The Philadelphia Eagles finally reached the mountaintop on Sunday with their 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. The game featured the most combined yards in NFL history, trick plays, multiple touchdowns, controversial officiating reviews, and one memorable strip-sack.
But before the kickoff of Sunday’s game, as Philadelphia’s most popular sports team looked to secure their first Super Bowl in franchise history—and first NFL Championship since the 1960 season—Eagles fans who packed into Shorty’s Sports Bar on 42nd Street and 9th Avenue prior to kickoff viewed the upcoming game with a combination of anxious fear and tempered optimism.
Gone were the underdog masks and high-fives that characterized Eagle Nation following last month’s 38-7 blowout victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game. Instead, dressed in a smattering of home green and away white, most fans ate in silence, and a pervasive sense of nervousness filled the usually-rowdy bar. If fans did speak to one another, conversation had to do with the play of starting quarterback, Nick Foles, who stepped in and took the reins when franchise player, Carson Wentz, went down with a knee injury in December.
“I’m feeling the jitters, but I’m also feeling good,” said John Tiene, 29, an insurance underwriter. “This season wasn’t supposed to be the year we won, but now we’re here and proving everybody wrong.”
Fan after fan echoed the same sentiments.
“Terrified is the underlying emotion,” said Glyn Hinnenkamp, 29, a medical student. “I think the Eagles actually have a chance to win this and that we’re extremely close to achieving something unattainable and that’s what scares me.”
One even brought up Philadelphia’s iconic connection to the famous cinematic boxer played by Sylvester Stallone.
“It fits too perfectly with the ‘Rocky’ narrative and that makes me nervous,” said Gavin Nangoe, 35, an educator. “My excitement is tempered because I’m expecting a letdown.”
For Eagles fans, it has always been hard to put too much faith in their football team. The franchise was founded in 1933, but only made one playoff appearance between 1950 and 1978. After losing Super Bowl XV in 1980, the Eagles wouldn’t win another playoff game until 1992. According to Shorty’s part-time DJ and Eagles super-fan, Brian Ferdman, 41, most of the Eagles’ history up until the 1990s was “pretty bad.”
“We were so desperate to pin our hopes on anybody who showed the slightest bit of talent,” said Ferdman, whose family had season tickets prior to his birth. He begins a trip down memory lane by listing one of the infamous busts in NFL history—when quarterback Bobby Hoying symbolized the Eagles’ failures in the late ‘90s. “People thought he was the future. It wasn’t until he started at quarterback for us the next year that we realize the future was very, very bleak,” said Ferdman.
Things turned around for the Eagles in 1999 with the arrival of head coach and general manager, Andy Reid, and the drafting of dynamic quarterback, Donovan McNabb.
“Reid showed he could build the program and McNabb was the absolute right pick,” said Ferdman, recalling the change of fortunes for the team. “It became very apparent they were going in the right direction.”
But as with everything that seems to do with the Philadelphia Eagles, two steps forward were handicapped by one giant leap backwards. In 2001 the Eagles surprisingly made the NFC championship game, where they narrowly lost to the St. Louis Rams. But over the next two years the Eagles lost NFC championship games at home to two underdogs, Tampa Bay and Carolina, respectively.
“I was at both homes games,” said Ferdman. “It was a colossal disappointment,”
When the Eagles did finally break through and make the Super Bowl in 2005, the team played a competitive game in Jacksonville against Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the New England Patriots, before running out of steam and losing a close contest 24-21.
Thirteen years later, the Eagles and their fans found themselves in the same position, facing Brady and Belichick on a neutral field in the biggest game of their lives. But even with all the negative history attached to the franchise, this year’s team evoked an unlikely and unusual amount of confidence and optimism out of their long suffering fan-base, and eventually rewarded their faith with a Super Bowl win for the ages.
“They’re all for one and one for all,” said Tiene. “A true team.”
“It’s straight out of a sports movie,” said Hinnenkamp. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet. It was just the most ridiculous way to win.”
Others got emotional.
“I will still cry tonight,” said Megan Loos, 22, a long-time Eagles fan. “This could potentially be the biggest night of my life.”
With the Eagles’ victory it’s safe to say that Sunday, February 4th 2018 will be a night Loos and other Eagles fans will never forget.