Fly Eagles Fly

When I was young, I was spoiled.

When I was seven-years-old in 1975, I sat down to watch my first National Football League game on TV and my team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, won it all. Just like that. The Steelers beat my brother’s favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings, by a score of 16-6 to win the Super Bowl.

My father took my brothers and me to the local fire hall, where he occasionally volunteered, to watch the game. We lived in Central Pennsylvania so seeing the Steelers make the Super Bowl was a big deal.

IMG_8041I remember being excited for the big game, all the while mesmerized by the TV and pregame hype, even back then, surrounding the championship game. I would alternate between rough-housing on the floor with one of my friends and watching anxiously on the fire hall sofa, turning an old yellow rabbits foot over-and-over in my hands. (Who knows if the rabbits foot was real, it was something that one of my brothers had picked up at a Ringling Brothers Circus and I had inherited.)

I’m sure I watched other games, but the next definitive game I remember came one year later when the Steelers beat the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 in Super Bowl X in the Orange Bowl. Once again, I watched the game with my puffy yellow rabbits foot clamped in my hands. (And yes, I find it funny that even back then I hated the Cowboys.)

I would go on to watch the Steelers win a total of four Super Bowls in six years. Yes, I was spoiled.

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It gets complicated

When I became a young man, I moved with my wife first to Washington, D.C. and then later to Southeastern Pennsylvania where she grew up. Spoiled or not, I continued to root for the Steelers, but I soon felt out of place. I felt that if I was really going to become a member of the community, I needed to change my allegiances.

When it came to baseball, I had rooted for the Pittsburgh Pirates as kid, but they couldn’t compete with the bigger payroll teams like the New York Yankees or Los Angles Dodgers and fans of the team would watch annually as their best players walked away to other teams for more lucrative contracts. In a strange way, I felt like the Pirates had abandoned me as a fan so I didn’t feel guilty now rooting for the once despised Philadelphia Phillies.

From a football perspective, the Philadelphia Eagles were the team of choice. I dove in headfirst. The Eagles had success in the 60s prior to the creation of the Super Bowl and have come close a few times, but have never won the big game. For the past twenty-five years or so I’ve rooted for them year-in and year out, but have never experienced Super Bowl bliss.

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Super Bowl or bust

In any event, the Eagles are on the precipice. They beat first the Atlanta Falcons in a close  NFC Divisional Playoff game 15-10 and then came back and thumped the Minnesota Vikings 38-7 in the NFC Divisional Championship. They’re in Super Bowl LII. And like in the old days for me, they’re once again playing the man in the black hats. Instead of the Dallas Cowboys, the Eagles are going up against the New England Patriots, the modern day bad guy.

Like everyone in the Philadelphia region, I want the Eagles to win, but I want them to win for a million other reasons too. Here’s a few of my reasons:

IMG_8039For the old guy who I regularly run into at lunchtime when I grab a soda or snack from my local convenience store. I’ll be in a rush and I’ll run into him and he’ll greet you with a hearty smile. He’ll inevitably give a rundown on Sunday’s game and his thoughts on the team’s chance for the next week. He likes to tell stories about when he was a kid and how the 1960 Eagles team defeated the Green Bay Packers 17-13 in the 1960 NFL Championship at Franklin Field, the city’s last championship in the days prior to the Super Bowl. He’s suffered through thick and thin, but he’s remained a fan.

For the fans, who the media likes to paint as rude, antagonistic fans, but miss out that they’re like fans of any large metropolis. There’s some good, some bad. Would I wear a New York Giants or Dallas Cowboys jersey at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles home stadium? No, probably not. If you’re respectful to others, you more likely will be left alone. However, there’s always that one percent that might very well spill a beer on you. In this day and age, though, I think you could say the same thing about any large stadium in America. You walk into Giants Stadium in New York with a Cowboys jersey, let’s see what happens there. Or wear an Oakland Raiders jersey in Kansas City. The media likes to run out the tired, hackneyed line Philadelphians once booed and threw snowballs at Santa Claus. The truth is a bit murkier, but many of these media elite care more about a good story than telling the truth. In fact, a recent Washington Post study found that per-game arrests over the past five seasons were highest in San Diego, New York, Oakland and Pittsburgh. Not Philadelphia.

