On Life, Family And The Constant Love Of Your Team

My 8-year-old nephew went to his first Philadelphia Eagles game on Sunday. Like me – and his two brothers – he was systematically brainwashed by a relative before he knew any better. At a certain age, he received Eagles merchandise for birthdays and Christmases. In 1995, a Randall Cunningham wrestling doll sat in my room. I threw passes to myself in the backyard, wearing my Hutch uniform set. It was because I liked the colors and because my relatives in Pennsylvania provided gifts of the kind. The pattern isn't coincidence.

On Sunday, he saw a win over the Washington football team at his first game. My experience was the same. It happened against the same team and it happened with the same result. The connection between my nephews and I will always involve the Eagles. It was my doing. There was a reason behind it.

It’s not easy to be an Eagles fan and most of the time it causes frustration. They aren’t the Steelers and they aren’t the Packers. Most other fans despise them and there is nothing since 1960 to show for their efforts. Why would I put that on my nephews? Why would I put something in family members’ lives that could bring them harm? The reason why is simple – because no matter what happened in my life, the Eagles were there. The Eagles are always there.

These three nephews – aged 8, 11 and 14 – are at the start of their lives. The eldest will start high school next year. His individuality will start to take its full form soon. Excitement and disappointment will come to him in ways that he’ll feel like no one will understand. He’ll yearn for independence amidst his confusion with life. Soon after, his brothers will do the same.

Before my high school experience, the most traumatic experience in my life had already taken place. At 11, I watched my father die suddenly before my very own eyes. Nothing would prove as difficult. Nothing ever will. High school was fine for me in some ways and awful in others. The rest of my life has been fine in some ways and awful in others. I guess that’s the way it goes. At least that experience gave me some perspective.

Through it all, I was an Eagles fan. To this day, I’m an Eagles fan. Nearly every Sunday since I was a child, I’ve watched them. I’ve seen the good and the bad. They’ve hurt me and they’ve made me feel like the richest man on earth. Some will say it’s foolish to invest that much in a football team. There were times I would agree. But when I look back and see it all in its entirety, it’s easy to appreciate what being a fan really means. The team I love is always there. They never really leave. When they go on hiatus sometime in winter, I know they’ll be back again. They always come back.

That’s why I engrained the love into my nephews’ heads as much as I could. They’ve taken to it, which makes me a very happy – and proud – man. This season, when my life wasn’t what I thought it ought to be, I went to their home and watched the games. Sometimes, my eyes welled up. Sometimes, I felt like I was looking at my young self through my own eyes.

We pass down teams because we know they instill something in us that is the very best. Our dedication is always rewarded with another game or another season. In the vacuum of sports, the teams are the constants – for the most part. Players leave, retire or get injured. Coaches succeed, retire or get fired. Stadiums are remodeled, torn down and rebuilt. But the team – whether in kelly green or midnight green – is still there.

This isn’t the case in life. Job opportunities come and go. Aside from very close friends and family, people fade away. They either die or tell you you’re not good enough or just vanish after periods of disconnect. Those boys will love and lose and there will come a time in that process when you’d hope they realize grieving is all one can do. Life is a wonderful thing filled with greatness, but there are times where you can’t help but get bleary-eyed and contemplate why you are where you are and why things transpire the way they do.

It’s complex and it’s deep. Some rely on faith. Others lean on support groups. There are those who never learn how to process emotions and lack acceptance. They are not at fault. It takes a tremendous amount of strength to navigate this sometimes-sordid universe. Men and women grow old and look back at situations that made them lose sanity, knowing there was no other way to deal with it.

The Eagles will never leave me. If they do, it will be a monumental occasion that will likely turn me to another team or another sport. They will not tell me I’m not good enough or that I’m too selfish. I can point as many fingers at the Eagles as I’d like and they will never point one back at me. It’s a one-way relationship. I can pound on them for the pain or embrace them for the happiness. On the other side, it’s also one-way because I cannot affect the outcome of their games no matter how many superstitions I create. They will make me laugh and they will make me cry. Their losses teach me acceptance and their wins teach me very little. Instead, victories remind me how happy I can be. They make me the best person I can be at a given moment.

This love, this wild and twisted love affair with a football team seems silly to most. Some may find it repulsive or childish. I pay that no mind. There’s nothing that comes between myself and the Eagles. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, they are mine. They will never stand me up and they will always kickoff when their schedule tells me they will. They let me yell and scream and go crazy and they never judge me or tell me to change. Even if I am late for kickoff – and I’m never late for kickoff – they won’t hold it against me.

More than once in my life, someone close to me has told me I care too much about sports. My heart’s power rankings are clear and transparent. My mother and family are first and the Eagles are second. I once dated someone who saw the ESPN commercial with an Eagles fan. The commercial (below) showed the fan as a kid. As he grew up, he still wore his gear. He was with a different girl every time. At the end, he’s in his Eagles shirt with only his dog.

The night this person I loved ended our relationship she said, “You’re going to end up just like that guy in the commercial – alone with your dog watching sports.”

It stuck with me. It hurt, but it was fair. My dog died last year. Aside from that, she might be right. There’s no way to know if someone will end up in my life who loves me for me. I’m hopeful that happens, but there are no guarantees and no prediction will make it true. Maybe I will end up alone watching the Eagles play.

Or maybe my nephews will come over and watch the games. I’d like to envision a life where I can gather around my television with the three of them and watch the game and forget about our jobs and our love lives and the goods and the bads. I’d want to sit with them and enjoy what is ours and will always be there regardless of situation.

In the backseat of the car, my nephew recited the things I recited as a kid. He replaced the names I used with the names on the current roster. “Foles throws it to Jackson who pitches it back to McCoy who tosses it back to Celek…..and it’s a touchdown!”

According to his father, he did this all the way home. Maybe one day, his son will do the same thing. One can only hope children grow up with something to believe in, something that will teach about wins and losses and heartbreak and joy. No matter who or what disappears from our lives, the teams will go on. The fan will always have his team and his team will have their fan. It’s a marriage of passion and pride. It’s a match made in heaven.

The funny thing about the aforementioned comment is that if I’m alone watching the Eagles one day, I won’t really be alone. They might let me down, but they’ll never throw me out. We all need something to be there for us. Who’s to say it can’t be a sports team?

Who’s to say it shouldn’t be?

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