Next time you watch the replay of the Eagles’ Super Bowl LII victory – come on, we know you have a few more left in you – hit the pause button when they show Jeffrey Lurie celebrating in his private box at U.S. Bank Stadium. One row above and just to the left of the Eagles’ owner, you can see Phillies owner John Middleton celebrating right along with Lurie and actor Bradley Cooper.
Like so many other Eagles fans, Middleton had waited a lifetime for that moment in Minneapolis.
“I’ve been watching the Eagles since I was 2 years old and I can remember sitting with my parents watching games since I was 4 or 5,” said Middleton, a Delaware County native whose family had Eagles season tickets at Franklin Field and Veterans Stadium starting in 1961.
Sundays in the Middleton household, in fact, revolved around the Eagles. When the team was away, the family would go to church on Sundays and then to “family supper” at his grandparents’ home.
“We ate at noon and there was always some generational tension,” Middleton said. “It was the day of the week my grandparents waited for, but my aunt and my uncle made it known that they were on the clock because the game started at 1.”
Middleton, 62, remembers the home games even more vividly.
“We’d pile eight of us into a single station wagon with the fake wood paneling,” he said. “We’d pack the hoagies, and me and my cousin would bounce around in the cargo hold in the back. My dad would drive and we couldn’t talk because my mom was reading the sports section of the Philadelphia Inquirer. She was reading about the game. We sat in section EE, right behind the goal post.”
Middleton also had memories of the Eagles’ first two Super Bowls, especially the first one, when he was 26.
“The only way to get tickets was to buy a package from a bus company,” he said. “So, of course, we bought the package and we went down to New Orleans on a bus. It was me, my mom, my dad and my aunt. On the way down, we at least stopped in Atlanta, but when the Super Bowl was over, we got on the bus an hour after the game and drove all the way from New Orleans back to Philadelphia. It was awful. It would have helped if they had not lost to the Raiders.”
By the time the Eagles returned to the Super Bowl in Jacksonville 24 years later, the Middletons were an affluent family, but the experience was still ruined by a loss to the New England Patriots.
This time, the Eagles finished the job against the Patriots, and the Middletons – John’s wife Leigh was right next to him – got to celebrate with Lurie and some of the owner’s closest friends.
“This one was a whole different class,” Middleton said. “We stayed with the Luries and a few of their friends on Lake Minnetonka and we attended the commissioner’s party.”
Ultimately, it was the game that most enthralled Middleton, bringing back memories of the Phillies’ run to the World Series title in 2008.
“It’s funny, because I contrast how I react to the Eagles to my emotions and behavior with the Phillies,” he said. “I’m less restrained with the Eagles than I am with the Phillies. With the Eagles, I’m really just a fan, and I can be more exuberant when something good happens and when something bad happens. You just let your emotions take over. And, my God, what an amazing experience that was. It was a catharsis.”
Clearly, Middleton and Lurie have developed a special bond. The Phillies put their full support behind the Eagles’ drive to their first world championship since 1960. Banners supporting the Eagles before and after the Super Bowl hung from Citizens Bank Park. There was a time not that long ago when there was a palpable friction between the teams, but that feeling is gone.
“I think when you’re co-tenants of a stadium, like we were with the Eagles, there are natural friction points,” Middleton said. “But I can tell you we have worked closely with each other going back to the negotiations with the city and state for the new stadiums. If you had walked into our building in the last month, you would have seen a lot of people wearing Eagles gear. And I couldn’t be happier for Jeff. This could not have happened to a better person.”
One of Middleton’s favorite parts of his Super Bowl experience was watching videos of Lurie addressing the team before the season opener in Washington and again before the title game.
“Not surprisingly, he did a superb job,” Middleton said. “He stood up in front of his team and he had the right presence and intensity and emotion that you’d want your team to walk on the field with. That team was more ready to win than any team I can ever remember, including our team that won in 2008.”
So will Middleton try to emulate Lurie’s speeches at some point during spring training, which begins Wednesday in Clearwater, Fla.?
“I might,” he said. “They’ve asked me if I’ve wanted to do it before. Maybe I’ll say something before the first [regular-season] game in Atlanta, I don’t know. I will see what [rookie manager] Gabe Kapler and [general manager] Matt Klentak want to do.
“I know we have a plan here and it’s a plan that is going to work. But baseball doesn’t allow for a lot of shortcuts. Building a baseball roster is a lot different than building a football roster, because you have long-term contracts and players have to develop. You can take all the best college players in a draft and they still need two or three years in the minor leagues. That’s much different than football, where the college level is like triple-A.”
For now, Middleton intends to maintain some semblance of patience with the Phillies while he continues to bask in the glory of his most unforgettable moment as an Eagles fan.