Philadelphia is a tough sports town. Philadelphia also is a great sports town.
Both things are true — often within the same nine innings, or half of football.
Philadelphia is an unforgiving sports town — to opponents and famously to its own. Philadelphia also pours its heart out in the right circumstance and when you’d least expect it.
This great and tough sports town is in that pins-and-needles sweet spot of nervous anticipation and confidence with Super Bowl 57 less than a week away. We can’t wait for the game to get here. We *can* wait — not knowing the result and imagining all of the bad things that can happen.
Maybe it’s my miscalculation, but the excitement level for this Super Bowl seems more intense than 2017. Maybe it’s easy to think that, living in the here and now and relying on memory about 2017.
Make no mistake, Eagles fans were thrilled about making Super Bowl 52, the franchise’s third trip to the big game. But they were disappointed because the Eagles had several key injuries and victory looked improbable.
When franchise quarterback Carson Wentz was injured, the season had the feel of 1991, when Randall Cunningham was lost for the season in Week One. Without Cunningham, the Eagles started 32-year-old Jim McMahon (11 games), Jeff Kemp (two games) and Brad Goebel (two games). The Eagles’ leading rusher was James Joseph with 440 yards.
Bud Carson’s defense was the best in the league, and the most legendary in Eagles’ history. Thanks to the defense, the Eagles were 10-6, but no playoffs and still no Super Bowl.
NO CONFIDENCE VS. PATRIOTS
Eagles fans weren’t confident going into Super Bowl 52. When Wentz was injured in Week 14, the Eagles were 11-2 but the season seemed lost. When Nick Foles relieved Wentz, he had thrown four passes the entire season.
In his three starts, Foles completed 47-of-87 passes. He had five touchdown passes. His stats didn’t exactly have Canton abuzz.
The Patriots were the Evil Empire in 2017, winning the Super Bowl in 2014 and 2016 (plus three earlier ones). Tom Brady was only 40 years old — young for him — and anointed the game’s greatest quarterback.
How could the Eagles even hang with Brady and the Patriots, much less beat them? Well, we know what happened, even if it still doesn’t seem quite possible.
What is it about 2022? Since September, fans had the Phillies and Eagles to celebrate — the baseball club making an amazing, and unexpected, run to the World Series.
When the first pitch was thrown in Game 1 of the World Series, the Eagles were 6-0 and on their bye week, the NFL’s only undefeated team.
The Eagles didn’t stop winning. Tied for the league’s best record. The league’s MVP (maybe). One of the best quarterbacks in the league. An offensive line like no other. A quarterback-pounding and interception-grabbing defense.
In a city where so much goes wrong with its sports teams, this year’s Eagles team was not only the exception but a model for success. And they were *fun.*
The city rejoiced. Bryce Harper and now Jalen Hurts. Is this what sports heaven feels like? Is this how the rest of the sports world lives?
Of course, nothing is easy in Philly sports and Hurts’ injury was the proof positive. Hurts suffered a SC joint sprain against Chicago on Dec. 18. His throwing shoulder was crunched into a frozen football field on a running play.
Hurts missed two games. He returned to unspectacularly beat the Giants and clinch home-field for the playoffs.
Two weeks of rest later, Hurts played well in the division win over the Giants. One week later, they pounded the 49ers in the NFC title game.
Now, Hurts is on two weeks’ rest. He says he’s still dealing with the shoulder. The extra rest will help. The rest of the team is remarkably healthy. All 22 opening-day starters will be healthy enough to play.
GOING TO WIN?
If there is more excitement about this year’s Eagles team than before the 2017 Super Bowl, there’s an easy explanation.
Eagles fans think their team will win. It’s that simple. Even the most die-hard, Kelly green-wishing Eagles fans didn’t think they would beat Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
This year, Eagles fans seem confident without being cocky. They look clinically at the teams and stats. Their calculation and summation are what they always wanted.
Not only do they think the Eagles can win, they think the Eagles should win.
VICTORY WON’T BE EASY
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes wears the crown of world’s best quarterback these days. Kansas City coach Andy Reid has won a Super Bowl. The Chiefs survived a tough AFC title game against the Bengals.
But, the Chiefs have injuries with their receiving corps. Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain in the division playoff game but says he’ll be fine.
So, here we are. The NFL’s two best teams meeting in the Super Bowl. America’s greatest and toughest sports fans confidently believing their team will win.
And knowing they might be right.