I was struck by many things yesterday as I attended the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl Victory Parade in the City of Brotherly Love. Chief among them is the power of sports to unite so many people from disparate backgrounds into a palpable presence of love. I have to admit I had my own preconceptions about the city and its fans as I came to the parade as part insider but part outsider, too.
My husband grew up in the Philly suburbs and has always been a devoted Eagles fan, despite our residing in Washington Redskins territory for the past 28 years. Sometimes a local team slowly works its way into a fan’s heart, but my husband’s loyalty to the Eagles has never wavered. I knew that there was no way that he would miss returning to Philadelphia for this historic moment.
I, however, grew up in a small south central Pennsylvania town with no clear team loyalties. There was definitely support for Philadelphia’s sports teams but the local fandom also stretched west to Pittsburgh and south to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. I would spy Ravens banners and Redskins flags as well as Eagles and Steelers gear upon visits to my hometown. So, although I have supported the Eagles, I must admit to not having the true passion of a die hard Eagles fan (like this guy in search of a great view of the parade).
With that in mind, I felt some trepidation about venturing into center city Philadelphia along with the projected two million other people descending on Broad Street. It would be cold. It would be crowded. There would be porta potties but maybe not enough of them. The crowd might be raucous, dangerous even. Don’t tell epic Eagles speech-giver Jason Kelce but I was told to bring my health insurance card with me in the event I got hurt by the vicious Eagles fans and the denizens of Philadelphia. Visions of terrorist attacks in Boston and New York lingered in the back of my mind. All of that left me feeling that I may be safer sitting this one out.
Fortunately, my sense of adventure kicked back in and off on a sold-out Amtrak train from BWI to PHL we went. I had to settle for wearing my collegiate Penn State gear (awfully close to the vanquished Patriots team colors) because I don’t own any Eagles garb. I learned the lyrics to Fly, Eagles, Fly on the train on the way up because I didn’t want to be the only one standing in a sea of green who couldn’t even sing the fight song.
The moment we stepped out of 30th Street Station we were hit with our first of many E A G L E S EAGLES cheers! It was an awesome start to a day I will always remember. Yes, it was cold but the sun hitting the steps of The Franklin Institute kept us warm. Yes, it was crowded but in a fun way. Logan Square was like one gigantic block party. The crowd was spirited but in no way destructive. There were young people dancing and throwing footballs in the blocked off street. There were little girls dressed in green tutus playing on the steps. There were babies and toddlers wearing Eagles clothes. Dogs on leashes were looking for errant treats. Planes flew above us writing “PHILLY PHILLY DILLY DILLY” in the clear blue sky. There was music blasting on the loudspeakers while the jumbo screen on the square projected scenes from the parade. There were classic songs that I knew the lyrics to and songs that everyone under 30 knew every single word to that I have never heard.
There were people of all ethnic and religious and social backgrounds, all shapes and sizes. I’m sure there were Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives and everyone in between. Whatever their background, it didn’t matter one bit when a random person started with E A – the whole crowd stopped what they were doing and finished the cheer.
I genuinely felt love in that city yesterday. People were kind and friendly. Hard-working cops and sanitation workers were smiling and answering questions and giving directions, even as the day turned into night. We met a grandmother in from Delaware by herself and a grad student who flew in from the University of Wyoming to attend the celebration. We even witnessed a marriage proposal in front of the crowd and heard about a fan traveling to the parade to spread their loved one’s ashes at the event.
Love, in all its glorious and messy forms, was truly on display in Philadelphia yesterday and the thing that brought the city together was sports in general, Eagles football in particular. Say what you want about football, about its scandals and the legitimate health risks to its players, I haven’t witnessed anything else close to what I experienced yesterday in terms of unifying a city. The National Anthem controversy may have taken a toll on the NFL’s popularity but there wasn’t a dry eye as most of the city of Philadelphia belted out Fly, Eagles, Fly together.
Yes, maybe we should be able to unite for something more “serious” than football and lots of people do, but right now I am so grateful to have soaked up that love and joy yesterday. It is something we all need more of in our society. As we boarded our train home last night with one last slightly hoarse EAGLES cheer, my hope is that the city of Philadelphia and all of us who experienced her brotherly love yesterday can take that spirit back home with us and share it wherever we are. It may be “only football” but I for one am glad to take it. Thank you, Philly, you are special.