Imagine the question I’m answering is, “How do you engage with Philly right now if you’re not a football fan?” Or just imagine that I’m going to tell you some stories about my limited interaction with sports, and it’ll end with a heartwarming conclusion. Your choice. Either way, I know there’s no point in writing about anything else today and having anyone read it.
When I lived in Boston more than a decade ago, and I had just started teaching fifth and sixth grade in the fall of 2004, I was desperate to learn whatever I could about the Red Sox in order to be able to talk to my students. I understood, intuitively at least, that winning the World Series was really important to both them and to my adopted city. I guess I also lived there for some Patriots wins, but that memory barely even registers.
Fast forward to this past month, where I let the football frenzy around me roll right off my back, despite the obvious importance to my now long-adopted city. The split in my Facebook feed between my Boston friends and my Philly friends was entertaining, and I imagined I got some extra laughs at the quickly-famous SNL skit pitting the two cities against each other.
Sure, I scrambled to find Eagles gear for my kids to wear to school so they wouldn’t feel left out, and I knew the basics of who was playing and when, but I didn’t watch and I didn’t much care. (For the record, despite my ambivalence and my previous residence, I never once considered rooting for New England.)
Maybe I’m still jaded from spending my formative years in western New York during the heyday and disappointment of the Buffalo Bills. (Fun fact: The Bills’ training camp was visible from my backyard.) Maybe I’m disinterested because football’s issues surrounding protests, head trauma, racial tension and gross amounts of money run counter to my values. Maybe it’s that my brother is a professional sports writer, so there’s no point in trying to appear knowledgeable or interested compared to him. Maybe it’s that I think it’s just a kind of a boring game with stupid rules. (You’re probably waiting for the heartwarming part, right?)
On Friday, my daughter proudly came home from school with an underdog mask she made. On Saturday, my synagogue passed out lyrics to the Eagles fight song in Hebrew, and the congregation sang it together.
On Sunday, the city had a vibe that was palpable and unmistakable and totally caught me off guard in its all-encompassing anticipation. My kids rolled down the windows as we drove through the rainy city and yelled, “Go Eagles!” This was their idea, not mine (obviously). They felt part of something. They felt part of this city, the only place they’ve ever lived. There was no baggage or confusion, only pride.
So, we watched the game. My kids had never watched football before. They caught on quickly. When they got bored, they played their own game of “football” in the basement and came upstairs to check the score. We ate junk food and squeezed each other’s hands in excitement. We cheered. Loudly.
We watched scores of people stream down our tiny Grad Hospital street on their way to Broad Street. We opened the front door and got high fives from strangers, watched neighbors with kids go out in the dark and the rain for a kind of unbridled joy that everyone deserves and that Philadelphia got, last night, finally.
So, if you’re not a football fan, you can engage with Philly today by being happy for your neighbors, your mayor and all the people who have yearned for something that was finally delivered. You can see what a city looks like when it rallies around a common interest. You can be glad Philly is in the national spotlight, and that the reports are mostly positive.
You can dream, with me, and hopefully with thousands of others, what other good can come out of the energy filling the city this week and the joy and hope that comes along with it.
Yes, the Eagles win unites us and many a smiling conversation is ignited just between two strangers seeing they are both wearing Eagles gear. Now, what about that Eagles fight song in Hebrew עברית? Can you share that?