The Philadelphia Eagles and the transcendence of sports

Philadelphia, with its cobbled streets, Head House Square, and red brick townhomes, in part looks as it did when the Declaration of Independence was debated and written.  Post-COVID tourism is booming, and the iconic and unique Philadelphia Flower Show is about to blossom.  But in other parts of the city, the "City of Brotherly Love," as defined by its Quaker founders, hasn't been feeling much love for a long time.

Statistically, Philadelphia is the poorest of big American inner cities.  Its once robust manufacturing hub is now reduced to patches of empty, windowless, graffiti-covered factory shells.  Adjoining neighborhoods are food desserts — with nary a gas station, small grocer, or fast-food restaurant for long city blocks.  In these areas, broken glass and trash litter the streets, and police stations are covered with barbed wire — looking more like hostile military outposts than a friend in need.  Fast food establishments such as 7-11, Wawa, and Starbucks have departed most "downtown" spaces due to crime, robberies, untoward activities in their bathrooms, and employee fear.  Zara, an international fast-forward fashion Mecca, closed its Philly doors after the riots of 2020, with its flagship store now in the upscale King of Prussia Mall, some 20 miles and 60 minutes away.  Public education is failing, with the Philadelphia public school system rated in the bottom 50% of the state.  The murder rate and number of carjackings are shameful, facilitated by a district attorney who doesn't prosecute.

But, against this stark backdrop of the haves and the have-nots, Philadelphians of all backgrounds are joined together, walking, if not with a swagger,  assuredly with a hop in their steps.  Not only has the amazing Philadelphia Eagles football team had an extraordinary regular season of 14 wins and 3 losses, but the players have also seemingly waltzed through their post-season games leading up to the Super Bowl.

As the Eagles prepare for their Super Bowl faceoff on February 12, 2023, they have united the city in magical ways.  For starters, thankfully, rancorous political talk has been silenced.  Racism is not discussed.  In fact, after the playoffs, when spontaneous citizens' gatherings converged on Broad Street and on Cottman Avenue, a woman on television opined how wonderful it was that everyone was together — blacks and whites — with strangers high-fiving and hugging, blowing horns and shaking bells, climbing poles despite having been greased by the police, and acting civilly.  The morning after, everyone marveled at how peaceful the celebrations had been and that there had been only one known arrest.

Throughout the area, one hears refrains of "Fly Eagles Fly" and "it's a Philly thing."  Eagles merch is being sold as fast as it is received.  A sporting goods store has expanded hours to accommodate long lines — complaining that they sell out too fast.  Of course, we are all hoping for a Super Bowl win.  But if they should lose, the Eagles have already given this city a gift without measure: pride, civility, unity, and utter joy.  They have transported Philadelphians from everyday existence into a collective happy place.  It all sounds so corny, but it's all true.

So if you come to Philly, don't be surprised to see grown people wearing green ears or dog face masks (for former underdog status memorialized by Jason Kelce), beads with huge eagle puffs attached, signs reading "it's a Philly thing," and folks singing "Fly Eagles Fly":

Fly, Eagles Fly
On the road to victory
Fight, Eagles Fight
Score a touchdown, one, two, three

Hit 'em low
Hit 'em high
And watch our Eagles fly
Fly, Eagles, Fly
On the road to victory

E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!

Image via Max Pixel.

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