February 12, 2018

Eagles penned the best Philadelphia sports story ever

Opinion Angelo Cataldi
021218_eaglesparade_usat Jennifer Corbett/The News Journal via USA TODAY NETWORK

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles hoists the Super Bowl trophy along with his teammates along the parade route for their Super Bowl Championship parade down Broad Street to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In this supersized world, we have become desensitized to the dream-fulfilling moment that truly exceeds all others. Nowadays, everything is the biggest, the best, the most amazing. Well, guess what, Philadelphia. The Odyssey of the 2017-'18 Eagles is the biggest, best and most amazing sports story in our city's history.

How can I be so sure? Well, for starters, I've been involved in Philadelphia sports for 35 years myself, including the last 28 on WIP radio. Within that time frame, it is no contest. This was easily the most compelling, implausible, invigorating and bonding experience.

All along the parade route last Thursday was evidence of the huge impact of the event. Fans brought urns of relatives who were unable to survive the 57-year wait between NFL championships. The countless Eagles cheers blended the voices of the elderly with those of pre-teens, and everyone in between. A tough city spent an entire week crying tears of pure joy.

For over four decades, the Flyers' championship in 1974 has been the benchmark here because it featured a parade teeming with fans clogging Center City, blocking the players from passing through Broad Street, and rivaling anything America had ever encountered.

Then there was the 1980 Phillies celebration, also epic in size and also long in coming, having been the first championship ever for that proud franchise. And don't forget the 1983 party after the Sixers won it all, featuring huge sports heroes like Julius Erving and Moses Malone. The 2008 Phillies were a spectacular story, too, ending a 25-year city title drought. World bleepin' champions!

But none of them came close to what happened over the past season, and especially the past eight days. Expectations for these Eagles were nowhere near those of our other local champs. Remember, the consensus was an 8-8 season featuring an unqualified head coach, an unproven quarterback and a derelict secondary.

All it took to change our lives was one 61-yard field goal, followed by an MVP performance from Carson Wentz, then a demoralizing injury to the young quarterback, before the rescue mission by a reborn Nick Foles, a dragon-slayer named Doug Pederson, and a team that embraced its underdog image.

And then there was one last, perfect flourish, when Jason Kelce gave the greatest parade-rally speech of all time, uncorking decades of disrespect for the Eagles and our city in one from-the-heart tirade.

What a story. What an amazing time to be a sports fan in Philadelphia.

This magical journey called to mind so many people who were not with us to enjoy it, and it brought back for me a time when I first started working at WIP, paired with the legendary Tom Brookshier. It was my first week on the morning shift, and Brookie was calling from Super Bowl XXIX in New Orleans.

During that conversation, I posed a really stupid question. I asked what the parade was like in 1960, when Brookie was a star cornerback on our last NFL championship team.

"Parade?" he howled, with that trademark jovial laugh. "There were no parades then. We were lucky we got paid."

Tom Brookshier taught me many lessons in the two years we worked together, and he would be disappointed if I didn't use one now. Our city's pro-sports history is filled with wonderful moments and extraordinary athletes, but everybody is a little faster now, a little stronger, a little bigger.

And that's why I can say, with no hesitation, that we just experienced the biggest, best and most amazing sports story in Philadelphia history.

***

During a conversation with Doug Pederson two days after the Eagles coach won the Super Bowl, I asked him if he had heard from Andy Reid. He said, yes, the former Birds coach had texted his congratulations.

"Maybe now you can mentor him for a while," I suggested.

My co-hosts at WIP found my comment inappropriate, but I say it's just a matter of time before everyone adjusts to our new reality. Forevermore, Pederson will be considered a better coach than Reid, even though the latter won 107 more games here. When you win a Super Bowl, everything changes.

For example, Nick Foles never has to complete another pass and he will still rank as one of the biggest heroes in Eagles' history. Remember, no other quarterback in Philadelphia has ever won a Super Bowl, plus he outplayed the greatest of all time, Tom Brady.

When word leaked, via a tape from the field, that it was Foles' idea to try the trick play called the "Philly Special," he moved up in the ranks of our sports heroes. He may be a backup next season, but he will always occupy a special place in Philadelphia sports.

Brandon Graham's life will never be the same, either. When he appeared on our WIP show last week, he said he has just gotten his first free meal after his crucial forced-fumble late in the 41-33 win saved the defense from a historically bad day. I'm pretty sure he'll never have to pay for another one in Philadelphia.

One of the biggest shocks at the rally last Thursday was the chant of "Howie! Howie!" for roster-builder Howie Roseman, who is suddenly the most loved GM in Eagles history. Three years ago, he was banished to the other side of the NovaCare Complex. Two years ago, he came back amid the groans of a disapproving fan base. Now he's receiving his own chants.

