Some say you are either and optimist, or a pessimist. It has much to do with your DNA mix as it does with the long-form equation that is your life experience. Me? I’m about an 80/20 split of optimism to pessimism, but for my chosen NFL football team, the Philadelphia Eagles (or rather, they chose me), until last Sunday, you could flip those numbers.
I was never a football fan until my late father, John Richard Rockwell, brought my brother and I to Veterans Stadium on December 22, 1991 to see my (now) beloved Philadelphia Eagles play the Washington Redskins. At the time, the Eagles would finish the season 10-6, but they were out of playoff contention. We knew that going in.
It didn’t matter. We had the best time in the world. The game was close but the Eagles pulled out a W. I had never had that jock jams song before (The Hey Song). It fired up the whole crowd of Eagles fanatics. And I’ll never forget a certain Defensive Tackle waving his arms up and down, encouraging the crowd to encourage the team to stop the Redskin’s incredible offense. That man was Jerome Brown, #99, and sadly, he was killed in a car accident the following June in his hometown of Brooksville, Florida. This would be the last game of his life.
However, two things happened. I became a fan for life, and I would never forget Jerome.
The following fall, my freshman year of high school, my late mother bought me a Philadelphia Eagles jacket that I still have in my closet to this day. Completely coincidently, she bought me said-jacket on a Monday night, the same night as Monday Night Football, the MNF in which the Eagles beat the Dallas Cowboys, our bitter rival. Various classmates gave me a hard time the next day with quotes like, “Oh, you’re just wearing that because they won.” My response, “Yes, I got my Mom to drive me back to mall at 11 o’clock at night, convinced the sporting goods store to open back up so that I could get a jacket. Got it.”
Anyway, those of us citizens of Eagles Nation have always been given a hard time by opposing fans. But that’s not the worst thing. My love of Philadelphia Eagles began right around the time that my pure unadulaterated hatred of not the Dallas Cowboys, not their fans from Texas, but their fair-weather fans from elsewhere who jumped on the bandwagon during the Troy Aikman era. Like this moron in my high school who said, upon seeing my jacket, “EAGLES SUCK.”
“Okay, who is your team?”
Of course, he never step foot in Dallas. At least I’m guessing that’s true.
Fire ahead to 2008. I had given up on my writing career, devolved back into the coward I was growing up. While attending business school, I took a job as a bartender in Westwood, CA at a place called Philly West. There, I grew as a person and began to gain back my confidence. I learned the kind of humility that one can only learn working in the service industry. Everyone should do this at least once in their lives to see what it’s like and get a lesson in empathy you will never forget, especially when you deal with human beings who have turned too many times to alcohol for comfort.
And, did I say I was a fan of the Eagles? While working at Philly West, bartending every single Eagles game for the 2009-2010 season, I got went from a regular fan to a radicalized one. Don’t know why, don’t know how, don’t care. What’s done is done.
My chosen profession of writing and my unchosen fandom both have been called, “A Debt of Honor.” Truth be told, I didn’t chose either one of these; they chose me. It hasn’t been easy, but I had all of this history in mind when I sat down at Philly West last Sunday, February 4th, to face the New England Patriots. I rolled up 2 hours early, a 40-year old grown man in a jersey. Oh wait, which jersey? This one:
When I became radicalized, I bought that in Philadelphia while visiting friends. They didn’t have any McNabb shirts at the store I bought it from, but they did have that one, and instantly, that was the jersey for me. “Bring it Home for Jerome,” the saying goes.
At Philly West on Super Bowl Sunday, I sat down at the bar. They had a reserved spot just for me:
While I scarfed down a delicious chicken cheesesteak and cheese fries, I thought about all of the loss and disappointment. All of the taunts and insults. The insults to the fandom that we have, in some ways, earned (piss off SANTA CLAUS WAS DRUNK!). I thought about our heartbreaking loss in Super Bowl XXXIX to, that’s right, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. 4 more goddamn points and we would have won. A bridge too far. It hurt, still did (not anymore!). I thought about the Andy Reid years with McNabb, how we would come SO CLOSE, but never quite get it done. Oh, the Chip Kelly disaster and Howie getting kicked upstairs. Will we ever get a break? And I thought about my late Dad, who never got to see the Eagles win the big one.
It ain’t easy being an Eagles fan. It’s really not easy being a writer. I thought about all the people, such as myself, who still haven’t “made it,” yet in our chosen profession of our dreams. I wondered about all the people who got so close to success, but gave up. Was that me? Damn right it was. And now I’m 40. I’m done, right? Done. At least I have the Eagles…oh wait.
We had embraced our underdog status all throughout the season (especially when we lost Carson Wentz), but every single member of Eagles Nation was shitting bricks. Please, football gods, let us have this.
They eventually would do just that. By now, you know what happened. A miracle occured in Minneapolis.
Nick Foles brought the city of Philadelphia the Lombardi trophy, and that’s when it hit me; you can accomplish anything. Wait, anything? Not exactly. We’ll get to that.
Back to the miracle. Against all odds, we have a ring with a backup QB who broke his collarbone four years ago, and got traded, benched, and almost retired. He was done. The love of the game was gone. Then he went on a vision quest of sorts with his brother-in-law, spoke with his wife, and prayed to God. Whatever was said on that trip isn’t for us to know. It doesn’t matter. He came back, first to Kansas City under Andy Reid, then returned to Philadelphia as a backup QB to the up-and-coming franchise QB Carson Wentz. In Wentz, we believed (and still do) that we have found our guy in Carson.
