What Does My Kid’s Apartment Say About Me?

Illustration by Alexander Purdy

Illustration by Alexander Purdy

I’m standing in an aisle at HomeGoods, holding a spoon rest. It’s a pretty thing, bright orange, shaped like a sunflower, and it only costs $3.99. I don’t happen to need a spoon rest, and anyway, my kitchen’s red, not orange. But my daughter Marcy’s kitchen has one orange wall. This would look perfect in it.

I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have a spoon rest. She doesn’t have a lot of stuff. She and her husband, Basil, are just a year out of school now, working their starter jobs, living in West Philly amidst hand-me-downs and thrift-shop buys and found-on-the-street reclamations, the way most people do at that age. They’re perfectly happy, but I know Marcy would like to have more — to have nice things. They will, someday. Meantime, I’m buying this spoon rest for her.
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The Top Ten Philly Sports Announcers of All Time

MASTERS OF THE MIC: From left, Kalas, Hart, Reese, Andersen, Ashburn and Franzke.

MASTERS OF THE MIC: From left, Kalas, Hart, Reese, Andersen, Ashburn and Franzke.

The voices carried me home. Dating back to high school, on most weekends in the summer I’d drive to the Jersey Shore and relax with friends and family who owned or rented houses there (see: mooching). Seaside Heights, Ocean City, Sea Isle, Avalon, Wildwood — I’ve slept on porches and tight couches and in sheets decorated with conch shells. Sundays meant the dreaded trip home, and the worst stretch was usually where the Garden State Parkway meets the Atlantic City Expressway. Traffic crawled. The air conditioner in my black 1994 Chevy Cavalier was broken. It’s a safe bet I was dehydrated, from the sun or booze or both.

Far more important to me than a cool blast of air was my radio. Music was the soundtrack for the ride to the Shore; Sundays were for the Phillies, and for Harry. As the heat and my stress level rose, Harry Kalas turned my sweatbox-on-wheels into a Buddhist monastery where baseball was peace and Harry the K’s play-by-play was a Zen koan. You can still hear his voice, like that of a grandfather or dad who told stories that held you rapt, or a friend who could talk sports for hours: “Struck’im ouuuuut!” During that long drought between 1993 and 2007, when the Fightins mostly stunk like a Vet Stadium bathroom, you tuned in not just for baseball, but for a version of the game as described by Harry. It was often better than what you’d see with your own eyes.

By contrast, a lousy broadcaster can ruin the experience. Like former Sixers color man Eric Snow, who was so dull he once apparently put himself to sleep. On the air. Or the current Phillies television crew, who should begin each inning with a narcolepsy warning. (Google “Matt Stairs Wing Bowl” for proof of a far more entertaining guy than you’ve heard so far. Jamie Moyer? I think he may have a future on NPR.)

With the window now officially closed on the Phillies’ ’08 championship era, and with no basketball, hockey or meaningful football till the fall, it feels like we’re all stuck in a hot car on the Philadelphia sports highway — going nowhere and not happy about it. Which makes this the perfect time to recognize the local TV and radio play-by-play men and color analysts who’ve made our best sports memories better and helped us survive the lean years. To rank them, I’ve looked at three categories: voice (smooth delivery, unmistakable sound), calls (moments that will live in Philly sports history), and general awesomeness (would you want to have a beer or play a round of golf with this guy?).

What makes a broadcaster special is more than the ability to interpret the infield fly rule or describe the action; it’s the weird, deeply personal one-sided relationships that fans develop with him over time. These broadcasters will likely never know you, but they’re part of your family for the big game and your co-pilot on long drives home.
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One of Us: Cecily Tynan

Illustration by Andy Friedman

Illustration by Andy Friedman

My name is … Cecily Tynan. I had a Great-Uncle Cecil in England, and they just added the “y.” My parents actually thought they invented the name, but I’ve met some other Cecilys since, including some named after me, which is very flattering.

I am a … perfectionist.

My standard Wawa order … is a turkey Shorti, wheat.

When I turned 45 this year … I felt better than I did when I was 25.

I live in … a stone house with a pool and a lot of woods for our three dogs to run.

Before I go on TV each night, I always … check my teeth. I like to eat spinach salads and pistachios, and let’s just say those aren’t good things to eat right before you go on the air.

On Sunday mornings … I love to cook bacon and eggs for my family, but I have to ration the bacon. My kids are big bacon eaters.

I am perpetually … 10 minutes late. But never for newscasts.

Each summer, I love to … water-ski. Slalom waterskiing is my new obsession. I am really sore every Monday morning in the summer.

If I weren’t doing this … I would probably be working at an animal shelter. I’m tempted to buy a big farm so I can adopt more, but I don’t think my husband is going to let that happen.

My worst subject in high school was … geometry. I still have nightmares about it.

I shouldn’t tell you this about Jim Gardner, but … he can sing most Broadway show tunes.

The first album I ever bought … was Bryan Adams. The one with “Summer of ’69” on it.

I drive … a Lexus SUV with close to 220,000 miles on it. I’m very practical.

One food I love to eat but shouldn’t … is I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! spray. I have to say, I like it on everything. I consider it liquid gold.

My workout routine … is a mix of running, boot-camp class and boxing.

I love buying … clothes for my kids at the Target across the street from the studio. My son likes anything Shaun White, and my daughter likes anything Hello Kitty. I buy a pound of coffee and a cart full of clothes.

My secret talent … is that I can write pretty well in cursive with my toes. But I have really horrible feet, because I went from ballet dancing to running. I have E.T. toes.

The farthest I’ve ever run … is 50k, 31 miles. It was years ago in Maryland, my first and only ultra. I won it because it was two loops, and after the first loop, all the other women kept going, but I stopped and had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a Gatorade. Well, all the women in front of me bonked, and the peanut butter won the race.

The truth about predicting the weather … is that we are right most of the time. People say, “If I could be wrong 90 percent of the time and still have my job, I would love that.” But the truth is that we are almost always right.

Originally published in the August 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Growing Up in Philadelphia: The Lost City

Children playing in the Art Museum fountains, August 1973.

Children playing in the Art Museum fountains in August 1973. Photograph by Dick Swanson/The National Archive

Eddie Gindi seems genuinely excited as he stands at the dais in the Union League. The executive vice president and co-owner of Century 21 department stores is explaining why a new Philadelphia location at 8th and Market is the logical next step for a chic discount chain that until now has stuck to New York and New Jersey. “I saw with my own eyes,” he says, “the massive money and time being spent to make Philadelphia a retail center.” Philadelphians, he says, are fashion-savvy, creative and artistic: “They get it.”

The audience at this meeting of the Central Philadelphia Development Corp. laps it up. The gauzy visions of a prosperous and dynamic Center City that once seemed like pipe dreams have, in large part, become reality.

