When I sat down last Sunday, I let myself dream of a potentially dominant Eagles’ Super Bowl win. The team had soared into Arizona, beating its past two opponents by a combined 55 points. Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts was allowed to sit back and watch as his team ran all over the Giants and 49ers on offense, and dominated the line of scrimmage on defense. Confidence was high as the Super Bowl approached, and many fans — including myself — believed an Eagles win was certain.
As the game started, I found myself sickly nervous, a normal occurrence whenever I watch a playoff game. It wasn’t fear or doubt, just sheer excitement. I was born and raised in Philadelphia, so naturally I proudly eat, sleep, and breathe Philadelphia sports. I cheer for the Phillies, Eagles, Union, Sixers, and even the Flyers whenever given the chance. My obsession is hardly unique in Philadelphia.
Sports has a unique unifying effect in Philadelphia; it allows everyone to forget the problems of the city and rally around a common cause. This unity is especially powerful when a team is winning. Look no further than the Eagles’ NFC Championship Game win over the 49ers. Even though the team still had a game left before reaching its ultimate goal, fans still rushed the streets in celebration. The city takes any chance it gets to celebrate as one, to sing “Dreams and Nightmares,” to dance to Lil Uzi Vert, to climb greased poles, to smash drinks, and to feel joy.
But the Eagles couldn’t finish the deal, and there will be no second party on Broad Street, or parade to the Philadelphia Art Museum. Looking back on the game, the actual contest was fantastic. The high-scoring bout showcased the depth of Hurts and masterful scheming of Chiefs coach Andy Reid. Sadly, the Eagles were the team with more mistakes by the end of the game, most notably an early fumble by Hurts that led to an easy touchdown and a late holding penalty called on All-Pro Eagles cornerback James Bradberry that allowed the Chiefs to kick a field goal with under 10 seconds left.
As a final Hail Mary attempt hit the turf, you could hear a pin drop across the city as Birds fans were left speechless. Such an amazing team fell just short, but that specific pain of a close championship loss has become a familiar feeling for Philadelphia sports fans.
2022-23 has been the season of “almosts” for Philadelphia; three lost championships in the span of 100 days. On Nov. 5, Philadelphia Union lost the MLS Cup Final on penalty kicks after leading Los Angeles Football Club until there were only a few minutes left in extra time. Later that day, the Philadelphia Phillies fell to the Houston Astros after being up 2-1 in the World Series. These losses were just be an appetizer of what was to come with the Super Bowl, where the seemingly juggernaut Eagles disappointingly couldn’t stop an injured Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes from dicing up its defense. All three teams had electric seasons that ended in tight losses — losses that weren’t just bad, but heartbreaking.
Looking around now, it feels as though being a fan in Philadelphia is just one big tease, getting a taste of real hope before having it all ripped away over and over again. In the past, Philadelphia has had to deal with the odd cases of Carson Wentz and Ben Simmons, the Kawhi shot, the Union losing its entire team to COVID-19 on the day of the championship last year, the historic ineptitude of the Flyers, and a laughably long Phillies playoff drought. The worst part? This year was no different.
Philadelphia had gotten knocked on its collective ass in the final moments of three separate seasons, a comically painful feat that no city in America had ever achieved before. Why should we keep moving forward, you might ask? With all the losses, the flukey calls, the disappointing finishes, you could say Philadelphia fans have a right to give up. To throw their hands in the air and say “We can’t win!”
While Philadelphia sports is constantly full of heartbreak, it also brings immense amounts of joy to the city. The Union finished the season on track to overtake the Flyers as the city’s fourth most popular team, the Phillies broke an 11-year playoff drought with a surprise championship run, and the Eagles proved that its roster, coach, and QB were capable of reaching the Super Bowl. When the seasons end, these glimmers of hope pull us all back in for next season.
Outside the Philadelphia Art Museum, there is a perfect representation of Philadelphia’s mentality in the form of a statue of Rocky Balboa. Rocky has, does, and always will represent Philadelphia’s passion for sports. In the final act of the first “Rocky” film, Rocky declared “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
Even though Philadelphia’s collective heart is broken now, our spirit is still high. Philadelphia is the city that never quits because we know that the only way you truly lose is when you give up. We get up after every beating knowing we’ll be beat again because we understand the alternative: not celebrating at all. Not experiencing any of the hope or joy that comes with sports.
This is all to say: don’t mistake our heartbreak for defeat. Philadelphia fans may be down now, but the next time we find even the smallest bit of success, you’ll be able to find us up high on the poles of Broad Street, doing donuts in Hellcats on Girard, and screaming our hearts out in support of the teams we love most. If this mentality bothers you, like it does many that are not from Philadelphia, I will leave you with the immortal words of Eagles’ center Jason Kelce: “No one likes us, we don’t care.”
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