–For fathers and sons and daughters. When I asked an acquaintance the other day where he was going to watch the big game, he told me he was going to watch it with his ten-year-old daughter and his dad. I shook and scratched my head for second. I don’t know the guy well, but I thought he had told me this past Fall that his father had died. He saw my look and told me that he used to go to every Eagles game with his father, it was that way win or lose, but now watches the game “in spirit” with his dad. The local media has been talking and writing a lot this week about how families are such a big part of Eagles tradition. The idea being that families come together each week to watch the Eagles play.  And these fans have been waiting a long time for a championship.

–For Philadelphia. The city played an instrumental role in the American Revolution and is the home to the Liberty Bell. The city has much to brag about, but it often takes a back seat to other large East Coast cities like New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. Forget about the more cosmopolitan cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami. Philadelphians love their football. For once, I would love to see the city celebrated for something rather than recovering from another disappointment.

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My prediction

What’s a Super Bowl without a prediction? When Sunday comes around, I’ll be cheering on the Eagles. I feel confident in a win, I think the Eagles have more than enough weapons and, more important, I think the Patriots time in up.

Just to be safe, though, I’m still pulling out that old lucky rabbits foot that I grabbed for good luck oh so many years ago. It’s worked twice before. Let’s hope for a third. I’ll take all the good karma I can get.

 

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Giving Father Time the heave-ho

My wife recently celebrated a big milestone birthday. Leading up to the big day, I noticed that she was feeling a bit self-aware about the milestone. The usual stuff, everyone complains about getting older:

  • She woke up one day worrying that the pain in her knee had gotten worse because she was a year older.
  • Another day she joked that over night her hair had gotten grayer.

To help celebrate the big day, I set up a small surprise party with a few friends and family members. I also tried to cheer her up on the day itself with a card and a few presents.

To me she looks as beautiful today as she did the day we met so many years ago. (Scratch that, she looks prettier.) The funny thing is that I celebrate the same birthday later this year and have had the same crazy thoughts about getting older.

I get up on the wrong side of the bed and instantly blame the gathering years. It doesn’t matter that I spent an extra 30 minutes at the gym the previous day and having slowly been increasing my mileage on the roads.  In my mind, I’m falling behind to the “younger me.”

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Goodbyes are the hardest

When I was a young boy, my mom would gently wake me before my two brothers. It would still be pitch black outside, but since I was the youngest, I had to get up first to get a shower and get ready for school.

I never wanted to get up. It was always a struggle, in no small part, because I hated elementary school. My mom though encouraged me to keep trying and to give school a chance.

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Once I was dressed, my mom would have my favorite cereal ready for me. While I ate breakfast, we would chat about little things, how school was going, about my basketball practice, whatever book I was reading.

We couldn’t talk for long. My mom carpooled with a neighbor from up the road and soon enough she would pull up to our house. As soon as we saw the car lights outside the kitchen window, my mom would gulp down the last of her coffee and give me a quick hug. She’d tell me to have a great day in school and to do my best. She’d then run outside for her ride.

I didn’t want her to go, but I couldn’t do anything about the situation. I would walk to the window and watch the car drive away down the hill. My fingers pressed against the window, I would stay to watch the last remnants of the car’s taillight fade away into the distance and only then would I take a deep breath and go back to getting ready for school.

Goodbyes are the hardest. 

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A grateful heart 

Several stores where I live seemed to start earlier this year with the Christmas decorations. I felt like they were ready for Christmas in August. When I turn on the television, I hit every Christmas show on the air. (My wife and her love of sappy Christmas romances on the Hallmark Channel could have something to do with that.) And then everywhere I’ve turned the past two weeks I’ve stumbled across advertisements for my town’s upcoming Christmas festival.

While I love the original Christmas story, the Nativity Story, I must admit that I have a special place in my heart for Thanksgiving. It lacks the commercial glamour of Christmas, but what it lacks in pizazz, it makes up in heart-felt moments.

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Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin to the rescue

In a matter of a couple of blocks, we ran into a life-sized Woody and Buzz from “Toy Story,” twin zombies with blood dripping down their clothes, maniacal-looking clowns similar to the one featured in the movie “It,” and a woman straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale, the TV show envisioning a totalitarian future state.

We visited our daughter in Northern Virginia over the weekend and I half worried about what we might find around the next darkened corner. It didn’t help, that the street lights seemed especially dim. When I gripped my wife’s hand especially tight, she reminded me that it was all make-believe.

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Fortunately for us, we saw earlier in the day a little kid dressed up with his dad as the Super Mario brothers, two other kids as Spiderman and Ironman prepared to save the day and, of course, a cuddly little Elmo.

