My last post may have had a bit of a sardonic tone about the Super Bowl and the American fascination with football. While I think we may be just a tad over-the-top
when it comes to our favorite sport, that post was more aimed at the apparent necessity to eat nearly unlimited calories on any special occasion (e.g. the Super Bowl, Thanksgiving, groundhog day, Wednesday, etc.). While I am not the biggest American football fan on the planet, I do know the game and can enjoy watching it. If you don’t pay attention to American sports, the game pitted the New England Patriots against the Philadelphia Eagles. Led by their talented quarterback, Tom Brady, the Patriots have been the dominant force in the NFL and the super bowl for many years, winning 5 super bowls and appearing in 3 others.
Regarding the Super Bowl itself, in general the game is over-hyped in the weeks leading up to it, and though this year’s game was really amazing, seldom does the quality of play live up to the hype. Additionally, the winner is labelled as a “world champion”. I still find this phrasing somewhat amusing. Last I checked nobody else in the world plays or even cares about American football. There is some mild interest in the UK and some Asian countries, but for the most part around the rest of the world talk of the NFL gets a big yawn.
But not in Philadelphia. In the past the cynic in me would denounce the wild celebration of a win or bemoaning of a loss as ridiculous. The rich players cash their big pay checks each week regardless of whether they win or lose. In the grand scheme of things, our daily lives aren’t much different after a win or a loss by “our” team. We might be in a sullen mood after a loss, or smiling for a win, but the result of the game doesn’t cure cancer, or hunger, or make our jobs any easier or less stressful. My opinion changed a bit Monday morning.
I spent an hour riding on my bicycle trainer watching game recaps and stories from the post-game celebrations. These celebrations were broadcast from the stadium in Minnesota, the streets of Philadelphia, and communities all over the greater Philadelphia region. On my way to work I tuned in to sports radio to listen to the reaction of the sports community and the fans. These reactions brought a smile to my face. These folks have been truly hungry for this day for 57 years. Men, women, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, everyone was moved to laughter, tears, and adulation.
I heard stories from lifelong fans who shared many games with parents, grandparents, and children. Fans with voices hoarse from cheering recounted their emotions. Others sobbed openly as they remembered the final play. Back on the field the Eagles players all took turns kissing the Lombardi trophy and there were few dry eyes among them.Philadelphians love their sports. In 2008 when the Phillies broke a long drought and won the world series, the town went nuts with a parade to end all parades and to celebrate being “World f_____g champions”!
Two years ago Villanova captured their hearts with their impressive win over North Carolina in the NCAA tournament. This will be different. If you’ve ever been to or even seen an Eagles game on TV, you know how much Philadelphia loves football and it’s Eagles. The celebratory parade is scheduled for Thursday, and I suspect the Villanova and Phillies parades were mere preludes to what is to come. I’m actually tempted to go just to soak in the energy. I suspect it will be an event the city of Philadelphia will never forget even if the Eagles go on to win other Super Bowls.
In the weeks to come, we will have the 2018 Winter Olympics. Nowhere more than the Olympics is the true passion of sports on display. Unlike a professional team that is purpose-built and expected to win, the Olympics are made up mostly of individuals. Sure, some may have the advantage of big funding from a national organization, but it is the talent, heart, and determination of the athlete that wins medals. Like the Eagles, often times it won’t be the favorite that takes home the gold. In fact, no matter their nationality it is hard as a sports fan and human being to not pull for the underdog.The greatest sporting moment ever, in my opinion, was in 1980 when the rag tag US hockey team beat the USSR machine and went on to win a gold medal at the Olympic games in Lake Placid, NY. For those too young to remember, this was called The Miracle on Ice and happened well before NHL players went to the Olympics and before the USSR fell apart. The Soviet team was a whose who of hockey players from across the nations under the flag of the Soviet Union.
In exhibition games against NHL teams the Soviet team regularly won or stayed close. They had won nearly every world championship for almost 40 years and had never failed to medal in an Olympics, usually scoring gold. In contrast, the US team was a hodge podge of college and amateur players scraped together from across the country. Anyone who could play hockey at a high level was in the NHL and not eligible for the team.
I can remember my whole family, none of whom were hockey fans, literally on the edge of our seats, fists clenched, cheering every goal and gasping each time a Soviet player took a shot. Deep in my heart I wanted so bad for the US to do the impossible and beat the juggernaut from the USSR. My pulse raced, my heart pounded, I hoped beyond hope as time ticked excruciatingly slowly off the game clock. As the final seconds clicked by Al Michaels voice boomed from the television asking “Do you believe in miracles!?” I did! I wanted to! Then incredulously, time expired and the US team eliminated the Russians from gold medal contention. I was euphoric! My Mom hugged everyone with excitement. Americans roared in unison across the country. We had just witnessed one of the greatest sporting moments of all time. I can only imagine how emotionally crushing it would have been if that team had lost. Yet it was just a game.
I remember that day vividly and the emotions that went with it. I know this is how die-hard Eagles fans must have felt in those tense, closing moments of Super Bowl LII. The ever-dangerous Tom Brady and the Patriots had the ball and were driving down the field. They were within a touchdown of taking the lead and it seemed inevitable that Brady would once again snatch victory from a another opponent. As I watched, I remembered my Mom prancing from one foot to the other, unable to sit and desperately saying “Oh please don’t let the Russians score!” I remember watching game 5 of the 2008 World Series and seeing fans in the stands covering their eyes for the last few pitches, afraid of what might happen, but not wanting to miss the singular moment of impossible victory. My heart raced, and my ears rang as Brady took the snap.
But in the blink of an eye the ball was knocked away and the Eagles had it! “Do you believe in miracles”!?
There was a bit more drama at the end of the game but the Eagles had taken away the Patriots best chance. The game clock ticked to 00 and the confetti flew for the Eagles. Philadelphia roared and will continue to cheer for weeks to come!
The Buffalo Bills are another team that has yet to win a Super Bowl but that is not for lack of opportunity. The Bills went to the Super Bowl four straight years starting in 1991. Despite having a great team, unfortunately for Bills fans, they could never quite find the winning combination for the Super Bowl.
Their coach, Marv Levy, was asked before the 1994 Super Bowl if the game was a “must win”. Mr. Levy got a funny look on his face and replied “World war II was a must win. This is just a football game”. In the grand scheme of life, I know he is right, but after seeing the effect of the Eagles win on Sunday, I realize while winning the Super Bowl may not be as significant as blotting out insidious wordlwide evil, it is more than just a football game.
There are probably thousands of reasons why we choose to invest in sports as a participant, a fan or both. Ultimately, sport provides an outlet for a raw, emotional experience of giving one’s best to be the best they can. As an athlete we don’t want to do any less. As a fan we don’t want to see any less and we give our hearts and souls to support our favorite players and teams when they do give us their best. We are truly vested in the outcome.
For Philadelphia Eagles fans, emotions are spent, the dues have been paid and it’s time to revel in the rewards of a championship. (Even if it’s not really a world championship.) We can get a deep breath for a week and then enjoy the Winter Olympics. Every competitor in every sport will be doing their best to win. They have trained long hours and sacrificed much to be there. Tune in and enjoy.