Center City’s population is growing. Developers are breaking ground on skyscrapers. National retailers like Intermix and Michael Kors are coming to Walnut Street, where rents soar above the national average. Last year, Philadelphia was feted in the New York Times, the Toronto Star, the Guardian, the Washington Post, Food & Wine, the Globe and Mail, Condé Nast Traveler, Bon Appétit, and countless online outlets. GQ wrote, “Philadelphia has more going for it now than ever.”

Every now and then, a well-dressed woman will stop me and ask for directions: “Where is the shopping street? I think it’s called Walnut?” I’ll point the way, and then imagine her browsing at Barneys and Lagos, then having a drink at Rouge’s sidewalk cafe before heading back to her room at the Hotel Monaco. “Who is this woman?” I’ll think. Does she imagine she’s in some sophisticated, classy city? I suppose so.

For some native Philadelphians like me, all of this is difficult to absorb. This city has been the butt of jokes for so long — going back to W.C. Fields, after all — that it’s still hard to believe that newcomers and investors finally consider it worthy.

I mean, I’ve been singing Philly’s praises since I was a kid, but the moniker “Filthadelphia” (and its concomitant reputation) was so widespread, it was the first thing a new friend brought up to me when we met during my semester abroad. In Spain.

Yet I sometimes miss the grimy Center City of my youth. I liked its gritty spirit.

I WAS BORN AT Hahnemann Hospital in 1968, swaddled, and taken to a studio apartment, where I slept in a dresser drawer until the crib arrived.

My parents bought a house on Rodman Street soon thereafter, and all the photos from my toddler days seem to show one neighbor or another lying flat on his back, with a big smile, obviously intoxicated by some natural plant.

The late ’60s and early ’70s in Philadelphia were pretty relaxed. The Lombard Swim Club had a topless section. My friend’s dad picked us up in his car one day without any clothes on. Parents kept their stashes in the open. Kids discussed open marriages in art class, and the 2000 block of Sansom Street was the bohemian center of the west-of-Broad universe, with head shops, cafes and clubs that leaked strains of poetry, jazz, disco, and the smoke of that natural plant.

There were also those nightclubs and discos: Élan, Black Banana, Artemis, Revival, London Victory Club — which, in glossy Studio 54 hindsight, must make Center City sound somewhat glamorous. It was anything but.



Philadelphia’s decline was well under way by the time I was born. Manufacturing was collapsing, the population was falling, and the tax base was turning to dust. Frank Rizzo dominated City Hall, first as police commissioner, then as mayor. Crime spiked. There wasn’t the money to pay for things like clean streets. Racial strife and police brutality were endemic. Center City fared better than most neighborhoods, but it wasn’t immune.

Schuylkill River Park, now family-friendly with its dog park (with special areas for big and small dogs) and creative landscape architecture, was rather seedy. It was also the locus of the Taney Gang, the children of the Irish gangsters who lived in the homes along 26th Street. They ruled that neighborhood. It was the kind of place where if you wanted to rape a girl or light a homeless guy on fire, you could get away with it. They tortured me and my friends during grade school because we had no choice but to encroach on their turf: Our school was at 25th and Lombard, and recess was at “their” park.

Fitler Square wasn’t much better. Patty Brett, the owner of the uniquely unchanging Doobies at 22nd and Lombard, remembers packs of wild dogs running loose in the area: “There were many abandoned churches and gas stations in our neighborhood. Lots of graffiti on everything, and a general fear of walking down the street late at night. People were mugged a lot, and women didn’t travel in most Center City areas alone.”

In my high-school years, street crime was so commonplace that we hardly took note of it. My boyfriend was pulled into an alley between Walnut and Chestnut and held at knifepoint; my necklace was ripped off while I was walking; my mother was mugged; purses were torn from shoulders; people threw bottles into store windows on days when the Phillies lost. The sense of lawlessness was pervasive. When we walked to school at 17th and the Parkway, dealers would try to sell us drugs (and I have no doubt they sometimes succeeded).

City Hall was a mess. That beautiful building’s courtyard was the kind of place you either avoided or walked through as quickly as possible, dodging mysterious puddles and smells, with soot or something like it crunching beneath your feet. Last summer, Kurt Vile played a concert in that now clean, bright courtyard, and I looked at the people in line at food trucks, friends meeting up and hugging each other, people dancing, and I thought, “What the hell happened to this place?” That courtyard has gone from 12 Monkeys to Frank Capra on Ecstasy. A lot of Center City has.

I MEET SO MANY people now who have moved to Philadelphia in the past 10 years — and stayed. I’m both stunned that they chose Philly and aggravated by all their c­omplaints — which, if they’ve moved here from Portland, can be quite numerous.

It’s dirty. There’s too much crime. The buses and subways are gross. There’s trash everywhere. People don’t pick up after their dogs. There are rats in Rittenhouse Square. There aren’t enough bike lanes.

Bike lanes? BIKE LANES?

Recently, a seersucker-and-madras-clad man at a Mural Arts event I went to railed against graffiti’s “cancerous, corrosive effect” on Philadelphia. He got puckered and red in the face and stomped out of the room. I guess he wasn’t here in 1976, when KAP the Bicentennial Kid tagged the Art Museum and the Liberty Bell. When I was a kid, the graffiti was so omnipresent, it became the city’s signature.

Likewise, when transplants complain about SEPTA subway cars and buses, I marvel. Back then, these were not only the primary vectors for graffiti, but had torn and broken seats and rusted poles. In 1980, this magazine called subway trains “slums-on-wheels.” Buses weren’t much better. (I got to smoke my first cigarette on the 40.) The transit stations and concourses were so much more dismal back then that now when I find a SEPTA station unpleasant, I recall what used to be and think, “Aw, that’s just a tiny puddle of pee. It’s almost cute.”

We’ve got it so good, it’s unreal. So why do I long for the old days?

In part, it’s basic childhood nostalgia. But I think it’s also that we Center City kids of the ’70s and early ’80s enjoyed a lot of freedom in our comparatively down-at-its-heels, unmanicured downtown. Today, I can get stopped at the doors of an upscale hotel or silently ejected from a fancy boutique with an icy glare. Back then, it was like there was no one on duty. It was great fun.

THERE WERE A PAIR of arcades on Chestnut Street between 15th and 17th: the dark, dirty Zounds, and the shiny new Supercade. Zounds was rough. You could get your wallet stolen, or at the least your pile of quarters. People might offer you drugs. You might take drugs. But it felt like home. Supercade was too fresh and clean. Too eager. We didn’t trust it. (This suspicion of nice things began early.)

