Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)

The cult of Philadelph­ia fanatics


It was 26 years ago when members of the Heaven’s Gate cult thought that the comet Hale Bopp, which was passing close to Earth, was actually a space ship that would take them home to paradise. About 25 of them took a lethal cocktail of vodka and phenobarbi­tal, and ended up going somewhere. We can’t be sure of the ultimate destinatio­n of the Heavens Gaters, but it was probably in the same general area as the members of the People’s Temple in Guyana and the Order of the Solar Temple in Switzerlan­d. Fanaticism has no borders. I used to think that people like that were pathetic. And then I remembered that I was an Eagles fan, and found humility.

True, I’ve never considered taking a lethal cocktail if the Birds didn’t make the playoffs, and I do not believe that heaven can be reached on the tail of a comet, but there is something cultlike in my devotion to the team. And I am not alone.

A poll conducted by BonusFinde­r.com found that almost 20% of Philadelph­ians would miss their own weddings if they conflicted with the Super Bowl.

That number seemed low. I also read that given the choice between winning $1 million in the lottery and winning the Super Bowl, 21% of fans would choose the Lombardi Trophy.

I might have a slightly harder time giving up the dough, but I’d still come down on the side of the gridiron victory.

I’ve been a fan since 1973, when my father got us season tickets and I was introduced to that indigenous tribe known as the “700 Section.” I observed what it means to truly, madly, deeply love something.

Philadelph­ians are as devoted to their teams as Romeo was to Juliet, as King Kong was to Fay Wray, as Orpheus was to Eurydice and it really does have elements of romantic love.

This is doubly true about the Eagles. While there will always be people who say that Phillies or 76ers or Flyers fans are the most passionate, there really is no question about just who would be willing to line up on the ground in Guyana if it meant that the team would win it all (again).

They are not wearing orange and black or red and white.

In the week leading up to the big game, I found my normal level of obsessive-compulsive­ness reach epic proportion­s. I turned lights on, and off, and on, and then off again, worried that the Kelce mother would somehow convince Jason to throw the game for family unity.

I flushed extra times, thinking that if I did not, Jalen Hurts’ shoulder would freeze. I ground my teeth, causing my dentist, to ask if I wanted to end up at the Pearly Gates with zero Pearly Whites.

I never expected it to be this bad, especially since we’d already won one championsh­ip.

But this is what happens when you grab that brass ring. You don’t want to give it back. They will pry it out of your hand, and you will dig your nails into their fists while they try and do it, but ultimately you never lose the taste for another, and another.

When I was growing up, the team to envy wasn’t Dallas. In the 1970s, if you lived in Southeaste­rn Pennsylvan­ia, you hated Pittsburgh. The Steelers were winning over and over again, a disgusting Steel Curtain of magic. When I was a pre-teen, the late, beloved Franco Harris picked up a deflected pass from Terry Bradshaw and executed the most famous play in all of gridiron history: The Immaculate Reception. They had Lynn Swann, Rocky Bleier, Mean Joe Greene, John Stallworth, L.C. Greenwood, Jack Ham.

We had great guys too, like the Fred Astaire of football, Harold Carmichael, and the Minister of Defense now preaching in Heaven, Reggie White, and of course Wilbert and Randall and Tommy and Norm. But none of them won a Super Bowl. All of them broke our hearts.

While people in the ‘Burgh kept racking up bragging rights and finger bling.

Is it any wonder we pelted Santa? A person can only take so much before she cracks. (He probably rooted for the Giants so no weeping from this quarter.)

The point of this is to explain to those who probably don’t need that lesson why exactly we are the way we are. The suggestion that there is any group of fans that loves more deeply, hates more fiercely and forgives more easily than Philadelph­ians is as crazy as the fellow who decided that hiring Chip Kelly was a good idea.

The idea that we can lose with the grace of a Detroit Lion or a Cleveland Brown or an Atlanta Falcon or a Minnesota Viking or a, God love them, Buffalo Bill, is as mad as the idea that Tom Brady is human.

We are Philadelph­ians. We cry ugly.

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