I am an Eagles fan. I used to call myself a “big” Eagles fan, but to be honest, I’ve never painted my face green. I’ve never gotten on an airplane to go see a road game. I haven’t rewritten my will to ensure that I’m buried in my Randall Cunningham jersey. I’ve met people like that, and I’m afraid that calling myself a “big” fan seems like a form of cultural appropriation. I’m just a guy who has had season tickets for twenty years. Just a guy who sits in occasionally sub-zero temperatures to watch my team. Just a guy who has hugged at least one drunken stranger after a win. I’m just a regular fan.
Despite my admittedly falling short of the “fanatic” definition of “fan”, I do feel qualified to tell you that it’s not easy being an Eagles fan. Not easy at all.
For one thing, being an Eagles fan means dealing with the Santa Claus thing. Man, that gets tiring. You know that wasn’t the real Santa, right? That wasn’t even the guy they hired to be Santa. That’s all beside the point. The fact is: most Eagles fans weren’t born when the Santa thing happened, fifty years ago. Yet somehow no conversation about Eagles fans is complete without a reminder of Santa and the snowballs.
Then there are the Super Bowl trophies. Or rather, the lack of them. The Eagles are the only team in their division that has not won a Super Bowl. Even Redskins fans, whose team hasn’t won a Super Bowl in nearly thirty years, love to remind us that the Eagles haven’t won a Super Bowl. If you mention that the Eagles have won three NFL Championships (in the pre-Super Bowl era), this accomplishment is dismissed as something that happened in ancient history. Which I could accept, except that the Santa Claus incident that happened only a few years later somehow remains timelessly relevant.
Throughout the playoffs, we are regaled with stories about Eagles fans and their bad behavior (or just plain dumb behavior, in the case of the Super fan who ran into a pillar while trying to rally the troops last week). Stories abound of fans climbing poles (which, we’re alerted, were greased last week), punching horses and bloodying fans of the opposing teams.
Eagles fans have a terrible reputation, but is it deserved?
Hell yeah, it’s deserved. But that’s not my point. My point is that there are literally millions of Eagles fans. Well, at least hundreds of thousands. Some of them are, to borrow the term, “deplorables”. But I want to know: what team doesn’t have fans like these? It seems to me that every one of these stories could be about any team in the league (except maybe the Santa one, which might well be the reason why it gets repeated so often). I’ve been to other stadiums, been to games between two teams not called the Eagles, and I never have to look very far to see the same boorish behavior everywhere I go. I really don’t believe there’s anything all that unusually awful about Eagles fans, but I guess it fits a narrative. That is, the same narrative that dictates that any broadcast from Philadelphia include a video bumper of a cheesesteak being made and a shot of the Rocky statue.
A lot of people are just fine with the narrative. It makes them feel special. A lot of Philadelphians embrace the image, and although I find it a little tiring, well, maybe that’s just me.
Rather reviled than dismissed
I secretly believe that there really isn’t much to distinguish the fans of one team from the fans of another. I think about that every time I see a T-shirt that says something like “If you’re not playing Eagles football, you’re not playing football” or something like that. You know there are 31 other shirts out there for each of the other teams. It is difference without distinction. I think most fans understand this, or at least sense it, and as a result are eager to embrace anything that sets them apart, even if it’s a negative.
So, let them carp about Santa abuse. Let them turn their noses up at our horse-punching ways. Come SuperBowl Sunday, they’ll be cheering right along side us. They will be Eagles fans, too. Because the alternative is another Lombardi trophy going to the Patriots. And who wants that?
I’ve been an Eagles fan for a long time, and a season ticket holder since I relocated to the area about twenty years ago. So, yeah, I feel about as qualified as anyone to comment on the Eagles fan experience. If someone out there with green face paint wants to disagree, well, I’ll defer to him.