Once the quarters were spent, or stolen, we could head over to Day’s Deli at 18th and Spruce to get fries. Or we could go to Deluxe Diner for milkshakes; the Midtowns I through IV; one of the two Little Pete’s; or even R&W, which was kind of repulsive but good for private conversations in the empty back room. Now R&W is the Japanese restaurant Zama. The food is better, but kids don’t go there to spill secrets over a shared can of seltzer and a ham and cheese sandwich.

Day’s Deli was my favorite, until it closed; the rumor was that someone affiliated with the restaurant had “put the profits up his nose.” It adjoined a convenience store, and in back were rows of booths where you could while away hours smoking cigarettes with Jasons, Jennifers and Michaels. At the time, we felt our conversations were only a shade less sophisticated than My Dinner With Andre.

During the Mummers Parade, my friends and I would zoom through the halls of the Bellevue-Stratford hotel, dashing between parties full of strangers in the rooms that faced Broad Street. There was always a lot of food and drink, and no one noticed the kids who’d sneak in and out, grabbing rolled salami off of linen-draped deli trays.

One year, we heard “a judge” was hosting one of these parade-watching parties. Only one of us was brave enough to go in; the rest waited outside, flat against the wall, like felons in a lineup. Our friend came out with big news: There was a baggie of cocaine in the room. Cocaine! Wow! I remember thinking we might get in trouble, and also feeling jealous that my friend seemed to be able to identify cocaine.

PEOPLE OFTEN FEEL sorry for me because they assume Center City wasn’t a real neighborhood. But it was. Many of us went to preschool, elementary school and high school together. Mostly latchkey kids, we stuck together after class ended. We knew every corner of each other’s homes, including whose Rittenhouse Square rooftop made for the best water-balloon launching pad.

Jason’s exotically beautiful mom lived on Pine Street, but his dad’s place was on the Square. Sandy and her three sisters lived at 22nd and Delancey, across from Valerie and, randomly, Julius Erving, who’d open the door sometimes, be very tall, and close the door again. Susan and Lizzy were on Panama, right across the street from each other, while Liz No. 3 lived at 17th and Pine with her mom and stepdad and the largest dining room table I’d ever seen.

The boy I loved unrequited all through high school was on 21st and Delancey. The girl who took me to Houlihan’s on the Square with all the cool kids lived at 18th and Delancey, across the street from towheaded Laura and her little brother Adam, both of whom have passed away, which is a sentence I shouldn’t have to write while I’m still in my 40s. Sweet Tom, who took me to both proms and was basically my first husband, lived at 25th and Lombard. And so on.

The point is, it was plenty neighborhoody. And instead of a suburban Dairy Queen parking lot, we had Rittenhouse Square.

This was the center of our universe. This was where we went to try new things — to kiss, to reveal secrets, to drink, to smoke. This was the place to reconnoiter, the hub, the treehouse club, the HQ. Life unfolded there.

The Square had no profusion of roses in front of the lion statue. The pillars around the fountain were chipping, like teeth losing their enamel. Tumbleweeds of garbage traveled by. The old benches, the ones without armrests in the middle, were wide and deep enough that homeless people could sleep on them. And they did.

Later, the park would get a curfew; we’d get in trouble for standing bare-legged in the fountain; we’d be turned out while tux-wearing dancers ate fancy food. One thing remains the same, though: the rats. I admire them for sticking it out.

ONE BOY WHO accompanied our Bellevue wanderings was the son of a South Street fortune-teller. He was missing several teeth. He gave me my first French kiss at the TLA, back when it was a movie theater that showed cartoons during the day, repertory film at night, and Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight.

The boy moved to New York, which was sad (according to my diary), but I miss the old TLA more. In fact, I miss all the movie theaters of my youth. There were so many: the Eric Twin Rittenhouse at 19th and Walnut; Sam’s Place and the SamEric at 19th and Chestnut; Eric’s Place at 15th and Chestnut; Eric’s Mark 1 at 18th and Market; the Goldman Theatre at Broad and Chestnut; the Roxy (when it showed films from odd places like Canada); more I’m not thinking of. Now these places are a CVS, a Mandee, an empty lot, a soon-to-be-demolished historic relic.

Not surprisingly, we saw movies constantly, and relied upon them as instructional manuals. Senior year, a friend and I went to see Hannah and Her Sisters. I was just starting to understand that I’d have to become a grown-up, and I didn’t really know what that meant.

In Philly, it was hard to tell what adulthood was. There was no single grown-up world, no monolith. This was no bland suburb, no Peyton Place. Sit in the Square, as we did, and it was a pageant: People were black and white, gay and straight, rich and poor. Many were hobbled by some kind of frailty. There was the Duck Lady (who quacked); the Pigeon Lady (who stood for hours with pigeons all over her); the Wow Bum, who just yelled, “Wow!”; any number of “bag ladies” who’d walk through the Square laden with belongings; the men who exposed themselves. Then there were our parents, the incense vendors, all those hookers on Broad and on 13th, my Quaker teachers with the puzzling facial hair. Which kind of adult would I be? How would I find my way?

I sat and watched Hannah and Her Sisters in the theater at 19th and Chestnut and found a tiny fragment of a road map. Yesterday, in the same building, I found a bottle of sunscreen.

AS A PERSON WHO works in Center City — and who writes about real estate and economic development — I can’t claim to be disappointed by downtown’s success. By any measure, Center City is booming, and that is a good thing. I don’t want to step in dog waste, or walk 10 blocks before I can find a trash can. I don’t want a Rittenhouse Square ringed by abandoned construction sites rather than beautiful hotels. I want people to live here, to thrive here. I want jobs and revenue and, yes, maybe digital signage, if that’s what it takes to lure serious investment into more challenging parts of town.

But there’s something about the national retail chains, about the people in teal, about the loss of diners and movie theaters — in all their sticky-floored glory — that makes me feel Center City has edged a bit too far toward the post-Giuliani NYC model of moneyed, sterilized urbanity.

Or maybe I just miss my old neighborhood.

Originally published as “The Lost City” in the August 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Best of Philly 2014

best-of-philly-2014-cover-400x525

Yes, folks, here we are, back at it again. Who has the crispiest fried chicken? What’s the best bar for day-drinking? Where can you go for eyebrow-sculpting? Sexy party shoes? Free spinning classes? Herein lie the exhaustively investigated answers … as well as a series of bests chosen by you, the voting public, via online polls and our biggest-ever taste test. (Spoiler alert: Nobody in this city turns down free whoopie pies.) And while we’ll readily admit that the process of finding, vetting and honoring this region’s ever-growing array of all things excellent is really more of an art than a science (and art, of course, is subjective), we’ll nevertheless fiercely defend and celebrate each and every one of our 275 picks. We think that for the most part, you will, too. Especially that fried chicken.

