Sydney got up early for the Philadelphia Eagles. So did all her friends. So did the whole city.
To celebrate their home team’s historic victory over the New England Patriots in Sunday’s Super Bowl – the first ever for the city’s NFL franchise – she woke up, grabbed her Eagles flag, and ventured north from her south Philadelphia home to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. She was joined there by what felt like the entirety of America’s first capital.
“Oh, we’re pumped,” said Sydney, who is in her 20s and is a lifelong Eagles fan. She arrived at 7am for the 11am victory parade . “I cried, right? It’s the first time.” Why did she get up so early? “Philly supports Philly.”
For many of those who flooded Broad Street and up the parkway for the parade, this week has been sweet vindication for a lifetime of steady – if occasionally furious – fandom. Sunday was the first time the Eagles have won the Super Bowl in their history and the first time since 1960 that the team has won a national championship.
The win brought the city, and the Philadelphia diaspora, together.
Robert Porter, 53, grew up in Philadelphia, but currently lives in the Dallas suburbs. He flew into the city on Wednesday night as he “had to see” the parade. “I think this is a jumping [off] point for this city to rejuvenate and be happy.”
Elsewhere, Perry Williams, a 62-year-old construction worker, said he had moved to the city from Jamaica in 1972 and that he had been “waiting a long time” for this. “This is the city of brotherly love, and we are showing it.”
The crowd was certainly massive. Easily hundreds of thousands of fans lined the 8km (5 mile) route from the team’s stadium to the art museum’s famous Rocky steps – named after one of the most famous scenes from the Sylvester Stallone film. The parade involved a much longer route than the city’s baseball team – the Phillies – had for their World Series championship parade in 2008. It was also more spread out than the crowds for Pope Francis’s visit in 2015.
They joined each other in chanting “E-A-G-L-E-S” in the frigid winter morning as they waited for the parade of their beloved Eagles players. They shouted in agreement: “F*** Tom Brady” – referring to their Super Bowl opponent’s star quarterback.
“I have no words. I have no words,” Ashley Rodger, 25, who drove home from Virginia on Wednesday for the parade. He said “If there is anything that can unite Philly, it’s bringing the Lombardi trophy [named after former NFL coach Vince Lombardi] home.”
But the victory did not come easily, even if Sunday’s game was won by an eight-point margin against the reigning champs, helped by a trick play late in the second quarter that gave Philly claim to the only quarterback who both threw and caught a touchdown pass in a Super Bowl.
The Eagles, as the dog masks that dotted the crowds in Philadelphia unsubtly reminded the world, were the first team in NFL history to enter the playoffs as both the first seed in their division and, paradoxically, still somehow considered underdogs. Those expectations followed them throughout the post season.
That bad luck started on 10 December – on that day, second-year quarterback Carson Wentz – the star of the team credited largely with ensuring their success, was injured against the Los Angeles Rams in California.
A quieted Eagles fandom, once the news broke that Wentz would not be back before the end of the season, were faced with what was then a worrisome prospect. Backup quarterback Nick Foles, who had played for the Eagles earlier in his career but had been traded around over the years before landing back in Philadelphia, would need to take the reins.
Having fought through the playoffs, as the Super Bowl approached, Las Vegas odds crept towards the Eagles, but the consensus was that the Patriots were likely to win. A Philadelphia Inquirer columnist wrote a piece arguing that the Eagles would definitely lose in the Super Bowl – earlier this week he literally ate the words: on a turkey sandwich. And a cannoli.
So the parade was cathartic. The city has said they were not planning to release any crowd size estimates, but were prepared for as many as two million people. Bundled up against freezing winds, some fans from New Jersey walked across the nearly two-mile long Benjamin Franklin Bridge just to get into the city.
The players got into the Philly spirit. Before the parade started, centre Jason Kelce walked the route in a sequined outfit – a nod to Philadelphia’s raucous annual Mummers parade on New Year’s Day – slapping fans’ hands and leading them in a profane chant broadcast on live television
The fans clearly appreciated what their Birds had done. In true Philly fan fashion, they brought along their coolers of beer and were not afraid to crack open a second beer alongside their first. They screeched at the jumbotrons set up along the parade route that were replaying the Super Bowl in its entirety. They gave high fives to strangers and growled from behind their underdog masks.
Parents sat with their kids in the chill, too, waiting for Foles, and Wentz, and all the rest to get there.
“I was there in ’60 and I’m here today,” one man, aged 69, who declined to give his name, said.
He, too, had shared a major Eagles victory with his dad, he said. And he was excited to have lived to see another.
“I feel great. I feel great,” the man, who watched that 1960 national championship victory over the Green Bay Packers game, said. “I was beginning to wonder if I was going to live long enough to see this day.”
Joe Henderson, 38, said that the city had “changed” in recent days. “People are giving each other high fives. Before, it wasn’t like that,” he said.
“Everyone’s... giving each other hugs now,” he adds. ”There is a lot of unity.”
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