I'm saying it: Here's to you, Gritty. A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
The orange hellbeast the Flyers unveiled Monday has gripped our city — indeed, our country — at a time we most needed it.
The team says our new mascot was found scuttling around the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center. I believe it's more likely that Gritty is an animate pile of discarded orange wigs, tossed in a Dumpster behind Geno's Steaks after the Flyers' heartbreaking Stanley Cup loss in 2010 and brought to life by our city's collective weirdness.
In short: I love him.
Not to get all philosophical here, but our fair Gritty is at once a perfect embodiment of — and a perfect balm for — this insane year. As many people noted Monday on Twitter, for a few, shining hours that morning, it felt as if no one was talking about the president (a far less deserving orange hellbeast) or the Supreme Court, or Russia. Instead, my timeline was full of tangerine fur and rolling, feral eyeballs.
A joy. An escape. A Gritty.
It was a two-year process to design him. At certain points, our hero was almost unrecognizable. One iteration had a nose. Another had eyelids. One was skinny. One was bald.
"We saw it as a way to engage kids — another vehicle to interact with the community," said Shawn Tilger, the team's executive president and chief operating officer. Now, only one NHL team — the team I grew up with, my hated Rangers — remains mascot-less.
The franchise expected pushback from its purest traditionalist fans — like Brian Parks, 43 and a father of two, who used to bang his head against the Spectrum's glass in his job as Phlex — the old mascot of the Flyer's AHL team, the Phantoms.
"To me, mascots are for football and baseball and minor-league teams," Parks said. "I never thought they'd introduce a mascot, and if they did, that it would be as odd as Gritty. I showed the picture to my kids and one said they'd rather hug Pennywise, the scary clown from It."
Whatever Gritty's purpose, he's having a real moment. In 24 hours, he's become the most-searched term on Google, fell flat on his back on the home ice, and shot a guy in the back with a T-shirt cannon, then made a triumphant appearance on Good Morning America.
"A producer called us and just said: 'We're obsessed with Gritty. How can we get him on?' " said Sarah Schwab, the Flyers' director of marketing. "That was an amazing moment — you open Twitter and see a Gritty tweet after a Gritty tweet."
I, too, have been refreshing my Twitter timeline with unalloyed glee, but I wondered what the true hard-core fans felt, the ones who would threaten my life and liberty when I once showed up at the Spectrum in my Rangers hat.
I thought of the boys in the trenches: Section 107, right behind the net at the Wells Fargo Center. I had met them during the Cup run in 2010. They took me in like one of their own, and during warm-ups, I watched as Jon Ostroff, a personal-injury lawyer from Plymouth Meeting, pushed his bare, formidable midsection against the glass and lobbed insult after insult at the Blackhawks' goalie.
Later, after Patrick Kane scored a fluke of a goal to take home the Cup, Ostroff's then-17-year-old son, Ethen, ripped off his orange wig and hurled it to the ground, in front of millions of TV viewers. (Perhaps this was the birth of our icon, our Gritty.)
On Tuesday, Jon, who has since moved to a condo by City Hall, strolled to his morning gym in his Flyers hat and T-shirt, as he is wont to do, unaware of the full extent of Gritty mania.
"What do you think of Gritty?" his doorman, his neighbors, his gym-mates asked.
"It's actually me in costume," he joked.
After consulting with Ethen, who was at Monday's game, and heard the initial boos, then cheers, after Gritty wiped out on the ice, Jon decided to meditate more deeply on our orange basement-dweller.
"By falling, he became known," he said. The way he pulled himself back up and went firing madly with his T-shirt gun?
That's Philly. That's us. That's the Tao of Gritty.