It will go down, in the annals of Philadelphia history, as bigger than Rocky, the pope, and maybe even Benjamin Franklin. A Super Bowl parade that did for Philly what no U.S. president, mayor, baseball, hockey, or basketball team had ever before managed.
On an ice-cold sunny day, the underrated, underestimated, underdog Eagles rolled victoriously past what felt like millions of people Thursday — and knocked the chip off the shoulder of each and every one of us.
We laughed and danced and rejoiced at how Philly was no longer burdened as a second-class town without so much as a single Super Bowl ring. We kept each other warm by standing so close that people joked about cheek-on-cheek contact and even said “excuse me” while worming through crowds. Gone, finally, was the rep that we’re a cranky nation of aggrieved fan-citizens who can’t get over our inferiority complex.
And then, just like that, our glorious psychological lobotomy was wiped out.
As though he were the hand of God reaching down onto the Parkway to set us all straight, Eagles center Jason Kelce slapped the chip right back on. From the same Art Museum steps that made Rocky Balboa our city’s cinematic hero-underdog four decades earlier, a Mummers-sequins-bedecked Kelce shot off a victory speech full of gleeful vengeance. It was as old-school Philly as a greasy cheesesteak with fried onions on an Amoroso roll.
We are a mean people, Kelce said with delicious derision. We have a football team that people beyond our borders considered a joke. He threw in so many F-bombs that most people’s TV screens went dark in a Hail Mary effort to avoid FCC fines. The screed was so profanely poetic, so what-you-see-is-what-you-get, that #KelceForPresident was trending on Twitter in minutes.
If I were Mayor Kenney, I’d watch my back at reelection time.
Our dear mayor, himself a onetime Mummer, had only minutes earlier dared to suggest that we were all past that.
“You’ve made our lives perfect now,” Kenney told the team, “because the chip is off our shoulder.”
Aaaaahhhh, Philly. How I love thee.
Kelce’s verbal firestorm was a classic, crusty bookend to a celebration that had seemed, until then, to be marking a new dawn for our region’s battered hearts and minds. On block after block as the parade wound its way down Broad Street from South Philadelphia to the Art Museum, Our People seemed almost unrecognizably upbeat.
We’d come from places like North and West Philly, suburbs such as Marcus Hook, Langhorne, and Kennett Square, Trenton, Virginia, New Mexico. We’d hopped on airplanes and trains in our hell-or-high-water quest to give thanks.
Pope Francis? He’d brought his papal motorcade to these same streets in 2015. But this crowd of faithful sure seemed bigger. By a long shot.
“I believe God allowed us to win that game,” is how Diane Murphy Moore put it when I ran into her waiting for the motorcade near City Hall.
I fed her my line about how this Super Bowl win means more for Philly than Rocky or Ben Franklin, our famous Founding Father. But before I could get an answer, her son, Anthony, reminded me that maybe Philly wasn’t having an emotional makeover after all.
“Rocky ain’t from Philly!” he said.
There was something in the air that none of us will forget.
During a time of great national division, we were the microcosm of our great country that came together as One. Blacks and whites, young and old, blue collar and C-suite executives — we all danced to the same rhythm-and-blues songs pounding from a column of speakers on the Parkway.
We all forgot what makes us different on any other day. And it was stunning.
The streets were full of lifelong Philadelphians who’d never left this city or its suburbs, and others who passed through from other places but never left the memory of Philly behind. For a day, we stood shoulder to shoulder, stranger to stranger.
One who stood out had no Eagles gear or Kelly green on him. What made him remarkable to me, from a distance, was how pensive he seemed while everyone around him could barely contain themselves. Who are you? I asked.
“I’m Moise Fokou. I used to be an Eagle.”
He was tall, broad, and standing right along the barricade on Broad at Pine Street. He’d been drafted out of college by Philly in 2009. Played a few years. Then it ended for the free agent. He’d come up from Washington for this team whose fans, he said affectionately, “tell it like it is.”
The guy next to him couldn’t believe his eyes. David Rankin of Lower Merion shook the ex-Eagle’s hand. A few minutes later, Fokou again would be staring, silently, into the distance, waiting for his ex-team to pass.
“This is like the opposite of a funeral,” Rankin said. “We come to pay our respects to a team that gave us everything.”
In Philly, everything, means joy — even if it lasts only a few hours, days, or weeks.
Rankin said it best: “It will never feel this good ever again.”