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The Best Food and Drink at the Jersey Shore for 2014

Mike's Seafood in Sea isle. Photography by Trevor Dixon

Mike’s Seafood in Sea isle. Photography by Trevor Dixon

Cape May

It’s not actually a law, but it seems no one gets out of Cape May without first visiting the Mad Batter. Located in the Carroll Villa Hotel, this is the spot for a relaxing (if ever so slightly fancy-pants) dinner. Go for the crabcakes, a textbook example of the proper assembly and preparation of this oft-ruined dish.

For a more Summer Rental sort of experience, there’s always the Lobster House. The long, low-slung restaurant side of the operation, with its big windows and red-checked tablecloths, is lovely — and hugely crowded on any nice summer day. But it’s the Schooner Bar aboard the old Schooner American sailing vessel that combines kitsch and alcohol in one successful formula.

One of the big reasons foodies head to the Shore is for crabs. If this is your motivation, hit up H&H Seafood. It’s hard to miss (it’s the place with the big sign that says LIVE CRABS) and serves big paper bags full of steamed crabs to eat on the beach (or wherever else you feel like eating them).

Avalon

You already know you’ll be eating at the Diving Horse, so you might as well just make your reservations now. This has been the go-to dinner spot for a few years, and it deserves all the love it gets.

If you’re looking for something else, there’s Café Loren for the BYO enthusiasts (and people who really like that family-owned, Shore-town vibe), or the Princeton and Bobby Dee’s Rock ’N Chair for bar-crawlers (the latter being a degree more classy than the former).

Sea Isle

Fish Alley is as seafood-and-beer-laden as it sounds — and will not disappoint.

First stop: Mike’s Seafood for crab legs, fries, crab legs and crab legs. Go early, because the line gets long, and grab a spot at one of the picnic tables overlooking the water. (See the “Family” section for more info on when kids eat free.) Marie’s Lobster House is a few doors down from Mike’s. While you lose a little of that classic crab-shack atmosphere, the food here is just as good, and all that neon in the front windows makes it easy to navigate.

Can’t seem to get off the beach? You don’t have to. Bubba Dogs is a mobile wienery parked right on the sand at 59th Street.

Strathmere

Why Strathmere? Because there are two notable places for eating and drinking. First, there’s Mildred’s, which is one of those little old restaurants that wear their weathering of Sandy on their sleeve like a badge. It’s absolutely beloved for the exceedingly friendly service, the family vibe and the solid (if predictable) Italian menu — you can’t go wrong with a bottle of white and a plate of linguine with clam sauce.

For something a bit … grittier, you have to go to Twisties Tavern. It’s the kind of joint where you drop in for one drink and then wake up 20 years later having become an every-night regular, with a table all your own and a couple shifts a week behind the bar. There are powerful cocktails, fish on the walls, patio seating that looks out over the bay, and a menu that’s more comprehensive than you might think.

Ocean City and Somers Point

If you’re in Ocean City, you’re most likely shuffling the fam between the sand and Boardwalk — so save your mornings for something all your own. The Varsity Inn is a classic small-town diner that operates under a perpetual siege by locals and tourists who come here for big, filling, cheap plates of eggs, pancakes and toast. The Fractured Prune is famous for its crazy, delicious handmade doughnuts, in flavors like chocolate-covered cherry and French toast.

As for those two other meals of the day? If you can get off the beach, hit either Smitty’s Clam Bar or Charlie’s Bar, both in Somers Point and both cash-only. You go to Charlie’s for the wings and cold beer — and for the 70-odd years of corner-bar history. Smitty’s is a super-casual BYOB and a favorite among locals for the simple clam-shack menu and the fact that you’re encouraged to drink while waiting for a table.

Ventnor and Margate

In Ventnor, classic tastes and newer ones compete for attention. For the latter, hit Megu Sushi for well-assembled modern Japanese cuisine in an unassuming (read: sandwiched between a liquor store and an Italian restaurant) setting. If you’re tempted by the former, there’s chicken-and-chops at Johnny’s and crabcakes from Bobby Chez (which, despite the commercialization, is still first-rate). Or class it up at Steve & Cookie’s — just make sure to save room for dessert.

For daytime eats, go to Junior’s for corn dogs, or sit and wait for Dino’s Subs & Pizza, which delivers right to the beach and has a tuna hoagie that deserves its own national holiday.

Atlantic City

A.C. is home to most of what passes for big-name dining at the Shore — we’re talking Buddakan, Luke Palladino’s steakhouse, Iron Chef Garces and others — but these show-stopping temples aren’t the only go-tos for gastronauts.

New and independent places like chef Kevin Cronin’s Iron Room at the Atlantic City Bottle Company and the Vagabond Kitchen & Tap House are for those looking to keep away from the slot monkeys. Vagabond isn’t fine dining (no place with a sandwich of brisket, pulled pork and peppered bacon called the Three Way is aspiring to that kind of cred), but it’s got easy bar food and the largest beer selection in the area.

Still, if you find yourself falling into the gravity of the casinos, there are some restaurants worth checking out. Palladino has places at both Revel (Luke’s Kitchen & Marketplace) and Harrah’s (the eponymous Luke Palladino), though his most beloved is probably the original Luke Palladino — a 60-seat trattoria in nearby Linwood. There’s Il Mulino at the Taj Mahal for super-upscale Italian, and the new Eastwind offering mainland Chinese at Resorts.

You’ll find a smorgasbord of named chefs at Revel (Marc Forgione, for one), but Jose Garces has made it into a mini-Philly with outposts of Village Whiskey, Amada and Distrito, plus the new-ish dim-sum-and-dumplings joint Yubōka.

Read more from our Summer 2014 Jersey Shore Guide.

One of Us: Patti LaBelle

Illustration by Andy Friedman

Illustration by Andy Friedman

My name is … Patti LaBelle. I was born Patricia Louise Holte. Patti LaBelle came from Harold B. Robinson, a car dealer in Philadelphia, who was our manager at the time. He gave me the name. It means “beautiful.”

I live in … Wynnewood. I’ve lived here for about 30 years. It’s okay, you can tell people that. Let them come and find me.

I grew up in … Southwest Philadelphia, at 5819 Washington Avenue. Kenny Gamble and I used to hang out at my mother’s home. We were finding ourselves.

My mother always taught me … to be nice to others and to maintain my innocence. Don’t go out there all trashy and the wrong way, so that people wouldn’t perceive me as a hooker.

The prettiest place in Philadelphia … is Kelly Drive, where those little houses are. I don’t drive, so someone takes me there. I never wanted to drive. I tried once and I ran into a tree.

My secret junk-food craving … is Cheetos, hot and spicy.

When people call me a diva … they may be correct. I’ve paid the dues, as have Gladys, Aretha, Barbra and Bette. So it doesn’t bother me. It bothers me when they call some of the newcomers divas who should never deserve it. I’ve been a diva for about 30 years.

