The guy who grew up in Southwest Philadelphia and lives in Havertown, somehow he'd gotten away from them. They'd laughed and stressed and shared the whole Super Bowl LII experience. They saw him lose it at the end. For their crew, this guy was the Super Bowl, every bit as much as Nick Foles and that fourth-down gadget play. Jason Dumas put out a bulletin on Twitter.
"Does anyone know this guy on the far right? From Havertown, Pa. Didn't catch his name. He watched the entire game with us at our table. Cried like a baby after we won. … Would love to thank him for helping make the game so memorable."
I woke up Tuesday to a text from my daughter studying halfway around the world, about this Super Bowl tweet from a television sports anchor in Maryland. His postgame tweet included the group photo, four guys in their late 20s, a 50-year-old on the right, all wearing green.
Once I stopped laughing, I texted the older guy in the photo. Later it dawned on me, I should write about him.
"Only if you put a plug in for the old man," Tony Romano said.
There had been a second bed in my room at the Holiday Inn Express in Shakopee, and Romano had slept in it. Made the game memorable? Yeah, he's your guy. (He once sent my wife to the emergency room because she got to laughing so hard she couldn't catch her breath).
Romano travels enough for business so when the Eagles beat Minnesota, he knew he could get a free flight by using his points, even if it meant driving from Minneapolis to Des Moines the day after the game and connecting through Dallas to get home. Romano didn't have a game ticket when he booked the flight. When you grow up in Southwest Philadelphia, getting in traditionally is the least of your issues.
"Everybody in the waste-recycling business is a sports fan," Romano said of his business. He's on the data side of it. "Maybe it's spun as a kind soul …"
He meant the person who bought the game ticket for him, the kind soul who knew how to get on StubHub to do something awesome for the Philly guy.
"What's crazy about it," Romano said, "the kind soul is actually a Cowboys fan."
No trash-talking was involved?
"Respectful indifference," Romano said.
So far, Tony was out of pocket $14.37, for a tax on the free rental car. The seat was in section 301. He never found that seat.
While we were in Minneapolis, I did not ask Tony about his dad. Mario Romano had died in September. It made the news. A taxi driver had an apparent heart attack by Penn's Landing. The cab fully caught fire. Someone had gotten the driver out before the fire, but he had already died. The news didn't know the name, Mario Romano, or that Mario was a former Philadelphia Police patrolman.
In the eulogy he gave for his father, Romano said, "2658 S. 73rd St. was a special place. There may have only been three of us living there, but my fondest memories are of always having a houseful of the funniest, most colorful people on the planet. In the '80s and the '90s, our kitchen table was the center of the universe at shift change."
There were no real sports arguments with his dad, he said, except for the one that began in 1986. The Eagles had a new coach.
"Dad hated Buddy," Tony said.
He hated draws on third-and-long and other Buddy Ryan crimes against the offense. He especially hated the arrogance of this guy. The son, at La Salle by then, liked the arrogance and especially liked seeing something not stale or predictable. "Buddy was all that and then some."
This all came up in the eulogy: "For the next five years even if we were in the same place together on Sunday, we would watch the game on separate televisions. Every opponent score or Birds turnover he would scream from the couch to my bedroom, 'How do you like your coach now?'
"After every Reggie White sack or Andre Waters hit across the middIe, I would scream back down, 'That's how you're supposed to play defense.' Somewhere in the middle my mother would scream at us both and remind us that neither one of us worked for PECO and why would we pay to watch the same football game in different rooms." They eventually came back together.
"Rich Kotite was an awful coach," Romano said.
None of it surprised his father.
"We were never going to be the team that picked up the first down," Romano said.
When I caught up to Romano a few hours after the Super Bowl at the Muddy Cow in Shakopee, about 20 miles out, he explained what nice people the ushers had been inside U.S. Bank Stadium, at least the ones checking tickets required for entry to the 100 level.
"You know how you got past them?" Romano said, and he flipped the ticket that was still on a lanyard around his neck from front to back, then held a cellphone to his ear. He made a face, like, kindergarten play.
Romano found himself a great view in the back of a section. Then he realized he was in the Patriots end zone.
