A friend once asked me what it was like to live in Philadelphia. Without much hesitation, I responded that to understand my city you had to understand it’s sports fans. To say that Philly fans are “die hards” is to miss the point. The mood of the entire city is often dictated by the wins and losses of our four pro-sports teams and far too often our shared emotion has been disappointment. This was most prominently embodied in our beloved Eagles who have often been “oh so close”, but just couldn’t get it done – until this year. When we won the Super Bowl this past Sunday night, I think that radio broadcaster Mike Quick spoke for the entire city when he said, “If this is a dream, please don’t wake me up”. It had finally happened and many of us just couldn’t believe it.
Philadelphia is a city of traditions and of some strange beliefs, especially when it comes to our sports teams. For many years, the city fathers had determined that no building could be built taller that the hat on top of William Penn that stands atop our beautiful city hall. In 1980, our baseball team won the World Series and then in 1983 our basketball team, the Sixers won the NBA Championship. We were on a roll until somebody voted to change the rules and buildings began to soar into the sky far higher that Billy Penn’s hat. For the next twenty-five years, our city would not see another championship of any kind. In 2007, some of the construction workers in the city decided not to take any more chances with fate and created a miniature version of the William Penn statue and put it on top of what was the tallest building at that time. Wouldn’t you know it, the Phillies won the World Series in 2008. This past year as the new Comcast Center soared past the old one, the statue was duly placed on top of that building.
While I do not personally give much credence to these superstitions, I do love the stories and mythology that have united our city over the years. This Eagles season was so special and created stories that we will be talking about for generations to come. From the moment that a rookie kicker cleared a 62-yard field goal early in the season, you could tell something unique was going on. Instead of the typical solo end zone victory dance that tends to highlight one superstar player, the Eagles chose to celebrate together. Their end zone festivities after scoring a touchdown became the talk of the town as they did new things every week highlighted by the now famous “bowling pins”. When our star quarter back went down with a season ending injury, you could almost hear the gasps of sadness and disbelief all over the city – was disappointment just around the corner as it so often has been? Not this year. With a grit and determination that our city is famous for, several key players embraced their new underdog status and created a new mythology when they purchased real dog masks and wore them for interviews after one of the victories.
For me as a Christian and a Philadelphia sports fan, I couldn’t help but notice how often some of the leaders on the team including both quarterbacks freely referenced their faith in God. Even more interesting was that the sports media allowed them to share openly about a belief in Jesus Christ as their savior and not just some vague interest in spirituality. While it is true that many players in the NFL have talked about their faith in the past, there was something different about this Eagles team. They did not just talk the talk, they walked the walk. Humility and a Christlike attitude seemed to be the hallmark of many of their actions including baptisms taking place in the pool at their training complex. When the team the coach Doug Pederson, the quarterback, Nick Foles and tight end Zach Ertz all gave credit for the Super Bowl victory to their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, it was more than just platitudes. While I wish it were true that simply talking about your faith would guarantee a victory, I know that is not reality. There are many football players that were not in the Super Bowl this year that have a deep faith in Christ too and many who experienced suffering and even humiliation during the season. What I do know is this, when Carson Wentz and Nick Foles had a massive platform to share whatever they wanted with the world, they chose to glorify God. I only hope that as I am called upon to share what I believe from time to time that I will be so faithful and – GO EAGLES.