Why Philly Matters: Fits Like a Glove

Philadelphia has long been derided for its overarching parochialism. But could it be that’s actually what makes us … great? JOE QUEENAN finds the answer in a lost baseball glove, a hidden cafe, and the joy of watching the Eagles with a dying man

SEPTEMBER A YEAR ago, I got together with my 20-year-old son Gordon, my best friend Rob Weiss, and Rob’s father Joe to watch the Eagles opener on TV. I had driven down from the northern suburbs of New York; Gordon had taken the train in from Lancaster, where he was a junior at Franklin & Marshall; and Rob had motored across the Tacony-Palmyra from Mount Laurel. As for Joe, he was lying in a coma at Holy Redeemer, where he would die four days later. It was a pretty deep coma, because Joe, 83, never stirred once even though the three of us were whooping and hollering and swearing up and down in his room as the Eagles fumbled away two punts and lost a game they should have won to the Packers. One of the nurses suggested that we try to keep it to a low roar, as a lot of the patients on the floor were in pretty bad shape. But so were we; after all, Greg Lewis was returning kicks.

If he had been roused from his deep slumber, Joe probably would have reminded us of another game, when the Packers came to town and Chuck Bednarik brought down Jim Taylor at the eight yard line and the Eagles won a game they should have lost, the greatest game in the history of the franchise. My son, born in New York, knew what Bednarik said to Taylor as the final gun sounded, because he’d heard the story from Mr. Weiss. (Bednarik’s infamous quote supposedly went “The game is over, you fucking bastard. You lost.”) Joe always suited up on Sunday mornings in a pair of socks and a sweater dyed that weird shade of kelly green that the Eagles diplomatically deep-sixed a generation ago. Joe was our touchstone, our archivist, our link to a golden past. He had been present at the creation, when (green) giants roamed the Earth. We had merely heard about them.

Gordon and I knew that we were saying goodbye to Mr. Weiss, that we would never again sit together in a stadium and watch the Eagles demolish the ’Skins or slip past the Bears. But it wasn’t the gloomy occasion it might have been, because it was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in September and the four of us were doing what we liked to do best: watching the Eagles. If they won, that was great; if they lost, we would get them next week. This wasn’t really about football. It was about something else. There are few things in life more important than professional football, but this was one of them.

The first Sunday in September this year, Gordon, Rob and I reconvened to watch the Eagles stomp the Rams. When I told people in Tarrytown, New York — where I live — that I was driving down to Philadelphia on Sunday to watch the season opener, a few asked if I had good seats. Yes, I replied: on the couch at my best friend’s house, with my son sitting across the room and the spirit of Joe Weiss engulfing us. The best seats in the house.