A high-stakes football game Sunday in South Philadelphia without a stitch of green in sight?
It’s not only the norm at Big Charlie’s Saloon, at 11th and McKean, them’s the rules.
This curious East Coast mecca to Kansas City Chiefs fandom — and now Andy Reid reverence — has been packing a serious game day crowd of red-and-gold-jerseyed diehards since the 1980s. And as they watched their NFL team clinch its first Super Bowl berth in half a century on Sunday, their raucous cheering echoed for blocks.
More than a hundred fans packed shoulder-to-shoulder simultaneously erupted in roars, high fives and tomahawk chops. A man in his 50s wiped away tears, smudging the temporary tattoos of Chiefs logos he’d plastered across his face.
“This is everything to so many people,” said Anthony Mazzone Jr., 31, who was raised on Chiefs football in South Philly. “Every single person I care about wanted the same thing and it finally happened. This is a dream.”
So how does a community of Chiefs loyalists find not only each other but also a bar in the heart of Eagles country?
As Paul Staico, Big Charlie’s South-Philly bred owner, tells it, the team earned his loyalty in 1970, when his late father won big betting on the Chiefs in the Super Bowl that year — the last time the team made it to the championship game.
The Chiefs won that night and so did Charlie Staico, who bought young Paul a new bike with his winnings. The gift earned the team Paul’s devotion for life
The bar began showing the team’s games in 1986. The crowd developed over time.
First came the Missouri transplants relieved to find a place — just two miles from Lincoln Financial Field — where they could unapologetically revel in their Midwestern team.
Then came the converts — down-and-out Eagles fans eager to find a new team to root for.
These days, Big Charlie’s enjoys a national reputation. The team’s players and coaches are known to drop by when in town. An NFL Films documentary on the place won an Emmy in 2003.
The game-day crowd routinely spills out onto the streets. To secure a spot inside, where the walls are covered with red-and-gold flags, pennants and trophy cases filled with bobbleheads, signed helmets and even a Chiefs cross-stitch, regulars know to show up early.
Carrie Hellyer and her husband flew in from California specifically to watch the game there. Kris Krug, a lifelong Chiefs fan from Omaha, Neb., described the bar as an “answered prayer.”
He stumbled into Big Charlie’s after finding himself stuck with a business trip to Philadelphia during perhaps the most high-stakes game of his tenure rooting for the team.
“I didn’t have high hopes,” he said, wide-eyed at the sea of red jerseys around him. “I literally Googled ‘Kansas City sports bar Philadelphia’ and wound up here. This might be better than watching the game back home.”
Even fair-weather fans were tolerated — as long as they left their Eagles jerseys at home.
Carolyn Keenan and her son Joe said they came to cheer on Chiefs coach Reid, hoping he could secure the Super Bowl win for Kansas City, something he never could accomplish during 14 seasons with Philadelphia’s team.
“When the Eagles are out of [the playoffs], we come here,” Carolyn said. Then, as if to excuse her own outré team loyalties, she looked over at her son’s fiancee, Siffat Islam, and added: “She’s from Boston. She’s a Patriots person. But they’re out of it, too, so we can let her out in public again.”
Even stuck outside the packed bar Sunday, Joe Crotty, 51, of Middletown Township, N.J., wasn’t about to let the evening’s frigid temperatures chill his Chiefs spirit. With a TV set up on the sidewalk, a grill offering free hot dogs and burgers, and a devoted community of fans, he had all he needed to cheer on his Super Bowl-bound team.