By Mark Drumheller
“Anything can happen on Sunday”. I shrugged off my father’s advice and continued to size up the current NFL Standings. My pregame Wheaties were already getting dominated by a heaping pile of sugar to the extent that drops of milk were getting forced out of the corner of my mouth with each chew. It was November 1984, and we all had our Sunday rituals. As a football-obsessed 8-year-old, the sports page of the local newspaper was spread out on the floor like a roadmap. Only one day removed from a Saturday morning of Prism’s WWF Wrestling, I knew what was real and what wasn’t. Sunday was as real as it gets. The Sports section of the Courier-Post pulled no punches. The Miami Dolphins were 10-0. The Swamp Fox lead Philadelphia Eagles were 4-5-1. “Dad, they can’t beat the Dolphins, they are undefeated”.
My father jumped off the couch with conviction as Ron Jaworski threw 2 touchdown passes to put the Birds up 14-0 in the 1st Quarter. Here. We. Go. Can anything happen on Sunday? Fast forward two hours and Miami has roared back to a 24-17 lead and my father was snoring on the couch. 6 day work weeks and a 5-11 campaign the previous year will do that to the best of them. Then it happened. With less than 2 minutes left in the game, the Polish Rifle fired a 38-yd TD pass to Melvin Hoover.
I erupted with elation and screamed at the top of my lungs! “Oh my God! Daaaad! Wake up, wake up, they tied it up. THEY CAME BACK! They are going to beat the Dolphins. I KNOW IT!” My exhausted father didn’t budge. I wonder to this day if he heard me. The extra point was blocked. The Eagles lost 24-23. Lesson learned. Anything can happen on Sunday.
The Fire Burns On
That’s just what it was to be an Eagles fan. You didn’t get what everyone else had and it was okay. You were just happy with what you got. Dreaming of a day where the universe you would give you back what you deserve. You dreamed of when it would be our time.
Things did get better. Buddy Ryan came. I was in high school by now. My father, who shared and shaped my eagle eye was losing his fight with the toughest of opponents. Cancer. Winning wasn’t in our blood, but fighting was. It was 1991, and the Eagles were in the playoffs for the 3rd straight year. The previous two years they were bounced out by the Rams and the Bears. We had good excuses layered with fate and fog, but I was hoping this third time was a charm. The Redskins easily won 20-6 as I watched another season slowly slip away.
I watched the game at a friend’s house because his Dad and Uncle let us drink beer. Win or lose, we all had a good time. The frustration of the “one and done” trifecta boiled over and the hopelessness manifested itself into a bonfire in the front yard. “Everything Eagles in the center”. I stared at the fire as hats, shirts, jackets, all fueled the flames. I kept my Eagles hat. It was the only hat I had. That night I remember watching Action News seeing a very young boy being interviewed about the game. He said, “We will be back next year. We are behind them no matter what. That’s what we do.”
The 700 Level
I always came back. A decade later I was a proud owner of season tickets. The Andy Reid era had begun. The year 2000 was a new beginning for Bird’s fans. We were sitting outside Veteran’s Stadium on a freezing Christmas Eve. A handful of die-hard Eagles fans believing that their fortitude has helped turned the franchise around. College kids who sunk every dollar into tickets just to scream in the stands.
Tailgates were not what they are today. Picture a couple poor kids with a few cases of Keystone Light cans and a pop-up Hibatchi to heat up a couple burgers and dogs on. That was us. We were all we got. We were all we needed. The Eagles just completed an 11-5 season and they were going to the playoffs. Whether we were going to playoffs hung in the balance of what we now refer to as the Hibachi Bowl. Tampa Bay vs. Green Bay. We listened intently under the duress of the powerful winds in the Vet parking lot while everyone else hit the exits.
The Bucs lost in OT, which clinched the #4 seed for the Eagles. A home playoff game versus the same Bucs. Playoff tickets! We are now actually going to the playoffs. We screamed our lungs out and did about a thousand laps around that $10 hibachi in celebration of the best Christmas present we could ask for. Anything can happen on Sunday.
The next few years of the Vet and the Andy Reid era helped me taste a new level of success. Playoff wins became expected and the thirst for the Lombardi Trophy left myself and the rest of city salivating. How fitting would it be to close Veterans Stadium with a Super Bowl parade?
It was 2003 and the same Tampa Bay Buccaneers that we owned in the postseason years prior were coming to the Vet for the NFC Championship. My father had passed over a decade ago, but I felt his presence in the stands. When the Eagles jumped out to a 7-0 lead I looked to the sky, like that 8-year-old boy making sure he was going to see it. Just like Paul McFadden getting the extra point blocked by Miami’s Doug Betters, Ronde Barber got his hands on my last hope of the universe righting the wrongs of the past. As he pranced into the end zone with Donovan McNabb’s pass, I questioned whether it would ever be our time.
Eagles-Patriots Super Bowl
The Eagles opened up Lincoln Financial Field the following year, but it was much of the same. Another tough luck loss in the NFC Championship where Donovan McNabb broke his ribs. The following year would be different as the Eagles acquired star WR Terrell Owens and made it to the Super Bowl to face off against the New England Patriots. Our Birds finally broke through and we’re going to give the city what they deserve.
In true gut-wrenching fashion, the Eagles lost 24-21. The team never recovered from that loss. Andy Reid, the coach who brought me all the joyous memories that started with the Hibachi Bowl, was fired. The Eagles, the city, and the fans had to start over. It didn’t make sense.
Doug Pederson’s Eagles will take on the most powerful dynasty in the history of the NFL at Super Bowl LII. It’s going to be a master chess match. Pederson has earned his chops by elevating the game of back up QB Nick Foles and keeping the team laser-focused despite an unprecedented amount of injuries. Bill Belichick is arguably the most strategic coach of all time and proud owner of SEVEN Super Bowl rings. The Patriots are known for changing the course of the game at halftime with shrewd adjustments. Eagles fans saw it first hand in their Super Bowl loss to the Patriots in 2005, where New England barely punted in the second half.
One thing I know for certain this time around. This team is different. This season is like nothing I have ever seen before. The fascinating maturation of Doug Pederson transforming into one of the best coaches in the NFL. The leadership injected into the locker room by Howie Roseman with the signings of key New England castoffs Chris Long and LaGarette Blount. The injury of MVP Carson Wentz and his subsequent impact on Nick Foles. Chris Long has donated his entire salary and Lane Johnson has used the media’s disrespect as a tool to raise money for Philadelphia’s Public Schools. There is a bigger force at play here.
I am ready now
It all started with a 10-year-old from Delaware who was nicknamed “The Dutch Destroyer”. That’s when the fans of Philadelphia showed the nation the impact of football. A city filled with bracelets and solidarity that set the tone for a season that will be remembered forever. No injury or injustice can derail what this team set out to do. I will be the first to say it. I don’t need to wait until next Sunday. We already won.
The Lombardi Trophy is coming to the exact place it belongs this season. Philadelphia. I’m ready now. After all my experiences as a fan, there is not a single second of doubt in my mind. I understand why it didn’t happen all those years. Why those kicks were blocked, passes were intercepted, ribs were cracked or time was mismanaged when it all was within our grasp. This moment right now is our time and it’s absolutely perfect. I have reached the pinnacle. New England is the NFL’s most prolific dynasty represented by the greatest quarterback and the greatest coach of all time. We are Philadelphia represented by so much more. Anything can happen on Sunday. That’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.