It’s time for the Eagles to fly

Next week’s Super Bowl brought back memories of an Eagles’ championship a long time ago.
Monday, December 26, 1960, was a cool 9 degree Celsius day, but perfect weather for sitting on the steps of a West Philly row house, listening to the broadcast of the NFL Championship game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers. The match was blacked out in the Philly area as it was being played on Franklin Field, the home of the University of Pennsylvania. Due to the lack of lights on the ground, the match was moved up to Noon US EDT, in case of a sudden death overtime. Ticket prices were ten and eight dollars US for a capacity crowd of 67,325.
I remember screaming with joy when the grizzled veteran from western Pennsylvania, Chuck Bednarik, who played 60 minutes every match, tackled Jim Taylor and stayed on top of him until the clock ticked down to zero: “You can get up now, Taylor. This damn game’s over.” The Eagles, underdogs then and now, beat the Packers 17-13, and it was the only playoff game coach Vince Lombardi ever lost.
Fifty-eight years later, the winning team will receive the Vince Lombardi Trophy, named after the Packers legend, who guided Green Bay to five NFL championships and victory in the first two Super Bowls in 1967 and 1968. The 2018 Super Bowl will not be blacked out anywhere, with an estimated viewing audience of more than one billion people. In 1960, gross receipts for the game were $748,000 US; each Eagle pocketed $5,116 US, while each Packer earned $3,105 US. Things have changed. Last year the Patriots received $107,000 each, the Falcons $53, 000. This year, the Patriots and the Eagles will be getting similar prize money, depending on who wins and who loses.
The NFL doesn’t want the championship to be just about money, they want it to be about honour and passion. Lombardi once said: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” The CEO and Chairman of the Eagles, Jeffrey Lurie, praised the Eagles’ fanatical supporters: “These fans are the most passionate fans in sport.” He’s right, of course, although Philly fans have had a chequered career when it comes to barracking for the home team. They threw snowballs at Santa Claus in 1968, after the scheduled Kris Kringle didn’t show (he was stuck in the snow). So management hired 19-year-old Frank Olivo, who was wearing a Santa suit at the stadium. The Philly spectators didn’t like a skinny Santa whose bag contained damp towels, instead of presents, so they pelted him with snow. The Washington Redskins, a team under fire by Native Americans for not changing their last name, had an unofficial mascot called Chief Zee, Zema Williams, who wore an Indian headdress. He made the mistake of going to a Philly home game in 1983 and taunting the fans when the Eagles lost by 10 points. He was attacked in the stands, and then the parking lot, suffering a broken leg for his taunts. And my favourite Eagles fan banner was in an exhibition game in 2009. Michael Vick, who spent 23 months in prison for running a dogfighting operation, had just been signed as quarterback. He was not greeted with applause. The banner read: “Don’t bring your Beagle, Michael Vick’s an Eagle.” The current coach of the Eagles, Doug Pederson, was a former quarterback with the Birds, and in 1999 he admitted the supporters were throwing batteries at him: “Those big ones. Those ‘D’ ones. I was spit at. Beer (thrown at him). But hey, listen, whatever.” You can’t imagine fans throwing batteries at Coach Pederson now. Like Jeff Lurie, Pederson applauded their passion: “I don’t think they sat down the whole game.” And the noise the 69,000 fans made at Lincoln Financial Field was akin to a jumbo jet plane overhead.

Of course, as a lifelong supporter of the Eagles, I’ve had to put up with criticism of Birds’ fans, even Down Under. When the Eagles lost their last Super Bowl to the Patriots in 2005, I was watching the match in a Sydney pub, one of many Super Bowl parties organised by a Nova Scotian mate, Iain Macintosh, and I told him if Brian Westbrook, a Villanova graduate, scored a touchdown for the Eagles, I would stand on a chair and sing the university fight song “V for Villanova.” It happened and I did, but there were some Patriot fans giving me dirty looks until Mac said: “Don’t worry. He’s okay. He’s from Philly.” There was a Patriot supporter I did like, a lawyer, who was detained briefly when he accidentally took a wrong turn into the front of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and told me: “The Patriot Act. What’s happening to Bush’s America?” I wonder what he would say about Trump’s America. I guess he’d still support the Patriots. Donald Trump has been friends with Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady for a number of years, though Kraft criticised the President for attacking players who protested during the national anthem against police brutality and racial injustice. It will be interesting to see whether Donald will continue to stand by the Patriots known as Team Trump because of Kraft’s one million dollar donation to the president’s inauguration committee.
Any true Eagles aficionado would know that Patriot and New York Giants fans would hate the Philly team. The feeling is mutual. This is what one New York Post reporter, Mike Vaccaro, wrote after the NFC match: “Put it this way: Giants fans loathe the Eagles so much, it has caused many of them to lose their minds and already declare the unfathomable: They will root for the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. ‘Like they’re America’s Team,’ one vowed to me Sunday night.” The cover (above) of the New York Post the morning after the Eagles victory over the Vikings last week says it all.
Okay, I am putting my neck on the line and predicting the Eagles will defeat the Patriots and win their first Super Bowl next Monday morning Australian time. Why? It’s the law of averages. The past few years have been the underdogs’ finest hour: The Chicago Cubs won the baseball World Series in 2016, their first since 1908; Leicester City took out their first ever English Premier League title in 2015-2016 after being 5000-1 outsiders at the start of the season; the Western Bulldogs defeated the favoured Sydney Swans in 2016 to snatch their first AFL premiership since 1954; and the Richmond Tigers clawed the Adelaide Crows in 2017 to achieve their first premiership since 1980.
Further back in the past, I firmly believed the Swans would defeat the West Coast Eagles in 2005, their first premiership since 1923. I was right. And, of course, it wasn’t sport but I did predict that Donald Trump would become president of the United States in a previous blog post. I wish I was wrong.

This is the Year of the Underdog. The Eagles were underdogs in both playoff games and finished on top, despite injuries and a back-up quarterback, Nick Foles (his photo at the top by Bill Streicher, USATODAY Sports), who took over the reins from Carson Wentz, out for the season with a knee injury, and is doing a splendid job. In spite of a long time in the wilderness, the fans believe in their team, and they and the players have started wearing dog masks (see photo above) mocking those pundits and Las Vegas bookies who called them underdogs. The Patriots, who have won five Super Bowls and lost two since 2002, are favoured by 5 points against the Eagles, who lost their two Super Bowl matches, the last against the Patriots in 2005 by 3 points.
It’s a week until the showdown between the upper-class New England Patriots and the down-to-earth Philadelphia Eagles.
It’s time for the Eagles to fly.

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