If you’re coming to my house for dinner … expect to eat like a pig. I wrote three cookbooks, and I just released a line of hot sauces, marinades and barbecue sauces at Walmarts across the country. I love to cook. I make special crabcakes and fried corn. Fried porgies. Mmm.

My favorite song I’ve ever recorded … is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” It’s so positive. I sang it for Coretta Scott King and her children, and it was beautiful. I promise you, I felt like I was flying, levitating.

To stay in shape … I walk my dog, Mr. Cuddles, my shih tzu. And I walk in my pool. I can’t swim. Otis Redding tried to teach me when we were touring years ago. He said, “Just let go.” Well, I let go, and I almost drowned him.

For my 70th birthday in May … I ate crabs in my backyard.

The thing many people get wrong about me … is that I’m soft and easy to trick, a pushover. But don’t get it twisted: I see everything that people are trying to do.

If you really want to annoy me … chew crunchy hard pretzels loudly. It drives me crazy. People who chew lettuce or pretzels and don’t even hear
themselves—it grosses me out. I can’t take it.

On Friday nights … I watch Shark Tank. And then I watch TCM movies on Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday night.

If you’re pouring me a drink, make it … iced tea. Diet. I used to drink red wine like crazy, but I stopped eight months ago, cold turkey. I never got high off of it, and I said, why am I putting all of these calories into my beautiful body? But now and then, if I have a bushel of crabs, I’ll have one beer: a Sapporo.

The biggest problem with the music industry today … is that they let all these sorry acts through.

The first concert I ever went to was … Diana Ross. Kenny and I went together.

My hair has always been … a wig. Onstage, at least. They are easy.

My relationship status is … empty. I’m not looking. He will find me. I’m not looking, honey. No looking for Miss Patti. But I’m open. Very much so.

Originally published in the July 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Philly Fighting Words: Why Everything You Think Is Great Actually Sucks

fighting-words-logo-940x540

There are some truths that Philadelphians hold to be self-evident: Wawa is awesome. Our cabs are crap. Water ice is the sweet summer nectar of the gods. But we found some people who disagree. (Prepare to be enraged.)

Online now:

Wawa? Meh.

Terry Gross Is Bad for the Country.

Parking in Philly Should Be Harder. And Cost Way More.

The Phanatic Is an Ass.

New Jersey Is Not Such an Armpit.

Water Ice Is Just Sugar Ice, People.

 

To read the rest of the heresies below, buy the July 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine, on newsstands now, or subscribe today.

Shut Up. Philly Cabs Are Great.

Enough With Rendell, Already.

Who Is Nick Foles?

Photograph by Nick Hallowell/Getty Images

Photograph by Nick Hallowell/Getty Images

Within the physical layout of Westlake High School is a space referred to as the Commons, with an insignia of a W in the middle of the floor. It was a hangout for seniors when Nick Foles was in his final year there in 2006. In the social pecking order at Westlake, the cooler you were, the more you gravitated to the middle.

That was the observation of Bron Hager. Hager was a latecomer to Westlake, which is located about 20 minutes west of downtown Austin. He had transferred in as a junior from a small private school, and the transition hadn’t been easy. Maybe he was too obsessed with cool, and the middle of the Commons was, well, the middle of the Commons. But Hager noticed something else about the middle: the one person who never wanted to be there.

In a school of remarkable achievement and affluence, Nick Foles perfectly fit the Westlake socioeconomic profile and was its BMOC. He was the quarterback of its football team, the Chaparrals, on their way to the Texas state championship game in the highest 5-A classification. He was equally gifted in basketball; he’d started as a freshman. His girlfriend, Lauren Farmer, was a standout cheerleader and homecoming queen. Nick Foles was the middle.

But Foles pawed around the edges. The only middle he was interested in was a football huddle, and even there, he led by the example of his toughness and arm, which gave receivers chest bruises. He cannoned balls 60 yards flat-footed, and had stand-up pocket presence. He never yelled. The idea of him trash-talking was unthinkable. He had an almost pathological aversion to drawing attention to himself, as if it was sinful. He didn’t have the requisite personality for it, anyway.

The truth was, Nick Foles was something of a nerd, a guy who hung around with a small posse of mostly non-football nerds — eggheads, kids who would go on to careers in finance and private equity and engineering. A hot Saturday night was getting together at his house to play video games like Call of Duty, or hanging out at Zilker Park on the shores of Lady Bird Lake. “Dude, come on, you’re the quarterback, go out and have some fun,” high-school teammate Matt Nader pleaded with him, fruitlessly.

He was the kid you wanted dating your daughter, because he would have her home at 9:30 after you said 10. He was socially awkward, with a naive and goofy sense of humor. He dressed as if he had never seen clothes before. His hair was oddly styled in an ersatz pageboy, curling below his ears like a drainage ditch and covering his forehead in uneven wisps, thin grime on a windshield. His face was a cup of Napoleon Dynamite and a tablespoon of golly-gee-willikers and a teaspoon of Gomer Pyle. He tried at school, and even took Latin.

During his senior spring-break trip to Mexico, while most everyone else spent the afternoon recovering from drinking, he jogged, because there was nothing for him to recover from. He threw a football around with a kid from the Austin area. When Nick asked the kid to name his favorite player, he said, “Nick Foles!” But the kid didn’t recognize that he was having a catch with the actual Nick Foles. And Nick Foles was too reticent to tell him.

THE NICK FOLES of today still bears a great resemblance to the Nick Foles of yesterday. The teeth are whiter; the hair is shorter; he sometimes wears Hugo Boss. Earlier this year he married former University of Arizona volleyball player Tori Moore — brunette, built, beautiful — and he even held a glass of champagne when he got engaged. But he is still quiet. He still leads by example. He still plays video games. He still wears the hair suit of humility. He still pathologically refuses to do anything that draws attention to him. It’s admirable. Actually, it’s boring. It’s unrealistic and annoying now, self-subsumption as a form of conceit.

When in only your second year, at the age of 24, you complete 64 percent of your passes for 2,891 yards and 27 touchdowns, with only two interceptions and a quarterback rating of 119.2 that’s better than every other National Football League quarterback, you’re going to garner attention. Fans, understandably, are going to want to know more about you, particularly since you’re still a mystery. It’s part of the territory. You’re in the pros. Deal with it.

I asked Nick Foles for an interview for this story. My request was rejected. According to his agent, Justin Schulman, Foles doesn’t want to do anything at this point that highlights his success and not the team collectively. Uh, it’s a little late for that, son, given that you’re the hottest-rising quarterback in the NFL. You are the attention draw.

