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February 06, 2023

What 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' gets right about Eagles fans

The FXX series by South Philly-native Rob McElhenney aired a two-part episode about the Eagles' first Super Bowl win in 2018 that sums up everything about fandom in this city

TV Eagles
Always Sunny Eagles fans Screen capture/'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' via Hulu

After the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2018, 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' encapsulated what it means to be a fan in this city with a two-part episode about the gang watching the Eagles in the championship. On Sunday, Feb. 12, the Eagles play the Kansas City Chiefs in this year's Super Bowl.

Playing upon the theme of "these characters are the worst people you will ever met" that "Seinfeld" embodied, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" may be the lone cult classic to turn into a multi-decade success. The most recent season of the FXX series, its 15th, premiered in 2021 and set the record for the longest-running live-action comedy show. 

"Always Sunny" might not have picked up a string of accolades along the way, as noted in Season 9's episode "The Gang Desperately Tries to Win an Award," but the show undeniably hits home for the Delaware Valley.

Creator and South Philadelphia-native Rob McElhenney bottled up all the worst elements of us Philadelphians and, along with an iconic cast of Kaitlin Olson, Glenn Howerton, Charlie Day and Danny DeVito, delivered something that's as Philly as cheesesteaks and the Liberty Bell. 

When I think of Philadelphia, I think of not just family and friends throughout the city, but "Always Sunny" itself and, of course, the Eagles. 

As the Eagles go, so does Philly go. 

Forget Mark Wahlberg and David O. Russell. No movie nor television series has ever quite gotten what makes Eagles fans tick like the "Always Sunny" Super Bowl two-parter that aired in 2018, months after the Birds captured their first-ever Lombardi Trophy. 

Shown in back-to-back weeks, "Charlie's Home Alone" and the aptly titled "The Gang Wins the Big Game" tell the story of Mac, Dee and Frank traveling to Minnesota to watch the Eagles beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, while Charlie is left here to adhere to his rampant superstitions at Paddy's Pub during the game. 

Expectedly, hijinks ensue, including Charlie getting his foot caught in a bear trap, Dee inadvertently giving Tom Brady pink eye and Frank passing a kidney stone during the Patriots' last-second Hail Mary heave. 

It's hilarious, it's a reality check, it's coming to grips with your worst traits and the emotional rollercoaster of Eagles fandom wrapped in a brisk 44-minute masterpiece. The episodes are everything that's great and terrible about Eagles fans, and, as an extension, Philadelphians. 

Does Charlie drinking something yellow and eating something brown before every Eagles game really impact the outcome? Who am I to say?

Does your uncle wearing the same Jerome Brown jersey every week make a difference? Does your dad sitting in the same recliner every away game truly matter? Does not washing your Brian Dawkins T-shirt if the Eagles win their most recent game preserve its good luck charm qualities? Maybe it doesn't, but who gives a damn? 

Jason Kelce, in a legendary cameo with Eagles teammate and fellow Super Bowl champion Beau Allen, sum things up nicely for Charlie in a hallucinatory dream sequence:

"Every single thing that every fan does, at home or at the stadium, makes a direct impact in the game."

That's what makes sports fandom great. It's diving head first into irrationality. It's succumbing to your id while drinking a couple of cold ones and screaming bloody murder at your TV because the Eagles go three-and-out on the first drive of a Week 2 game. 

Mac spends the entire road trip to Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII and the game itself trying to play down the pure Philadelphia-ness of their group. Joined by fan-favorite supporting characters Rickety Cricket, The Waitress, Bill Ponderosa, Uncle Jack and others, Mac is embarrassed about how, to put it simply, "Philly" everyone is. It makes him cringe as Cricket, always looking like the biggest mess on the face of the planet, yells, "We are Philadelphia!" after a huge play by the Eagles. 

If you're getting meta-textual, that's probably how a lot of people in the television industry have viewed "Always Sunny" over the years. It's stupid. It's loud. The characters are loathsome. It bleeds Philly so much to the point of turning away those poor souls unfortunate enough to have grown up elsewhere. "Always Sunny" never backed away from wearing its Philadelphia heart on its Kelly green sleeves and the series is all the better for it. 

Frank gets it though. These people are outrageous, but there's ultimately something genuine about them. They are true to themselves and do not care the slightest what anyone outside of Philadelphia has to say about it. That's every Eagles fan booing as Giants players take the field or spam-replying a national NFL writer who had a negative take about the Birds on Twitter. People from Philly love nothing more than being from Philly and they will let you know that every single turn. 

Talking to Mac, who's worried this horrid cast has terrible vibes and that's why the Eagles are going to lose to New England, Frank lets him know the truth. Philadelphians will only be themselves, and that's as admirable as anything. Like what Frank says just before Brandon Graham's strip sack of Tom Brady

"Those guys. Those guys are Philadelphia. They bust their ass every day just to get through. And then, on a Sunday, they put all their hopes into the Eagles. And year after year after year, their team lets them down. And they get angry. And that anger builds into a stone of fury. And if it could just be released, then we could feel something different."

He's right. 

And you know what? When Mac started embracing his inner Philadelphian, warts and all, the biggest play in the history of Philadelphia sports plays out, as Graham sacks Brady, forcing a fumble that the Eagles recover, as millions of fans everywhere went wild. 

As you prepare for Super Bowl LVII, don't rein it in. Don't get cute. Don't try to be someone you're not. Being a rabid fan frothing at the mouth every Sunday has gotten the Eagles this far. What's one more Sunday of doing that if it leads to eternal glory?

The Season 13's two-part Super Bowl episode of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" can be streamed on Hulu.

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