And then there's Jason Kelce. Will anyone ever see Kelce the same way after his rally speech? The veteran center, wearing a garish Mummer's costume, capped off the best year of his NFL career with the best sports speech in championship-rally history.

The truth is, everyone on the Eagles' roster has earned the ultimate honor with the Super-Bowl victory - sports immortality. Just as we still reference all of the Chase Utleys, Bernie Parents, Julius Ervings and Tug McGraws, we will remember every one of them with the same kind of love and appreciation.

Philadelphia never forgets its champions.

***

Even the greatest of weeks come with some minor annoyances, and we definitely had a few of those in the aftermath of the Eagles' first Super-Bowl victory.

By far the biggest was the utterly absurd crowd estimate by Manchester Metropolitan University in England, which, after a detailed analysis of overhead photos, determined that there were 700,000 fans at the parade. Ha. There were twice that many just at the rally. Is this another example of the British underestimating us?

After a detailed analysis of my own, I also have a number, which I guarantee is more accurate. From Lincoln Financial Field to the Art Museum steps, including all the fans on roofs and hanging out of windows, the parade drew 3.2 million. That's right. Three-point-two million.

I have a big advantage over these British geniuses. I was there.

Meanwhile, because it was Philadelphia, a few lazy media outlets reported that we lost our minds after the championship, even though the city's response was joyful and peaceful. Yes, there were a couple of idiots, but they are there all the time, not just at special events. Philadelphia handled the success spectacularly well.

Fires burned, cars flipped and street lights came tumbling down as hard-partying Philadelphia fans lived down to their reputation as they celebrated their first Super Bowl victory.

That was the first paragraph in the New York Daily News on Monday. For the record, one Christmas tree ignited, two cars were flipped and the awning at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel was damaged by fans hanging off it. That's it.

Did we live down to our reputation, or did the New York Daily News?

Maybe it's just me, but I also didn't need the story of the handful of Eagles players planning not to attend the White House for the traditional Rose Garden ceremony. It was too soon after the greatest win of our lives for politics. I also could have done without immediate speculation that hero Nick Foles would be traded. Not yet, please.

And finally, since his name came up constantly before, during and after the Super Bowl, I really needed to hear from Chip Kelly, the coach who was supposed to accomplish this feat with many of the same players. Is it asking too much that he say something – anything – after the man he ousted, Howie Roseman, won a Super Bowl?

Apparently, for Chip Kelly, it is.

And finally …

     • One of the biggest losers at Super Bowl LII – besides the Patriots, of course – was NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth. In a single game, he supplanted Fox's Joe Buck as the most hated national broadcaster in Philadelphia, and all it took was his incessant whining about two Eagles touchdown catches that were ruled good after lengthy reviews. Collinsworth could have lessened the impact by making himself available last week, but an NBC spokesman said he was "away." Hey, maybe he was hanging out with Chip Kelly.

     • Just in case anyone thinks the Eagles forgot Spygate, long snapper Rick Lovato revealed last week that the team held a bogus walk-through in Minneapolis before Super Bowl LII just in case shady New England coach Bill Belichick had spies monitoring them. Coach Doug Pederson remembers 2005 very well, and he wasn't going to stand idly by the way his mentor, Andy Reid, did. Maybe that's why, before Super Bowl LII, 96 percent of our responders to a WIP Internet poll said they would prefer Pederson as head coach of the Eagles.

     • Lost in the euphoria of the Eagles' Super Bowl win was the classless way Tom Brady left the field without ever bothering to find Nick Foles for the traditional post-game handshake. Brady blew off Eli Manning of the Giants the other two times he lost the Super Bowl, but he was greeted all five times when he won. Later, Brady said some nice things about the Eagles, but it was too late. He needed to congratulate Foles on the field, in that moment. And he didn't.

     • Call it Super-Bowl hangover, but the Phillies sent their truck to Clearwater last Friday, and nobody even noticed. Remember when, after their big seasons, the first sign of spring was the departure of that truck filled with the equipment for a new baseball season? It's going to take a while for local sports fans to care about other sports after what just happened with the Eagles. There are even rumors the 2018 Winter Olympics have started. Who knew?

     • Has a sports team in this city ever had a worst communicator than Bryan Colangelo? After dodging questions about Markelle Fultz for months, the Sixers GM held a news conference last Friday to discuss his lack of moves at the trade deadline, offered no real information on Fultz's shooting woes, and then cut the session short because reporters kept pressing him. Colangelo said last year that he was striving for transparency. Well, the only thing that's transparent so far is, he has no idea how to talk to Philadelphia sports fans.