It’s the day after New Year’s Day, and I have Philly on my mind.
It has nothing to do with the Hoagy Carmichael song, Georgia On My Mind, turned into a hit by Ray Charles. No, it wasn’t “just an old sweet song” that keeps Philly on my mind, but that the City of Brotherly Love, as Philadelphia is known, turns up everywhere I look and walk these days.
First and foremost, there’s the Philadelphia Eagles, the US National Football League team I have been following for the last 65 years or so. The Eagles have had a rich history, since the early 1930s, but they have never won the Super Bowl. They did, however, take out the NFL Championship in 1960, six years before the NFL and a rival league agreed to merge and the first Super Bowl was born in 1967.
Back in those days, players smashed each other for the full 60 minutes, many taking part in both offence and defence. No rest for the wicked. The Eagles, like the city they represent, have always been a rough and tough side. In that 1960 season, the Birds’ centre on offence and linebacker on defence, Chuck Bednarik, laid a vicious tackle on the New York Giants’ star, Frank Gifford, leaving him with a concussion and putting him out of the game for 18 months.
If you grew up in Philly, as I did, you had to love Bednarik and the Eagles. They beat the Green Bay Packers by 17-13 on December 26, 1960 and I remember listening to the championship game on the radio on the front steps of my row home (http://bit.ly/1glPIlc). It was blacked out in the Philadelphia area as the game was being played at Franklin Field, the home of the University of Pennsylvania football team. Fifty three years later, an estimated billion people watch the Super Bowl around the world. The popularity of the game in Australia has reached new heights this year, with ESPN throwing a party for its viewers in Federation Square in Melbourne, with a special Fan Zone for Foxtel subscribers. Okay, it’s a promotion, but the first time it’s happened Down Under.
Philly fans (see photo above), accused quite wrongly, I think, of being the worst in the US – more on that later – have been waiting five decades for another NFL championship, and this Sunday, Sydney time, they get a chance to take the first step toward the Super Bowl. They will take on the New Orleans Saints in a wild card playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field in South Philadelphia, now the home of the Eagles.
Every game will be an elimination contest from here on, so the Eagles must win. After their 2-point victory on Sunday against “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys (they were never Philly fans’ team!), the Eagles are now NFC East champions and have the momentum to make it all the way to the ultimate contest on Feb 2 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. It’s a big ask, but possible.
Okay, so what’s with the Philly on my mind comments? Well, I decided to watch the film Silver Linings Playbook on Foxtel, not knowing that the Eagles also featured in the movie, which won a Best Actress Oscar for Jennifer Lawrence (http://bit.ly/Ki2QgH). Robert De Niro plays the father of Pat Solitano, Jnr (Bradley Cooper), just released from a mental hospital after eight months’ treatment for bipolar disorder, and Pat Senior’s an Eagles’ fan, as well as an illegal bookmaker. (Incidentally, Jacki Weaver plays his mother – another stellar performance!) Part of the plot involves Pat’s father betting the Eagles will beat the Dallas Cowboys and that Pat and his new friend, Tiffany, will score 5 out of 10 in a dance competition. It’s a good movie, so I won’t give away the ending, but there’s some excellent footage of Eagles’ games. Yes, I know that’s not what the film is about, but Pat Solitano does wear his Eagles’ jersey, with wide receiver DeSean Jackson’s name on it, to dinner – demonstrating the obsession of Birds’ fans.
And that brings up the reputation of supporters of the Eagles (and the Phillies baseball team) as being the worst in America. Yes, I admit that the fans threw snowballs at Santa Claus back in 1968, but it was a last-minute scraggly red-suited stand-in for Santa, possibly drunk, and he deserved the snow attack at half-time. And yes, Phillies’ barrackers once booed the children of players who came out on the field for a birthday party. But Philly fans also happen to be the most knowledgeable and loyal supporters of their teams anywhere – it just that they sometimes get frustrated. And doesn’t that occur to all sports enthusiasts?
So I watched Silver Linings Playbook on New Year’s Eve, and it brought back memories of another film I also viewed on December 31, about five or six years ago, which I had never heard of. It was called Invincible, the true story of Vince Papale, a unemployed teacher and part-time bartender, who became the special teams captain of the Eagles after winning a place at a public tryout. Papale wasn’t the greatest footballer, but he did provide inspiration for the team and the fans from 1976 to 1978, and was named the Best Special Teams player in the Eagles’ history. A cancer survivor, he’s now a marketing executive, a motivational speaker, and has chaired and worked with many charities. http://vincepapale.com/ It’s a feel-good film about a real-life Rocky, and you won’t be surprised to hear I had tears in my eyes at the emotional ending.
