As the Eagles prepare to take to the field of glory in Minneapolis this weekend, I can't help but pull from the amber memory of my ninth autumn.
Specifically, that Tuesday in October when my beloved Mets marched through the canyons of New York City, my hometown. Under a cascade of ticker tape, my older brother howled a joyous caterwaul. My mother bounced me on her shoulders. And we pushed closer, ever closer, to the streets: to the champions. To the victory. To the story.
It's a memory and a mantra I'm carrying with me to Minneapolis this weekend. It shaped me as a man, as a reporter. To push ever closer, no matter how far the journey.
OK, cut the swelling violins. I can't keep this up any longer. Here's the deal: I'm going to the Super Bowl for one reason: because, nine weeks ago, as the Eagles' playoff prospects grew ever brighter, I became an Eagles fan. Mostly because I needed something to write about that holiday week. Other ideas had fallen through, and the clock was ticking. How about that nice young man playing quarterback?
I went as all-in as you can go on a joke column. I drew upon the wisdom of Philly sports Twitter, learned to call Carson Wentz my baby and Nick Foles the savior of the world. I wrote a follow-up column trashing the Vikings, a team I know literally nothing about. I did this purely to defend my adopted city. (And also: deadlines.)
In that screed I shared a tall tale from the Philly Twitter personalities @Cranekicker and @ZooWithRoy, perhaps the two most die-hard Eagles fans I've ever met. Desperate for NFC championship tickets, they spent several days texting me transparent pleas, culminating in a narrative that their sainted fathers had died together on the way to the last NFC Championship in a tragic car crash, bedecked in Eagles gear. Wouldn't it be good luck if they went to the game with their angel dads? I put it in the column as a joke.
And then the Eagles called my bluff. Along with many others far more deserving of tickets, they sent the guys to the game. (I have been assured by the powers that be that the team got the joke. And good on them — we all need a laugh in these tense playoff times, and CK and ZooWithRoy have been tireless boosters for the NFL's most nerve-racking team.)
The guys sent me stories throughout the game, from the grown man outside the stadium who insisted @ZooWithRoy slap him (ZWR obliged) to updates on how their angel dads were enjoying the game.
By halftime, one of the angel dads was allegedly in a dog mask. The other had gotten into an argument for talking smack about the city of St. Paul and had been escorted from the game.
"Everything hurts," the guys wrote me after the game. "It's a good pain."
Flush with power, we couldn't stop there. We had to get closer. We had to go to the Super Bowl.
Prudently, the Eagles said no way to any more free tickets for those characters; the team is sending far more deserving to the game. Fortunately, for several insane fans willing to blow the mortgage payment to get inside the dome, the team said yes to face-value tickets. And so, come Friday, your correspondent will be in the backseat of a rented SUV on an 18-hour trek to Minneapolis with ZooWithRoy, a guy from Twitter whose full name I still do not know, and a Philadelphia homicide detective who roots, unforgivably, for the Patriots. CK is flying in for the game.
I have no way inside. The press pass ship long ago sailed. The homicide cop is out in the cold, too. He's traveling out of civic duty.
The guys have been texting me all week, punctuating logistical arrangements with their deep conviction that victory rests on their presence. They've composed a personal fight song to the tune of "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music.
"Angel dads, Angel dads
Every game we bring good luck
Angel dads, Angel dads
The Patriots are cheating …"
From there it descends into unprintable profanity.
Maybe I did it originally out of deadline desperation. But I can't pretend I'm not excited to hit the road to US Bank Stadium. It's for that same feeling any sports fan is chasing. The one that made us all march to Broad Street last week with our pots and pans and beer and fireworks and dogs and grappling hooks to climb the greased poles. For me, it's the missing piece — the key that will finally unlock the city I've called home for 16 years: understanding your insane fandom. It's baptism by ill-conceived, last-minute road trip.
It's why I'm glad the Eagles called my bluff.