In addition to being a wonderful man on and off the field, he brought us win after win, and we were 10-2 when we came to Los Angeles to play the Rams.
Where horror struck us right in the nuts.
My son was born on December 1st, and with a newborn at home, I had an excuse not to go to the Coliseum to see the birds. I was nervous about the Rams (they were good this year) but never thought…wait…WHAT????
Foles came in and finished the game for us, securing a post-season spot. But me, like everyone in Eagles Nation, was…a deer in the headlights of life.
I sat in my backyard and stared at the wall. We’re done, we’re done…please, football gods, please let it just be a sprained ankle or something.
The next morning, all of us waiting for Coach Pederson’s press conference. Then he arrived. Stoic, mature, fearless and without an ounce of bullshit, he came right out with it; torn ACL. Out for a year.
We’re done, we all thought, we’re absolutely done.
When my head hit the pillow that night, I asked myself, why do I care so much? Good question. I’m reminded of a line from 2005’s, “Fever Pitch,” in which a little boy asks Red Sox super-fan Jimmy Fallon, “You love the Red Sox…have they ever loved you back?”
The answer is, of course, no, they haven’t. They can’t. My wife, my son, my dog, my cat, they love me back. But the Eagles? Nope nope nope. Yet we still love our teams? Why? Working on it. Sense of community? Inspiration? Sure, but boy does it hurt to see them lose.
We in Eagles Nation are a pessimestic bunch for a reason. And we thought, that’s it. Done. No one believed in us. Truth be told, neither did we. It just wasn’t in the cards for us to ever get a break. As Hudson said, game over man, game over.
But then this happened, which occured right after the Eagles clinched a playoff spot in Los Angeles:
Doug and Macolm. It’s in our hands. We wanted to take business for ourselves. We’re playing for something bigger now, boys, Dig in dig in for the next few weeks. Carson being out, that sucks, but dig this. We set this up, whoever is in this room, this is who we ride with; We all we got, we all we need. You know what’s in our minds. No excuses.
We were not done.
Because we had a leader in Coach Pederson, a leader in Malcolm Jenkins, and it turns out, we never really knew Nick Foles until the playoffs. We underestimated him. I certainly did. I was wrong.
Philadelphia. The city of my literal birth (45th and Market) and my spiritual birth (University of Pennsylvania Class of 2000). We don’t stand for violence, though it happens. We don’t stand for throwing snowballs or eating horse poop (damn it). Outsiders give us a hard time in that our biggest sports hero is fictional. Of course, they miss the point and don’t get what really matters; our spirit. It is Rocky; WE ARE ALL ROCKY. What do we stand for?
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”
The Eagles, and us fans, eventually embraced our underdog status:
Next Man Up. Persevernace. Grit. Never. Give up.
From friends and fans from other teams (oddly enough, many from the Ft. Worth area) cries of, “One and out,” and, “No chance,” came flooding our way. And when they actually won, the dismissive quips came flooding in. You cheated (shut up). The refs let you have it (prove it). You only won because the refs gave you a break (Hey assholes, we won with a backup QB WHILE missing 6 core players. Suck on that).
About those dismissive comments: they do it because it’s easier for them to right them off. It makes them feel happier in the moment, but not in the long run. They don’t see that because they’re in pain and feel that if they can knock you down, the pain will go away.
They make excuses.
I wasn’t suprised that they would write us off before and after the game, and yet…but yet…the team…reminded me…
Never “listen” to your critics. At least, don’t listen to them in the way they want you to. Don’t listen to them on their terms; convert it to how it helps you on your terms. Your enemies can be your adversaries and only such, or they can also be your teacher. Your choice. The Eagles, with all the setbacks and accidents of the seasons, certainly made the right one, and that is why the 2017 Eagles are one of the best teachers…the good kind…I’ve ever seen.
You can accomplish anything. Within reason, that is; if you are 5’7’’ and want to be 6’10’’, that ain’t happening.
But with most things in life; how many would-be champions, filmmakers, star ball players, astronauts, SEALS, you name it, have we been deprived of because they gave up? Because they couldn’t go the extra mile?
You’re too old.
You’re not good enough.
They don’t want you.
You’re too (FILL IN STUPID BLANK).
Which is worse, hearing that from someone else, or from your internal gremlin?
You tell me.
Man alive, I’ve never felt more fired up in my life. I’m 40 years old and I’m not as successful as I want to be. And it’s 100% my fault. I was a coward. Not anymore. The Philadelphia Eagles are Super Bowl Champions. With Nick Foles. As Super Bowl MVP.
We can do anything. That may not be literally true, but don’t tell your gremlin that.
We can end the divide between men and women and bring true equality without mysogyny or misandrism; the Eagles are Super Bowl Champions.
We get our nation out of debt, stop war, we can do anything; the Eagles are Super Bowl Champions. It’s in our grasp.
Anything, if we can touch it, we can grab it. I can get my books published and become a successful author, voice over actor, and podcast host.
I can get weight down to my goal and keep it there, permanently. I can finally become a true gentleman. I can get my orange belt, then my green belt, blue, brown…and black belt before I turn 50.
I can be the best husband and father on the planet, a title that we can all equally share together, fellas.
We can do it.
We can do anything.
Fly Eagles Fly.
Much love, and good luck,