‘A TOWN WITH A LOT OF HEART’
The next unexpected Philly reference came a few days ago. My eldest daughter Colleen sent me a text saying I should record Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover on the TLC (Travel, Leisure, Cuisine) Channel, because the episode features Philadelphia food and restaurants (http://bit.ly/1kZnsbd ). I did and I loved it! It’s an excellent profile of the city and its people. I wrote a travel piece for the Sunday Telegraph about Philadelphia in 2006, and food featured in the article: “No piece on Philly is complete without a mention of cheesesteaks. They were made famous in the Rocky movies when Sly and his mates went for a late-night munch of the local sandwich at Pat’s Steaks in South Philly. Italian rolls, thinly sliced steak, melted cheese, peppers, onions, it’s a meal in itself.”
Anthony Bourdain, on the other hand, refused to talk about cheesesteaks. The program tells viewers what you can do and eat and see in a city in 24 to 48 hours (he did Philly in 36 hours). It’s vintage Bourdain, funny and incisive and profane, but don’t worry, all the myriad expletives are bleeped. He said previous travel and food writers (including this one!) had focused on Philly sandwiches, particularly the cheesesteak: “There will be no cheesesteak in this show. Let me say that right up front. Let the other (bleeps) do it. We’re past that. And Philadelphia has been long past that, too … things have changed a lot.”
Bourdain and the producers let ordinary Philadelphians tell the story of their city in vox pops: they don’t eat many cheesesteaks either, nor do they like the lack of parking and heavy fines as a result; and they acknowledge it’s a Philly thing to pronounce water as “wadder.” And he sits down with the city’s best restaurateurs to talk about food and the Philly culture. Michael Solomonov, the owner of the acclaimed Zahav Restaurant in Society Hill, asks Bourdain: “What do you think is the single best thing about Philly?” Bourdain doesn’t hesitate: “The attitude … It is a town with a lot of heart. If somebody thinks something sucks, they’re going to tell you right away.” Solomon agrees and adds: “If you talk (bleep), you’re going to get your (bleep) kicked, I would think.” Bourdain smiles as he ends the conversation: “Those are laudable qualities in any great city.”
Just before I turned off the TV on New Year’s Day (it was now early morning), there was one more show to watch: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It’s about three men and a woman, former high school friends, who own an Irish bar called Paddy’s Pub in South Philly. They take on taboo subjects like abortion and racism, trying to make them funny. Veteran actor Danny DeVito joined the cast in the second season as the father of the twin co-owners, Dennis and Sweet Dee, and added some humour. The real-life patrons in the Philly bars where Anthony Bourdain drinks are much funnier. I agree with the critic, Tom Gliatto, who commented on what was wrong with the show in People Weekly last year: “It’s hard to shake the feeling that it’s just someone’s project. There’s no there there – and I can tell you firsthand, there’s still plenty of there in old Philadelphia.” http://bit.ly/1lzumBt
And just when I thought it was safe to stop talking about Philly, I ran into a fellow walker in the northern Sydney suburb where I live. He walks his dog every day and yesterday I noticed he was wearing a red Phillies t-shirt. So I had to ask: “Are you from Philly?” No, it turned out, but he did have children who lived and worked in Philadelphia and he has a daughter-in-law, who went to Villanova University, my alma mater just outside the city (the VU basketball team is also doing well, but let’s save that for another post!). He’s been to Philly and likes it, which shows what a discerning bloke he is. He also likes the Eagles, and was happy they beat Dallas this week, which shows what a splendid fellow he is.
I’m tempted to say it’s a small world, but let me end with a quote from a famous Philadelphian and comedian, W.C. Fields, who sarcastically suggested – something someone from Philly would do – his tombstone should read: “All things considered, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.”
UPDATE: A big snowstorm has hit the Northeast of the United States, including Philadelphia (of course) where the Eagles-Saints game will be played tomorrow (Sunday) morning our time.
Weather forecasters say while the snow is over for the time being, it will get cold and windy, but the game shouldn’t be affected. The worst of the storm will hit on Sunday night our time.
The Philly papers are analysing the Eagles, even to the point where they have discovered that quarterback Nick Foles’s mind works faster than most players and that a cognitive abilities test he took proves that. Here’s the story from The Philadelphia Inquirer: http://bit.ly/JOWyUq Even The Wall Street Journal is getting into the act, with an article about Chip Kelly, a successful college coach at Oregon, who took over the Eagles in 2013 and has proved to be just as good at the professional level. http://bit.ly/1cOly9T
Let the Game begin!
It’s the day after New Year’s Day, and I have Philly on my mind.