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Full Circle: We Are The Champions
It was the greatest game I never saw

The Frankford El was like my grandfather. It clicked and clattered, wobbled and chattered. But like an old man with a new cane, it got you where you were going.

We had taken it, my father and I, from Bridge Street to 34th, followed by a short walk to the mecca of Philly football, Franklin Field, a palace of brick and ivy, of hopes and dreams.

We had made the pilgrimage often. We had seen Lions, and we had seen Bears, the Giants and Rams. And now, with 10 wins under their belt, the Eagles had made it to the championship game against the legendary Green Bay Packers. I couldn’t wait for Sunday.

On Thursday, I had a sniffle. But it was nothing. Just the cold weather. On Friday, my throat was a little dry. Probably because we didn’t have a humidifier. By Saturday, I had coughed up a lung. I woke up on Sunday morning and jumped out of bed, all ready for the biggest game of my life. My mother met me at the door.

“Where do you think you’re going, young man?”

“To the Eagles’ game. It’s the championship.”

“Oh no, you get right back into bed and put some VapoRub on your chest. You’re not going anywhere with that cold.”

“But, Mom…”

“But, Mom, nothin’. Do you want to get double pneumonia instead?”

I thought long, and I thought hard. The Eagles or pneumonia? It was a tough choice.

“I’ll take the Eagles,” I said.

She just looked at me. “You’ll take the back of my hand if you don’t get in that bed. And put a cough drop in your mouth.”

And so it was. The most important football game of my entire life, and I had to spend the day sucking Smith Brothers.

At the last minute, my father called my cousin, who hadn’t been to a game all year, who loved baseball more than football, who couldn’t give you two names on the Eagles’ front line. My cousin took my ticket.

I switched on the TV. The black and white TV. Lindsey Nelson would have to get me through this day. They showed shots of the packed grandstand. I came closer to the set. Maybe I would see my father somewhere in the 67,325 lucky fans there, the fans who didn’t have bad colds or killjoy mothers.

It had been a magical year for the Eagles. They had lost only two games. My father and I had been to every one of their six home games.

The players who came into his toy store had given him tickets. So he really knew these guys. Tommy McDonald, Norm Van Brocklin, Pete Pihos and, most of all, Chuck Bednarik. Concrete Charlie himself.

The Eagles started slow. Intercepted on the first play. The Packers settled for a field goal. Then the Birds’ Ted Dean ran a sweep for a touchdown. Now it’s back and forth. A brutal game in the brutal cold. And, sooner than Santa, there’s only a minute left. The Packers are driving. One short pass and they’re headed for the win. The only thing standing between them and victory is Concrete Charlie. And Bednarik crushes their runner on the ten. He can’t get up. It’s over. It’s over!

In the greatest game in Philadelphia sports history, the Eagles were the world champs. I got out of my bed and started jumping in the air.

“Stop doing that,” my mother said, “you’ll get overheated.”

Overheated. In the dead of winter. I took my kelly-green Eagles pennant off the wall and started waving it in the air. In less than an hour, my father walked in, his face frosted, his smile frozen.

“We did it, pal, we did it,” he said. I hadn’t seen him this happy since Joe McCarthy died.

“Really,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said, “you should’ve seen it.”

 

January 2018
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