Welcome to Philadelphia, NFL royalty. Please enjoy our beautiful city, its wonderful restaurants and vibrant nightlife. You’d probably love to sprint up the Art Museum steps and leap like Rocky, but our mayor shut all that down during your visit. Sorry about that.
We expect you’ve heard horror stories about our fan base. If you work for ESPN, you’ll keep spouting those campfire tales on air. How we booed Santa and hurled snowballs at Donovan McNabb. Or something like that.
We get it. We’re the evil bogeymen of sports. A slovenly, unwashed horde of Visigoths. A green-faced mob, chasing you down with a meat cleaver in one hand and a cheesesteak in the other — screaming “E-A-G-L-E-S” in your ear.
Trust me, we know every twisted horror story, from the time we cheered an unconscious Michael Irvin to that mysterious Turkish prison hidden under Veterans Stadium. Some of those tales are actually half true. Others have been exaggerated to sound like the Rape of Nanking.
Many of our fans chafe at being stereotyped — the snowballs at Santa episode occurred 49 years ago, for Pete’s sake. Others have come to welcome your abhorrence. Me? I still try to explain.
You see, no town challenges our reputation for surliness, yet none supports its home teams more, losing season after losing season. No city derides its own players so mercilessly, yet none hosts as magnificent a championship parade. Among our four teams, we get one of those every 25 years or so.
The Eagles have played in just two of the first 51 Super Bowls (lost them both), and haven’t won an NFL championship since 1960. Anyone who actually remembers Chuck Bednarik sitting on Jim Taylor to clinch the 17-13 title win over Green Bay is now eligible for Social Security.
And yet, the Eagles have sold out every game for the past 22 years, with a season-ticket renewal rate of 99.7 percent. Television ratings for our team are at the top of the league. Walk around town and you’ll see people wearing so much Eagles garb that you could go green-blind. By week’s end you won’t be able to get our banjo-plucked fight song out of your head.
You’ll notice something else as you get around. Our city is packed with former Eagles who stayed here after their careers ended. They’re engaged in business, media, community. Those players we booed also felt our adoring embrace and decided Philadelphia is a terrific place for work and family.
Ask Ron Jaworski, who got heckled more than his share as QB, and now serves as the unofficial football mayor of these parts. Or former coach Dick Vermeil who wisely realizes, “They booed because they care so darned much.”
Hey, we’re not looking to make you love us. You want to be intimidated, go right ahead. Go hide in your world-class hotel and listen to Michael Wilbon gurgle nonsense on TV. That’s OK, it just means more space on the Franklin Parkway for us to enjoy the festivities.
But if you do peek your head out, you’ll learn that the fan base Bill Parcells once called “a banana republic” is actually the most loyal, fervent, emotional and knowledgeable collection of people propping up any NFL franchise. You’ll see a bond between team and fan that is much like that of a long-married couple, who may see each other’s faults but could never live without the other partner.
Treat us nice, we might even teach you the fight song.