What it's like to be the subject of an anti-Eagles viral photo

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Left: Justin Dehel, of Port Richmond. Right: A meme circulating on social media. Dehel is in the middle at the top of the photo.

This story was updated at 3 p.m. Thursday once the “unidentified guy in the front grabbing his crotch” was no longer unidentified.

Jason Lefkowitz doesn’t normally wear his hat backwards. He also doesn’t always make crude gestures in photos. But thanks to a viral, anti-Eagles fan meme, hundreds of thousands of people have now seen a photo of him doing both.

“The stars were aligned in my favor to become this meme,” Lefkowitz, 39, said, “and now I represent all Eagles fans.”

Lefkowitz, a comedian who lives in Los Angeles but is originally from South Jersey, was the man standing in front of a group of Eagles fans in a photo that this week went viral after the Eagles clinched a spot in the Super Bowl. The image, which was taken in October after the Eagles beat the Los Angeles Chargers, was shared widely, including on Monday by the Instagram account @nflmemes_ig, which has more than a half-million followers. It features the photo of the Eagles fans and reads: “Eagles fans: The only force on Earth strong enough to make people actually root for the Patriots.”

The image circulated widely and by Thursday had amassed 62,000 “likes” on that one NFL memes account alone. Lefkowitz said he didn’t really know the other men in the photo, and had no idea at the time that the photographer was actually a professional who worked for the Associated Press — until the photo was plastered atop a Washington Post story.

What he also doesn’t know? Why he grabbed his cash and prizes.

“I was literally on the phone with my dad, which is why my shoulder’s up to my ear and I’m like, ‘What am I going to do with my other arm?’ and I just instinctively grabbed my crotch,” Lefkowitz said. “Now I’m the reason people are going to root for the Patriots. I actually think it’s because Tom Brady is hot, and it has nothing to do with me.”

Justin Dehel, who doesn’t know Lefkowitz but who is standing just behind him in the photo, reported a similar experience. He was walking around the parking lot after the game yelling “Go Birds!” — as one does — when he and a friend ran into the photographer. They hopped into the picture and yelled about the Eagles with that group of strangers, thinking little of it.

After the game (which felt like a home game for the Birds), Dehel, 33, of Port Richmond, started getting texts from his friends: “Dude, you’re in the Washington Post.” This week, Dehel was again getting texts from friends. This time it was to tell him that the same picture was now featured in a meme. Lefkowitz said he was also bombarded this week with messages from friends and family across the country who saw the image.

On Monday afternoon, Dehel tweeted: “I’m a friggin meme yo.”

“It’s pretty tame,” Dehel said of the photo. “But I mean, hey, if it’s going to go viral, it’s going to go viral.”

Dehel said he avoided wading into the comments section at all because, well, it’s riddled with profanity and back-and-forth arguments over whose fan base is the most terrible.

But the meme itself was surely a reference to Philadelphia’s contingent of unruly sports fans who themselves have long been a target of vitriol, even though plenty of Eagles haters have temporarily hopped on the bandwagon and said they’re actively rooting against the Patriots Feb. 4. Dehel, who is a lifelong Eagles fan and a Philadelphia native, said criticism of Philadelphia fans as a whole is unfair, and “there’s plenty of fan bases who do way more heinous stuff than we do.”

“It’s a convenient media narrative for people to harp on, that typical Philadelphia sports fan reputation,” he said. “We get a bad rap because [50] years ago somebody threw a snowball at Santa Claus.”

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