A white-knuckle race to Minneapolis teaches me something about Philly fandom | Mike Newall
I have risked life, limb, reputation and comfort on an 18-hour trek to the Super Bowl to find the psyche of the Philly fan. I think I get it.
MINNEAPOLIS — I type these words in the sparse light of a space heater in my rented garret. The snowdrifts pile toward the attic windows that shudder with every blast of the gale that I now know from personal, terrifying experience is called an Alberta Clipper.
In other words, I made it to Minnesota.
I have risked life, limb, reputation, and comfort on an 18-hour trek to the Super Bowl. The frozen wrecks of travelers with less fortitude lined I-94 like so many broken heroes on a last-chance power drive. (You'll forgive me the Springsteen. It's been a long day, and I and my traveling companions worried that we, too, would be left on the wayside, forced to survive off the frozen deer carcasses we passed every few feet on this hell road.)
Seriously, this has been a trip. And the only solace on our lonely, breakneck ride to this snow-blasted corner of America was seeing the SUVs bedecked in Eagles flags ripping past the stranded with abandon.
Every time they passed we shouted, "Go, Birds!"
"We" being me, the Twitter personality @ZooWithRoy, and the homicide detective Joseph Murray, most recently seen as a rough-hewn pencil sketch in a gritty crime tale in the pages of our newspaper. He's an officer of the peace who grew up in the Northeast and is pulling for the Patriots. It's fun to have someone in the car whose reasons for being here are as mystifying as mine.
I decided a week ago that I was going to tag along to Minneapolis with no ticket or press pass, fueled by desire to understand the Philly sports psyche. To really grasp what a Super Bowl win could mean for the fans, for the city.
ZooWithRoy put it this way, sitting next to me in the backseat: "What would it be like if Ahab killed the whale?"
With that, he christened our SUV the Pequod – that ship from Moby-Dick – and proceeded to spend a few miles quoting the novel from memory.
"From hell's heart, I stab at thee."
Having never read Melville, I assume he was talking about Tom Brady. Eagles fans can never be too dramatic. That's something I learned from the road.
Zoo, a son of Two Street, now lives in suburban Virginia with his wife and two children and has dedicated a good portion of his adult life to a dream he had about going to the zoo with Roy Halladay, the late, great Phillies ace. Eventually, he did. ("I don't argue with the dreams," Zoo said.) A longer shot is his secondary quest: convincing the world that Philadelphia fans are more than the caricature they're made out to be – that, far from drunken lunks, they're funny, self-effacing, literate. Sometimes, they quote Melville.
Above us in the air, our pal, @Cranekicker, was flying in from a business trip in London. Like so many coming to this Super Bowl, he's carrying something from someone who could not make it. In this case, his grandfather John, a Campbell Soup factory worker, who scrimped and saved for season tickets for his family and went to the games until he could no longer walk the steps at the Vet. John was there in the stands in 1960, when the Eagles won a league title. He died last year at 90 and was buried a year ago today. Cranekicker will wear his hat.
I've spent this hell-ride learning how any Eagles fan like Cranekicker carries the weight of this fandom.
"So much emotional weight and baggage and monkeys," ZooWithRoy said.
What would a Super Bowl mean for Philadelphia? Everything, of course. I've been in this city long enough to know that in Philadelphia, sports-related despair is the natural order of things – missed opportunities, crushing disappointments broken occasionally by absolute euphoria that disappears as quickly as it appears.
It feels different this time, though. In this idiotic odyssey, I realized something: I was still new to this city from Brooklyn when the Eagles went to the Super Bowl in 2005. Now, there's a new optimism, hope, confidence. We're climbing poles, running into subway columns, putting on dog masks, and for once, unselfconsciously, having a good time.
And, for some of us, nearly dying on a frozen road 30 miles outside St. Paul. We realized about 14 minutes into the clipper, that the Pequod was completely unequipped for anything other than a ramrod straight, bone-dry road. Murray, behind the wheel, white-knuckling it toward the promised land and explaining to us how he roots for the Patriots out of a spite left over from his rebellious teenage years. He'd be happy for Philadelphia, though, he admitted. For now, he settled on saving our lives, as we nearly swerved into a snowbank.
And with that, I realized I had learned everything I needed to know about Philadelphia fandom: long-stretching boredom and despair that we'd ever arrive get punctuated by gut-wrenching, heart-stopping, near-death experiences. And now here we were, with the stadium rising on the horizon – and me in a frozen attic with my first bit of Eagles green on my head – a hat from Zoo – and the fellas in the yard, in the snow, drinking around the grill in the middle of a clipper. It reminds me: It's time I went out to join them.