Everywhere I looked this weekend I found kids and adults dressed to the nines for Halloween. My wife and I made most of our kid’s costumes over the years, these looked like they came right off a television or movie set. In a word, they looked “professional,” they were certainly out of the league of any we ever had ourselves or got for our kids.

We also found store after store peddling huge bags of candy, that will be marked down 50% off on November 1, and bars packed to the gills with partiers. I must admit a part of me looked back to a simpler time.

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I drove home Sunday mulling where Halloween had gone over the edge, where the fun had been taken away. Fortunately for me, I stumbled across “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” on television. I was reminded of Linus waiting up all night for the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown trick-or-treating and getting a rock, and Snoopy as the brave World War I flying ace, fighting heroically against the Red Baron.

When I was a kid, my friends and I used to look forward every Fall to the Great Pumpkin coming on TV. I was reminded once again of the joy of dressing up for a few hours to play make believe and the joy of hanging with friends. I was reminded that Halloween is for the kid in us all. Of course, I’m no fool, I’m still running the other way if any zombies come knocking on my door Halloween night.

Starting over after tragedy

I turned on the television last week to see a story on a husband and wife clearing away mud and debris caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. They told the reporter they were still without power and lacked the basic essentials.

The husband tried to keep a brave face and said much of the house could be replaced, but he teared up when he talked of family mementos and photos that had been destroyed. The two turned away from the camera and went back to work. They looked exhausted and weary.

Later that same night, I saw another report on a California married couple who managed to survive six hours inside their neighbors pool while their entire neighborhood burned to the ground.

The Santa Rosa couple had gone to bed and woke to find thefire upon them. They tried to get away, but with no place to turn, they ran to their neighbors pool and huddled together in the pool while flames overtook everything around them. After the terrifying night in the pool, the couple walked back to their home to find it completely burned along with their SUV and truck.

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You can take the boy out of the country, but . . .

I shake my head some days.

I grew up in a rural farming community where small, simple church steeples outnumbered taverns and watering holes and you had to drive 30 minutes to get to the nearest grocery store.  Each small village had a post office and maybe a gas station. When I was young, I couldn’t wait to leave the community. While I had good reasons for wanting to get away, I’ve come to appreciate the small-town values that helped shape me.

I’ve lived now for most of the past thirty years in the suburbs and there’s much I love about my adopted hometown. I love that I’m close to the best of all worlds, close to the rapid, mile-a-minute pace of the city, but still relatively close to laid-back attitude that comes with open space and farmland.

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Living in a viral age: Hello Germany

airplane-paper-2648958_640When I was a kid, I would take out a piece of composition paper from one of my school notebooks and fold it into an airplane. I would be especially careful to keep the folds crisp, like I had steamed them with a hot iron. I would repeat this process, making a hangar-full of planes, coloring and designing them with lightening bolts and flags.

When I was finally ready, I would run to our small porch and have competitions to see which plane would fly the farthest. I would heave each plane as far forward in the air as I could. Most attempts would start off strong and then spiral out of control into a nosedive. When I was really lucky, a plane would hit a little bit of a breeze, build-up even more speed, and take off down the hill and land in my neighbor’s pasture.

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Superman versus Batman? Who ya got?

We jostled each other in line to go back into school from our morning recess. The bell always seemed to ring too soon. I’m not sure who started it, but everyone started chiming in with an opinion on their favorite superhero. One kid cried out Superman. Another yelled Batman.

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When together, comic book publisher DC Comics called them “The World’s Finest” as they worked to fight the Joker and Lex Luthor and all that’s wrong in the world. When against each other, they each brought something different to the fight.

The Man of Steel was “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound” and to boot he could shoot lasers out of his eyes. On the other hand, Batman possessed no superpowers; but relied on his genius intellect, physical prowess, martial arts abilities, knowledge of science and technology, vast wealth, and indomitable will.

Hence, my classmates’ fight.

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My own lil’ time machine

A friend of mine recently gave me a unique, one-of-a-kind gift. You can’t find one of these in an Apple store or on Amazon. You can’t even travel across the globe to a quaint little shop in some faraway country to pick up a gift like this.

My friend gave me a mini time machine that allows me to go back to an earlier time in my life. Think H.G Wells Time Machine, Doc Brown’s Delorean from Back to the Future,  the time traveling TARDIS from the Dr. Who TV show, or if you must, the hot tub from the Hot Tub Time Machine from more recent fame.

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