I was asked to do the story because of the enormous common bond that Foles and I share: Texas high-school football. He’s defined by it, and I memorialized it in the book Friday Night Lights. The request for his time went from a couple of days to a couple of hours anywhere in the country. This story isn’t about wrenching sensitive secrets. It’s obvious and legitimate.

Particularly since Foles is the New Face of Philadelphia Sports in a sports-mad town, the newest promise to the Promised Land in the post-Donovan McNabb era. Is he capable of leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl one day? Was the 2013 season aberrant? How will he handle the pressure? Fans need to try to figure out what ticks inside him to remotely know any of the answers.

Instead, what has emerged is a one-dimensional choirboy caricature reflective of a player and a team and a league terrified of individuality. Foles is selling himself, and being sold by the born-again Eagles, as the anti-DeSean: contrite, non-charismatic, cautious, churchgoing, Caucasian. The perfect poster boy for Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and commissioner Roger Goodell’s vision of a new NFL theme park where players have no discernible personality and the Twitter account is laced with Glories to God.

I don’t believe this is all there is to Nick Foles. I definitely don’t believe it after spending extensive time in Austin talking to teammates and coaches and parents in the roots of Texas and high-school football that so define him. I now realize how different he is from every other player in the NFL. He has been forced to overcome much adversity on the football field and none off of it, because he grew up in a cocoon virtually devoid of African-Americans and poverty and hardship. He shares an economic background similar to that of fellow Texas product Johnny Manziel, only with a much richer family and without any of Manziel’s presence. And in a key defining moment in his life, perhaps the key moment, he was bearing witness to something that no one should ever have to see.

TO KNOW NICK FOLES, you go back to the base. Which means going to the community that encompasses Westlake High School. Its predominant zip code, 78746, is an Austin equivalent of Beverly Hills, 90210. Its population of some 27,000 is small and homogeneous and oppressively white. It’s an area where everyone pretty much melds into everyone else to create one big blob, men in button-downs or polo shirts with the insignia of the golf club like a one-percenter skull head, women trim and prim and pretty in the way that dressed-up mannequins can be. There is no downtown, as if the very idea is somehow creatively dangerous, too much expression. The median house value in 2011, $610,800, is roughly five times the Texas average. The median family income of $167,295 is almost three times the state norm. There are 82 families who own five or more vehicles, and 1,251 who live in homes with five or more bedrooms.

Foles’s spawning ground, Westlake High, was born out of the age of forced integration in the 1950s and ’60s, in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. Before the first year of classes at Westlake, in 1970, high-school students in the Eanes Independent School District were still being bused to Austin, since they had no high school of their own. When the area was faced with the choice of either joining the Austin school district, which would have meant forced integration of its schools, or remaining independent and building a high school, the answer wasn’t terribly surprising. The minority population of Westlake High in 2010 was roughly 18 percent. Of that, only one percent were African-American. Foles didn’t have a single black teammate when he played his senior season in 2006.

This says nothing about his or anyone else’s racial attitudes. It does say that Foles grew up in a bubble of entitlement and shockingly narrow social experience. “Nick was a privileged guy,” says Hager. “The guy had whatever he wanted.” So did pretty much everyone else. Only three percent of the roughly 2,500 students at Westlake are listed as economically disadvantaged, compared to the Texas average of 60 percent.

A large number of students at Westlake are the sons and daughters of lawyers and doctors and high-tech capitalists and private equity managers and business executives. The car of choice in the student parking lot is the Lexus. These are the overachieving kids of overachieving parents who pay gargantuan taxes, which is why the district superintendent makes $240,306 and the principal $140,000 and the football coach/athletic director $109,980 and the director of the band $94,800. Which is also the reason the school is superb academically, one of Newsweek’s best 100 in the nation, with a mean SAT score of 1214. Which is why Foles’s teammates went off to schools like Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, the University of Virginia and the Air Force Academy. It’s also why Westlake is reviled in Central Texas for being rich, snotty and white.

Other high schools don’t like Westlake, which lends a subtext of racial war to some of the football games it plays. The antagonism is further stirred by the legacy of the Westlake Chaparrals, undersized players who outsmart and out-condition opponents. The school won a state championship in 1996 under Drew Brees, has been to the finals seven times, and won its district 18 years in a row. And never lost to archrival Austin High until, somewhat ignominiously, Foles was a senior. The school had four players in the pros last year — Foles, Brees, Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Kyle Adams. That’s the most of any high school in Texas.

No one will ever say that Nick Foles is snotty. But he is obviously white, and his family is rich — very rich, well into the many millions, based on Securities and Exchange Commission filings. It isn’t farfetched speculation to think that he comes from the richest family of any player in the NFL.

His high-school teammate Matt Nader tells me that the best way to assess the rising fortunes of the Foles family was by observing the improvements made to their house over the years. The 6,708-square-foot mini-mansion, with a pool and spa, is in the winding Candylandesque hills off Westlake Drive, at the end of a cul-de-sac in an upscale housing development where even the flower petals fluttering onto the Elysian lawns look purposely placed. Currently assessed at $1.5 million, it was hardly a rancher when the Foles family bought it in the late ’90s. But over the years, the basement was finished and a new garage was put in, according to Travis County appraisal records. Then came the uncovered deck and a first-floor porch almost the entire length of the house.

The money was made by Foles’s father, Larry. Said to be a man of sober seriousness and infinite ambition, he has had remarkable success in the brutal hit-and-mostly-miss field of restauranteering. His son has inherited his relentless work ethic; during June and July, when Westlake players work out on their own, it isn’t unusual for them to hit the weight room. Teammates watched agape as Nick Foles toiled in an hours-long regimen of throwing and running in the lugubrious Texas heat.

It was Larry, better than any coach or recruiter or pro scout, who knew how good Nick could be if he was pushed. So Larry pushed, perhaps because his whole life has been about pushing. He was the kind of parent who tried to make not only every practice at Westlake High, but also every junior-high practice. As fellow Chaparral parent Paul Nader says, perhaps euphemistically, pushing sometimes meant “tough love.” Bron Hager says that Larry was always ready to go to war for Nick, but war of course is never pretty: “He’s Nick’s toughest critic.” Hager remembers sitting next to Larry at the Arizona-USC game in 2009: “There wasn’t a more-pissed parent.” (Nick threw for 239 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner late in the fourth quarter.)

Raised in Petal, Mississippi, Larry Foles had nothing growing up. He told hiladelphia Daily News Eagles beat reporter Les Bowen (Larry Foles and his wife, Melissa, also declined to be interviewed for this story) that his parents split when he was 13, prompting him to drop out of high school and move to Oregon in the early ’60s to work manual labor for 90 cents an hour. He returned to Mississippi and became the general manger of a Shoney’s.

