By Tim Kelly
It was a parade, all right.
It was a parade of civic pride, a parade of vindication. It was a parade that banished the word “never” and replaced it with the phrase “never again will we have to hear about our empty trophy case.”
Mostly though, Thursday’s Eagles “Parade of Champions” was a parade of positive, raw emotion. A parade of joy in its purest form, shared by a million kindred spirits.
On its face, the shindig was a celebration of Philadelphia’s 41-33 defeat of the dynastic New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, arguably the biggest single moment in Philly sports history. But this parade was more than that. Much more.
“This must be what heaven is like,” a Philly paper quoted a parade-goer as saying.
We don’t know about the afterlife. But if heaven is a confetti-cannoned boulevard of love, shared by black and white, gay and straight, Asian and Hispanic, rich and poor, old and young, police and community, then heaven is a pretty cool place to be.
Of course, this particular slice of heaven on earth did not have heavenly roots. It was a parade born of disappointment and frustration, of Richie Kotite and Eddie Kyayat, of Joe Banner and Hoagiegate, of snowballs and Santa.
But it also grew on the backbone of a proud football heritage. A franchise dating back to 1933, the Eagles are synonymous with Chuck Bednarik, ol’ Concrete Charlie, the last guy to play fulltime offense and defense. And then there was Tommy McDonald, a pint-sized wide receiver who didn’t let his size or the fact that his seemingly magnetic hands were missing half a finger stop him from a Hall of Fame career.
The Eagles are Buddy Ryan’s “56 Defense” with Reggie White and Jerome Brown, and Randall Cunningham rolling out to run, pass, hurdle a would-be tackler or even to boom a 90 yard punt.
The Eagles are the Andy Reid-Donovan McNabb era of near-misses including an excruciating loss to this same opponent, 13 years ago.
They are Brian Dawkins redefining the cornerback position, T.O. holding a press conference while doing sit-ups on his front lawn, and Tim Rossovich firing up the locker room by setting his hair or fire.
And since we must take the ugly with the bad and good, we’ve got to mention booing McNabb’s drafting, the Chip Kelly experiment, and the “Joe Must Go” banner plane circling Franklin Field just as coach Kuharich’s career was circling the drain.
The fans carried all of that history, if not baggage, for nearly six decades until a team of undrafted, underrated and widely dismissed players, coaches and front office personnel gave Jason Kelce good reason for dropping the F-bomb heard round-the-world. In winning the Super Bowl, the Eagles turned Broad Street into the world’s biggest pressure valve.
Make no mistake, for all its historical significance and cleansing effect on the populace, this was one huge party in a city that knows how to throw one. Papal visit? No problem. Largest-attended and watched NFL Draft in history? Done. Made in America mega-concert? Check.
An Eagles parade would raise the bar set by the Phillies on Halloween, when fans crammed the city to celebrate its first pro championship in any sport since the Sixers took the NBA title in 1983, a 25-year drought.
Ever since, envious Eagles fans tried to imagine what a city-wide bash would be like if the Birds would actually capture a Lombardi for the first time.
Finally, no imagination was needed. The Eagles parade actually happened, and its reality far exceeded expectations and hopes.
Each attendee will rank it differently, but for the writer or this article, the Eagles parade was one of the top events of my life. My daughter Devon, whose birth still ranks as life event number one, attended the Phils parade with me in ’08 when she was a student at Mainland Regional High School.
On that crisp October day, Mainland students were told the parade was not an excusable absence. A note home to parents warned that offenders could face detentions and/or suspension. Hearing this, I notified the attendance office that Devon would be released to me for an “appointment.” No mention was made the appointment was with a million Phillies fans.
“Enjoy your appointment,” one of the office workers said when Devon arrived at the office in a Phillies jersey similar to the one I was wearing. Needless to say, we did.
On Sunday night, seconds after Tom Brady’s Hail Mary bounced to earth clinching the Birds’ first Super Bowl title, my phone rang. It was Devon, now 24, a college graduate and a working professional in her field.
“You know we are going to the parade don’t you?” she asked, rhetorically.
“Yes, I believe we are,” I said. We watched the players and the Lombardi head up broad street. We then took the subway and walked to the Art Museum area in time to catch all the speeches. Along the way we talked and high-fived with similarly ecstatic Eagles fans.
Top life event number two is now in the books.
In all my years I have never seen so many people so happy all at the same time. And that’s something else to cheer, something bigger than a football championship.
Thanks Eagles. That’s what I call a parade.