This Sunday’s Super Bowl match-up between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots has special meaning for me. And despite the conflicting geography, it all points back to Laurel.
I should start by confessing something—I grew up rooting for the Eagles. (Hold your jeers, please). I was only 7 years old when my cousin’s family moved from Laurel to the Philadelphia suburbs; and visiting there, being immersed in Eagles fever (this was 1980, the year the Eagles would go on to their first Super Bowl) I naturally gravitated towards the green and silver. The first NFL game I attended in person was an Eagles/Redskins game at Veterans Stadium—and I was hooked.
I should’ve seen it as a relationship that was doomed from the start. That January, our TV decided to break. It was still in the shop at Belmont TV by the time Super Bowl XV aired, and my dad and I were forced to listen to the game on the radio, like it was the Great Depression or something. And depressing it was—the Eagles, actually favored to win, somehow lost to the Oakland Raiders. And they wouldn’t make another Super Bowl appearance for 24 long years.
My entire childhood—and then some—was spent rooting for a team that was at times great, and at other times awful. And at all times, just never quite good enough to win the big one.
I was about 9 or 10 when my parents took me to Montgomery Ward at Laurel Centre Mall to pick up something I’d been drooling over in their Christmas catalog for weeks: NFL Action Team Mates®. They were 7″ posable figures which came with numbered sticker sheets, letting you create your own players.
This was decades before McFarlane would introduce their magnificently-crafted NFL figures; and even several years before we’d see the first Starting Lineup® figures, which were pretty revolutionary, themselves.
But getting back to the Action Team Mates®, I had my heart set on the Eagles and Redskins.
There was one problem. The Wards associate informed us that they didn’t have any Eagles figures in stock. I was crushed. And I had exactly 10 seconds to decide which other team figures I wanted.
I couldn’t stand the Cowboys; I had no interest in the Giants. Instead, my mind went directly to Laurel’s all-time favorite sporting goods store owner, Bob Windsor. Bob had actually played for the New England Patriots, and would always give customers an autographed photo. Mine was taped to my bedroom wall at the time, I’m sure.
So, without hesitation, I asked, “Do you have the New England Patriots?” They did. And after several minutes of waiting in the catalog order pickup department, I went home with a complete set of NFL Action Team Mates®, including the cardboard field, the goal posts, sideline markers and benches, and the Redskins and Patriots—two teams which, ironically, I can’t recall ever having even faced each other. But I digress. It was awesome.
Now let’s flash forward a few decades.
By the late 2000s, I was admittedly growing tired of being an Eagles fan—something I never thought could happen. I still loved the players; but the perennial disappointment of underachieving teams had worn on me. Worse, I didn’t like the way the management seemed to have an air of entitlement, despite having never won a Super Bowl. They’d cut veteran players as soon as they turned 30 years old, and being a 30-something at the time, myself, that was frustrating.
Frankly, I also didn’t like the reputation Eagles fans had—especially here in the DC area. As the team became more successful/popular—going to a string of consecutive NFC Championship Games, especially—displaced fans tended to overcompensate and go out of their way to be obnoxious. Having grown up attending games in Philadelphia, I knew that the majority of the actual hometown fans were not really that bad. For the most part, they’re knowledgeable and passionate about their team, and nowhere near the stereotype you see so often in this area. I certainly was never like that. And I didn’t want to be associated with that reputation.
Between that and the constantly-changing rosters due to free agency, I decided to step away from being a die-hard Philly fan, and actually tried to root for my hometown Washington Redskins in earnest these past few years. However, I quickly realized that this team—particularly its management under Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen—makes cheering for them infinitely harder than anything I ever endured with the Eagles.
But getting back on topic, it was during this period of transition that I parted ways with a lot of my Eagles memorabilia—keeping only a few mementos from the earlier years that I’ll always treasure.
And while weeding through that stuff, I came across a couple of those old NFL Action Team Mates® figures, a couple of which had somehow survived relatively unscathed. (Not this one, unfortunately):
I found a Patriots figure to which I’d applied the number 12 some 30 years earlier, and decided to list it on eBay—playing to that legion of Tom Brady fans. To my surprise, somebody actually did a Buy It Now for $150.
I absolutely detest the Patriots—particularly after their 3-point win over Philadelphia in Super Bowl XXXIX—and even moreso in the years that have followed, with the cheating scandals and the general arrogance that they project. But I did get some degree of satisfaction knowing that I fleeced one of their fans for $150—for an action figure that was, to me, just a stand-in for the team I’d really wanted.
The Patriots are once again favored to beat the Eagles tomorrow night in what will be their record 10th Super Bowl appearance. And like the last time they faced off, the Eagles aren’t 100% healthy. But for some strange reason, I’m surprisingly optimistic… I can see Philadelphia actually getting to Brady and pulling off the upset. I’m just trying to visualize how it would feel, seeing the dream of them finally win a Super Bowl realized.
Either way, I’m encouraged with the direction the Eagles are heading. Win or lose, they should be legitimate contenders for the foreseeable future. And I’m happy to have rekindled some of the childhood passion I had for this team. Unlikely as it may seem, cheering for the Philadelphia Eagles brings fond memories of growing up in Laurel, Maryland.