Then he went into the ownership side, with partner Guy Villavaso. The two became a hit parade, using Austin as their incubator. Their greatest accomplishments — Eddie V’s Prime Seafood Grille, with eight locations, and Wildfish Seafood, with three — were sold along with the brands in 2011 to the huge conglomerate Darden Restaurants for $59 million in cash.

Larry Foles seemed to view his son’s college career the way he did a restaurant: location, location, location. If one fails, you move and try someplace else until something works. When Nick signed a letter of intent with Arizona State University before his senior season, it was Larry who made initial contact with the school, as opposed to the other way around. When Nick decommitted from Arizona State and went to Michigan State University in 2007, Larry got an apartment in East Lansing. When Nick was deciding whether to leave Michigan State after a year, it was Larry who became his spokesman. When Nick then went to the University of Arizona, it made sense because of Larry’s significant restaurant holdings in the state.

Nick’s deep sense of faith and generosity of spirit to others come from his mother. When Hager, the son of former Eagles linebacker Britt Hager, came to Westlake, he hated the school, and the school hated him back. Foles reached out to him, befriending him without noblesse oblige, opening up his home to him and making him feel part of something.

“He’s just a very down-to-earth guy,” says Justin Wang, who was a kicker on the team and Foles’s best friend in high school, part of that quasi-nerd posse. “We’re not quiet people. We’re people who like to hang out. We were just never into going crazy and partying all the time.” Hager did manage to corrupt Foles just a bit, late in their senior year: Foles conducted an ultimately losing battle with cognac and vermouth and ended up facedown on the carpet, mumbling incoherently to his girlfriend on his cellphone.

It seems doubtful it has happened since.

Which is a shame.

THE GREATEST ATHLETES all have arrogance; no matter how thick the playbook of humility, it still seeps through. You can see it and you can feel it. Except with Foles.

“Every time I ask him how things are going, it’s always about the team,” says Wang. “All this success hasn’t changed who he is.”

Michael Vick is a great guy. It was an extraordinary team effort. The offensive line deserves all the credit.

Give it a little bit of a rest, kid.

Nobody can deny Nick Foles’s toughness, at six-foot-five and 240 pounds. He played the last 12 games of his senior year at Westlake High with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder without telling anyone or complaining about the pain.

But there’s still an aura of softness about him, no fire. Maybe it’s the hee-haw face. Maybe it’s the stream of selfless platitudes about others. Maybe it’s that at 25, he’s still very much a boy among men with the Eagles, with no interest in the extracurricular world of clubbing. Or maybe it’s the reality that if he fails in football, he has the likely cushion of going into an enormously successful family business. It’s the intangible hunger factor that appears to be missing.

There is some danger in judging Foles from his outward temperament. Derek Long, Foles’s former head coach at Westlake, believes he’s far more observant than he ever lets on. High-school teammates describe an inner confidence hard to pinpoint, but always there.

The most consistent element of Foles’s career has been doubt about him: He has never succumbed to discouragement, even though he’s had plenty of it.

It goes back to his sophomore year in high school, when he was being groomed to be Westlake’s starting quarterback. Foles was also an excellent basketball player, with a chance of playing Division I. He wasn’t sure about his degree of commitment to football in a program that, as with all Texas high-school football, doesn’t welcome indecision. Teammates remember him being hurt a lot of the time. “What’s the deal with Foles?” was the sentiment of wide receiver Staton Jobe. “Is he going to be injured his whole career?” Adds head coach Long: “We felt like he was going to be able to step in, but we weren’t sure. … We knew he could throw, but there’s a lot more to being a quarterback.”

Then Foles, who has a pattern of reducing expectations to nothing only to exceed them since there no longer are any, stepped it up. He started as a junior. He became a star in Texas. His senior year, he led Westlake to the state championship finals against Southlake Carroll, which was undefeated and ultimately named the top-ranked team in the country. Westlake actually led at the half, 15-7, on its way to a major upset. But then, early in the second half, came a most unusual play that not even Chip Kelly has installed and that bears mentioning:

Southlake Carroll quarterback Riley Dodge, operating out of the shotgun, projectile-vomited right before the snap. This stunned the Westlake defense (talking about it today, some players still seem stunned), which resulted in Dodge throwing a touchdown pass. Westlake was never the same after that and lost, 43-29.

Foles broke the career passing-yardage record at Westlake held by Drew Brees, throwing for 5,658 yards. But he wasn’t a hot recruit. The rap was that he was too slow, a system quarterback in a school that has produced nine quarterbacks who have gone on to play that position in college football since 1992 — at best, he was a backup. Plus, it was the age of the dual threat and Vince Young. Duke made an offer, which back then was slightly better than being chosen last in a pickup game. Texas El Paso sought him out, which was the Gulag. The major Texas schools weren’t interested. Signing with Arizona State became a mess when the coach who wanted him, Dirk Koetter, was fired and replaced by Dennis Erickson, who in turn was so impressed by Foles that he went out and recruited another quarterback.

After walking away from Arizona State, Foles signed late in the recruiting season with Michigan State. He got into the first game of the season in 2007, and that was all. He was homesick and going through a bad breakup with his girlfriend. He was competing with Kirk Cousins (a redshirt) and Brian Hoyer, both future pros. Before his sophomore season, head coach Mark Dantonio signed quarterback transfer Keith Nichol. And Foles was on the move again. “I didn’t think he was going to make it,” says Hager. “I don’t know where he got his strength to make it.” Adds Justin Wang: “He just took it in stride. His faith allowed him to stay strong.”

Foles transferred to Arizona. He battled with Matt Scott for the starting job and lost it, until Scott played poorly and Foles got his chance. The team went to two consecutive bowl games under Foles, in 2009 and 2010. His senior year was a team disaster. He put up great numbers, throwing for 4,334 yards and 28 touchdowns. But Arizona won only four games. Head coach Mike Stoops was fired in the middle of the season.

The newest rap was that Foles had played in a gimmicky offense with few sophisticated reads. But he was named to the Senior Bowl and, in his typical pattern, was so lackluster in practices that several draft experts showered praise instead on Brandon Weeden. Foles then played, with the best performance of any quarterback, and was thought to be a possible first-round pick. Then he made the single worst mistake of his career. He entered the NFL combine.

THE COMBINE IS A monument to the absurdity of how NFL teams judge college players, depending on the 40-yard dash and the vertical leap and the broad jump as if actual game experience is irrelevant. It is also beyond demeaning, with pasty-looking men in over-saturated polo shirts and guts that spill well beyond the belt line timing the specimens and whispering conspiratorially to each other like bidders at a horse auction. The only thing they don’t do is open up mouths with thumb and forefinger to inspect teeth, followed by spreading the cheeks for signs of unauthorized use.

