Ever since the Philadelphia Flyers introduced their new orange googly-eyed mascot to the world, the staff here at the Jewish Exponent has been begging me to devote a column to the monster — or is it monstrosity? — the team has named Gritty.
Unlike many in this city, who at first came out against the creature only to embrace it as one of our own after those outside the Delaware Valley heaped scorn upon the mascot, I am not going to jump on the Gritty bandwagon.
While it’s been compared to a Muppet, Gritty’s unique combination of heft, maniacal gaze and neon glow might produce nightmares in young Philadelphians’ minds. With its paunch and tendency to evoke an image of a ZZ Top front man dipped in Tang — or maybe the color is the product of Schuylkill Punch — Gritty might just be the perfect embodiment of a Broad Street Bully.
To me, nothing born of a deranged designer’s mind will ever compare to the Philly Phanatic, the Phillies’ I-don’t-know-what that I had a stuffed version of as a kid. Don’t get me wrong, I was ecstatic when my kids got to meet the Eagles’ Swoop — and I can’t wait to see what the folks over at SEPTA come up with for their new mascot — but wherever you go in the world, it seems that everyone knows about the Phanatic.
Maybe one day, thanks to the news generated by last month’s unveiling, they’ll see Gritty the same way. But I doubt it.
(Would I be remiss to not comment on Phang, the Philadelphia Union’s new limbed snake mascot? No … it is, after all, Major League Soccer.)
Still, while I can’t say that I love Gritty, I do see something quintessentially Philly in it. Philadelphia has long been described as gritty, an adjective that can either be read as grimy or as referring to grit, a character trait that has become all the rage thanks in no small part to Professor Angela Duckworth’s Character Lab at the University of Pennsylvania.
Duckworth’s research has shown that success in life depends on how people respond to early failure. It’s a concept that wants parents to teach children to embrace the times they fall short, primarily as an impetus to drive themselves farther. And it can be seen in the famous story of Thomas Edison, who purportedly said that in all the steps to finally making the lightbulb, he didn’t fail 1,000 times, he just discovered 1,000 ways not to make a lightbulb.
Looked at in that light, Gritty might just be the most Philadelphian of all the city’s mascots. Ours is a city of soaring accomplishment — and I’m not just referring to Super Bowl LII — but it is also the poorest big city in the country. We have some of the best research institutions in the world, but too many of our children lag behind their peers in basic literacy. Half the world’s entertainment is now rooted here — with Comcast’s takeover of Sky, it essentially has only Disney to compete with — but we’ve long had a chip on our shoulder living in the perceived shadows of New York City to the north and Washington, D.C. to the south.
In such an environment, failure is not something to be avoided, but accepted, dealt with and put in the rearview mirror. That’s something that the Eagles, for example, are dealing with right now. It’s been incredibly rare for NFL teams to repeat a Super Bowl victory in successive seasons — only eight teams in 51 have managed the feat — but champions have made the playoffs in their post-Super Bowl seasons 69 percent of the time.
And yet, five games into the current season, the Eagles are playing more like the 1987 New York Giants who went 6-9 after winning their first Super Bowl victory, than the 2014 Seattle Seahawks, who went 12-4 and returned to the Super Bowl after winning their first world championship. (The Giants, it deserves pointing out, won a second Super Bowl just three years after their disappointing finish in ’87.)
Gritty seems like the kind of player who, when slammed into the glass, pushes back, climbs on top of you and attacks with fury. Such behavior should never be condoned in public — and under the watchful gaze of an official, will get someone sent to the penalty box in hockey — but if Gritty’s name harkens to a refusal to submit, then it’s a message I have no problem endorsing.
Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected]jewishexponent.com.