"Always take what the defense gives you," Romano said, but he knew he couldn't live with that. He memorized all the doors on the way out — "knowing I could mirror it in the Eagles end zone."
Jason Dumas, who grew up in Haverford, went to Malvern Prep, now is the sports anchor for a station in Hagerstown, Md. He got to the Super Bowl with his buddies Alex Belfi from Drexel Hill and Chris Conicella from Bryn Mawr. They'd gone to grade school together at St. Aloysius. A friend of Conicella's, Pete Clancy from Norristown, was sitting just below. He came by.
They had access to the area behind section 112, about the 20-yard line, but no seats. Just behind the seats, there was standing room, with a little table. They took it over. Romano strolled up. The young guys looked at him.
"You want to post up?" one of them said to him, offering space.
"I'm having a beer?" Dumas remembers Romano responding. "Who wants one?"
They exchanged reference points. Dumas realized he had grown up about five minutes away from Romano's house, "the other side of Darby Road."
"I wasn't sure I was in the right spot," Romano said. "Then Steven Tyler walked by. Then (Joel) Embiid walked through. Yeah, I'm OK with it."
He said to the younger guys: "We're all here. We've all got the same objective."
When the guys started grousing about Doug Pederson going for two after a first-half TD, Romano told them, "Don't get stressed until after Timberlake," shorthand for, they'll be plenty of nerves later on. Then Justin Timberlake came into the crowd during his halftime show and took a selfie about 10 rows below them.
The game got into the fourth quarter, "We're all a nervous wreck," Dumas said. "I glance around. I'm like, 'Yo, where is Tony?' "
Dumas found him back by the concession stand. (Probably grabbing a cigarette.)
"I'm very superstitious," Dumas said. "I'm like, 'Yo, get back to the table.' He said, 'You're right. You're [expletive] right. We're going to finish this out.' "
At one point, some younger Patriots fans started giving their group the business.
"We weren't being obnoxious," Dumas said. "We were too nervous to be obnoxious."
The Patriots took the lead. The Patriots guys started doing their own E-A-G-L-E-S chant. Dumas remembers Romano yelling over, "I'm an old man, but I'll still smack a kid."
"They kind of got the point," Dumas said. "They shut up."
Romano has a photo of the Eagles lining up just below him for the play that turned out to be the winning touchdown, Foles to Zach Ertz. Then there was the strip-sack of Tom Brady, also right below.
"Tony gives me the biggest bearhug," Dumas said. "I thought he cracked a couple of ribs."
When it ended and the whole place went nuts — "I'm looking for Tony. Tony was back by the beer stands, on the phone, bawling his eyes out."
Dumas didn't know Tony had gotten an Irish whiskey and was on the phone with his daughter in college in D.C. who had gotten the same, and they were toasting the Eagles and his pop, her pop-pop.
"He was just that Eagles guy who never thought it would be our time," Romano said. "I may have talked to the guys about that as things were getting kind of crazy. I'm from Southwest Philly, we go 10,000 deep. But I went by myself to this. It was something that I had to kind of complete. September starts football season, and we lost him. And we lost him the season before this. All the joy in the world of being there, but the regret of it being a season too far for him."
His father had called last summer, asked if he'd seen Buddy had died. Tony expected to hear one more shot at Ryan. Instead, his dad said what a hell of a coach Buddy had been — "He just could have been nicer." There were no grand gestures for Tony at the Super Bowl. He had nothing from his dad in his pockets. Those Patriots fans? Romano loved the whole scene, the back and forth, made it all seem more real since it was still heavily a corporate crowd.
It was still surreal. After Brian Westbrook walked by and they all grabbed a selfie, Tony's head half in the picture, the group separated and Dumas realized he still wanted to thank the guy from Havertown. He couldn't remember his name, so he put the photo out there. A Yale assistant rowing coach from Havertown commented on it, giving a shout-out to Delco, and that was enough to lead the trail to Tony since his own daughters were rowers.
The day after the game, Romano made it to Des Moines for his flight with 45 minutes to spare and 10 miles' worth of gas left in his tank, after a snowstorm had briefly closed the interstate. He connected in Dallas, got back to Philly at 2 a.m.
Other than the beers and a tank of gas, he'd spent $14.37.