Among quarterbacks entering the draft in 2012, Robert Griffin III ran the 40-yard dash in 4.41, Russell Wilson in 4.55, Andrew Luck in 4.67 and Ryan Tannehill in 4.62. Foles’s time was 5.14 seconds — the worst of the quarterbacks who entered. Pro Football Weekly called him a “lumbering pocket passer” who gets “panicked in the pocket” and said he “is consistently off the mark” and “is not an inspiring field general,” on a par with former fifth-round pick John Skelton of the Arizona Cardinals. But former Eagles coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg saw something in Foles that no one else did, and they drafted him in the third round.

Foles played in seven games in 2012, starting six of them because of a Michael Vick injury. He put up mediocre numbers typical of a rookie. “Everything was clouded by Michael Vick,” says Nader, recounting the ensuing chatter. “‘He doesn’t belong here.’ ‘He doesn’t belong in this type of offense.’ ‘Who is Nick Foles?’”

He was the same Nick Foles who a year later threw for an NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes against the Oakland Raiders and came out of nowhere to be the league’s phenomenon.

Foles still doesn’t inspire full faith among fans. He shouldn’t. One-year wonders in professional sports form an endless chain. He was unknown last year, and the unknown is often a player’s best asset until it becomes known. When Chip Kelly talks about Foles as the franchise quarterback, it always feels like he’s lying, because he’s both good at it and a smug wiseass.

Foles isn’t a pressure quarterback. He lost the state championship in high school, lost both of his bowl games, and looked confused in the second half of the loss to the New Orleans Saints in last year’s playoffs. In 17 pro starts, he’s thrown only one game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter or overtime. (Compare that to Andrew Luck, who threw six in his first two seasons.) Sometimes he just flings it up there in the hope that someone is around to catch it, although without DeSean Jackson, that’s become far less likely. The Eagles also played a weak schedule last year.

And yet.

IT WAS HOT that September night in 2006. When people talk about what happened, this is the first thing they invariably mention — how hot it was.

The game-time temperature in College Station was 88 degrees, with 52 percent humidity. Playing football in the heat is unbearable. But there’s something about Texas heat that makes it even more unbearable.

Not that it particularly mattered. Westlake came into the game undefeated and ranked sixth in the state. Its opponent, A&M Consolidated, was undefeated and ranked number four. It was the game of the week in Texas.

There was buzz about Foles. But in terms of future college potential on Westlake, offensive tackle Matt Nader caused much more excitement. Nader was six-foot-six and 300 pounds, and he pretty much threw defenders around at will. He also had astounding lateral movement for a player that size, and may have been faster than Foles. Nader had been second-team all-state as a junior, and was so talented that he had already committed to the University of Texas. Mack Brown wanted him badly.

A&M scored early in the game to take a 7-0 lead. Westlake came back with a 16-play drive that consumed roughly seven minutes. As Paul Nader and Barbara Bergin — he a nephrologist, she an orthopedic surgeon — watched their son, he seemed uncharacteristically sluggish, not firing off the line, even getting tossed around a little bit. They figured it was the heat, or maybe nervousness.

Foles and Nader came off the field. Nader went to the bench with the other offensive linemen. Offensive line coach Steve Ramsey came over to critique what had gone right and what had gone wrong during the drive. An ice towel was placed on the back of Nader’s neck. He suddenly fell and landed on his back with his cleats still propped up on the bench. It was so bizarre that Hager thought he was joking and told him to get the fuck up.

But Nader wasn’t moving, still in that Humpty-Dumpty position.

Nick Foles watched in the stasis of the night, where the humidity had now risen to 67 percent. He had played with Nader for six years, starting in junior high school. They were fellow co-captains. They perfectly complemented each other, Nader’s emotion a rabbit’s foot to Nick and Nick’s steadiness the same to Matt. Now he was watching his beloved teammate still not move.

Nader’s parents had their eyes trained on the game until somebody told them that Matt was down. They ran out of the bleachers, through 4,500 fans in silence as loud as any roar, except for the piercing scream of Nader’s girlfriend.

His father felt his pulse.

“Barb, Matt’s not breathing.”

Paul Nader did chest compression. Barbara did mouth-to-mouth. He didn’t revive.

Because this was Westlake, other doctors who were the fathers of players poured out of the stands. Allen Dornak and Greg Kronberg, both anesthesiologists. Cardiologist Paul Tucker, the father of future Baltimore Ravens placekicker Justin. They took over for Matt Nader’s parents. They checked for a pulse.

Still nothing.

Larry and Melissa Foles were there. They watched, like their son. A whisper shuddered through the sidelines that Matt Nader was dead.

By some miracle, Westlake carried an automated external defibrillator to games. There was no state requirement at the time to have it on the field; it had been given as a gift. It had never been used — another piece of equipment lugged around by the trainers. But it was charged and ready to go.

Tucker applied the pads of the defibrillator, with its rush of electricity.

Paul Nader watched. He could tell it hadn’t worked. He turned to his fellow physicians in a desperate last measure.

“Aren’t you going to create an air path for him?”

It didn’t happen.

There came a pulse.

He came to consciousness. An hour later at the hospital, there was nothing wrong with Nader. He was fully alert. It all seemed so freakish and unreal. Except that he would never play another down of football. He had gone through ventricular fibrillation, a condition in which the heart stops pumping blood. While there was no certainty it would happen again, the risk was too great. An implantable cardioverter defibrillator was inserted into Nader’s chest, to control irregular heartbeats.

Nick Foles knew the power of football dreams better than anyone, and how awful it must be to give them up when it isn’t your choice. He sat with Nader afterward at a hospital in Austin. They talked about what happened, to the extent that Nader wanted to talk about it, because Foles was (and is) never one to take anyone out of his comfort zone. Foles seemed almost philosophical, in his own way. “He just wanted to make sure I was okay,” says Nader today. “That I still recognized there’s more to life than football. Everybody has to stop playing it at some point.”

So maybe Nick Foles doesn’t have the edge of Peyton Manning. Or the come-from-behind fearlessness of Tom Brady. Or the gravitas of Drew Brees. Or the feet of Russell Wilson, or Colin Kaepernick, or …

He carries with him the fragility embedded into everything. The dividing line you never know. It’s something that no championship ring can ever teach him and few NFL players truly understand, clinging to their careers long after they’re over.

“He has remained true to his natural person,” Matt Nader says, “and that goes to show you how strong of a kid he is.”

But unless he stops being chickenshit and goes into the middle, he will never guide the Eagles to the place that only tantalizes us. We are tired, Nick. We are already dependent on you. So man up to be the man.

Sidle up to a bar on the road and order a slug of single malt, not a double shot of milk. It’s okay to address LeSean McCoy as “Shady” instead of “Sir Shady.” Don’t ever publicly say again that your favorite movie is The Lion King.

Acolytes get to heaven. Strut gets you to the Super Bowl.

Originally published in the July 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

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