Into the fourth quarter. Into the final minutes. When Brandon Graham made perhaps the biggest play of the night, forcing Tom Brady to fumble and giving the ball back to the Eagles – up five – Michelle began to cry.
Calmly, Lee told his daughter, “It’s not over.”
That calmness, so often exemplified during Eagles games, is something Michelle values in her dad. “His ability to maintain even keeled in any situation is something I admire not just because I will never achieve that level of calmness, but because he is a constant pillar of security because of it.”
For Richard DiFeliciantonio, providing security for his daughters meant protecting them by working to understand their world. He grew up with aspirations of being a baseball player, preferring to pitch because it elevated him to a status above his teammates. “They even build a little hill for you.”
His daughters Emily and Samantha, however, gravitated toward more team-oriented sports, preferring to run around a soccer field over stepping up to bat.
To delve more into their world, DiFeliciantonio began to embrace a sport that he grew up only watching from afar – but one rooted in the team mentality that his daughters loved so much. The three became Eagles fans, making it a yearly tradition to go to a game, especially after DiFeliciantonio and the girls’ mother divorced.
The day before the Eagles defeated the Falcons in the playoffs, Emily gave birth to her father’s first grandson. As fate would have it, she married a Patriots fan and moved to Boston, but that didn’t stop the family from wrapping the baby in an Eagles rally towel just hours after birth.
DiFeliciantonio provided security for his girls, but he remembers the Super Bowl for what his girls gave him. “From Philly to Boston the family FaceTimed and grabbed one another’s virtual shoulders in a tight circle and chanted while bouncing up and down, and in so doing saved their father’s life.”
Rooting for a team that had never won a Super Bowl made me long for it to happen while my dad and I were both still around. I wanted to see the amount of pride that it would fill him up with. The big game was the ultimate reward for a father and son’s collective devotion to a team.
For others, dad didn’t get to see this win. It doesn’t mean his presence wasn’t felt and it certainly doesn’t mean the lessons he taught were not remembered.
Karen and Kenny Hutchinson lost their father Kenny in 2014. His devotion to the Eagles ran deep and after his death, the diehard Birds fan was laid to rest in a vintage Randall Cunningham jersey.
Kenny Jr. remembers his dad burning Cowboys apparel on the lawn when the teams would face each other. “He taught me the exact meaning of ‘Bleed Green,’ without even trying to do it,” he said. Kenny also remembers sitting down with his dad to watch the Super Bowl in 2005 as the Eagles faced the Patriots.
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“We both cried tears of frustration,” he said after the loss. “Not having him here to see us win it this past season is one of the toughest things for me.” Karen and Kenny are both convinced that their father is still watching down on his beloved Eagles.
While the Eagles’ win will conjure up memories of those no longer with us for some, others will be reminded of new life.
John Crane, a native of Northeast Philly who is now stationed in San Antonio, was 7-months-old when the Eagles played in Super Bowl XV. That’s something he shares with his daughter Emilia, who was 7-months-old back in February.
She had better luck than her dad.
“My first Father’s Day will be that much sweeter because of what the Birds did this year,” Crane said. He’s starting Emilia young. Her first year of life was filled with Sundays in her father’s arms as the Birds played. The night of the Super Bowl was high energy – the family decked out in their Eagles best (including the dogs).
Emilia managed to stay awake until the end of the first quarter, but her dad isn’t too concerned about her falling asleep. He plans on filling her in when she’s a little older.
“I’ll show her pictures and tell her how the first season we spent together watching games was the greatest season in Eagles history.”
For children and fathers who share a love for the Eagles, the dynamic of their relationship is forever changed. That unifying mentality of pulling for the underdogs might be gone, but a culture of dedication and commitment lives on. Winning it all was the reward for all the suffering.
Maybe football isn’t the vessel to impart every valuable life lesson into your child. But my dad, and dads like him, hit on something. As we all find out at some point in life, we’re going to be knocked down. Maybe you’ll be knocked down over and over again for what feels like over 50 years.
If being an Eagles fan has taught me anything, it’s that you can stand up. When the Eagles won it all, it finally felt like all fans collectively stood up and I immediately tied that sense of accomplishment to all of the hopes I carry for my own life.
That’s a connection that was possible for me to draw because of a dad who taught his son how to endure rooting for this team.
This Father’s Day, I have to say thank you, dad and Go Birds.