It’s not even noon on a windy Saturday in Philadelphia, and Larry Poff is trying to get me drunk.
“The Poffer” is a god for modern Philadelphia fans: a celebrity revived through a post-game video from a decade ago. You might know him as the face of the drunken-fan video Eagles Twitter has kicked around the internet all season.
Every part of Poff’s life seems entwined with this team. Vince Papale, the Eagles legend, taught Poff’s wife history at Interboro High School. Former Philly mayor and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who used to give televised postgame commentary, often wondered aloud during broadcasts where Poff was when the Eagles lost, craving his reactions. Poff is a tailgate king, he’s “our baby,” a patron saint of a bleeding green nation.
So even if you’re on the job, if Poff pours you a Bud Light (which he is drinking, and by the time we are done he will have slammed several, and the logo of which is his phone background), you drink a Bud Light. Or, at least, a Yuengling.
“You sure it’s not a little early?” I ask him.
“Noon?” he scoffs, ruffling his salt and pepper mustache. “C’mon.”
I oblige. We’re sitting at Slainte, an Irish Pub near Drexel University’s campus, to the hum of “Fuck Up Some Commas,” from Future, a song Poff does not know.
Like many natives, the upcoming week has been expected for a lifetime. The Eagles are playing Tom Brady for the Super Bowl. Poff is retiring after 33 years as a union carpenter. The next day he’s going to Philly’s famed Wing Bowl. Then he’s sitting in his home in Lester, Pa. and watching his Birds. The week hasn’t happened yet, but he’s describing it already as the “best week of my life.”
The lead-up to this week has been indescribable. I have rarely seen Philly this spirited. Being raised in North Philly, it has always been clear: This city is primed to act up. It does not need an additional stimulant. We will climb poles and drive dune buggies up museum steps and enjoy pandemonium, as it is our absurd birthright as citizens along the Schuylkill River. Yet, it feels different this year. Truthfully, we always say it does. Though, this year contains a rare excitement. It does feel different.
Every fan base has its wahoos and crazies. But every fan base isn’t Philly. Every crew doesn’t rumble into another stadium 3,000 miles away and make it an extra home game. They don’t travel to Chicago just to interrupt a baseball game for a few seconds of “Eagles” chants. That being said, everyone doesn’t drive dune buggies up landmarks. We are a flawed people. Say what you will about Philly, and people like Poff will lean into it.
“That was something,” Poff says about the Eagles’ win in the NFC Championship, their first in 13 years. “Lot of beers. If you’ve seen some of the videos of me, you know there’s some beers.”
Against Atlanta, Poff chipped his tooth eating beef jerky and tried to put it in his pocket. Reporters saw him. Everyone knows Poff now. So he did an impromptu interview with half a tooth. The reporters chuckled. Poff went back home and taped the segment to watch and for a few minutes forgot he still was missing a cap in his bottom row.
After being regaled by his stories, I ask him what he’ll do if the Birds win the Bowl. I’m reminded there isn’t an “if,” rather a “when.” But even Poff tries to hide his confidence. “I don’t want to jinx them,” he says. But he thinks. Smiles. Takes a hearty chug of some Bud. And kicks superstition away.
“I just wanna watch the game and cheer them on,” Poff says. “But after, I’ll probably drive down here and come to Philly. This city is built around football and the Eagles. It’s gonna be crazy when they win.”
Later that day, I walk to 15th Street and Snyder Avenue, a mile from Lincoln Financial Field. There are men on row home porches, puffing boagies and speaking Italian.
I go into Lattanzio’s Linn Cleaners to meet owner, Joe Lattanzio, who brings me upstairs to the second floor, which is a portal into 1947 South Philly. Lattanzio has washed the Eagles’ jerseys for nearly two decades. He even pressed Andy Reid’s pants.
“52-inch waist, Andy,” he says. “Nice guy, though.”
The Eagles came to Lattanzio when his baker, Louie Carangi, recommended the shop to a customer of his: team equipment manager John Hatfield. Hatfield started the account with Lattanzio weeks later. When Hatfield left the team in 2012, he appreciated Lattanzio so much that Hatfield still brings a few loaves of bread by Lattanzio’s shop weekly, a nod to their meeting. Greg Delimitros became the new equipment manager, but the shop stayed on the Eagles’ books.
Last Wednesday, Lattanzio got his “craziest order ever”: around 100 brand new jerseys and 200 special jackets for the Super Bowl, all needing Super Bowl symbols or tailoring. A police escort accompanied the clothes and the delivery back to the Nova Care Complex where the team practices.
Lattanzio thought his alarm system and a simple drive down Broad Street would be enough, but the team insisted on a police presence. They were right to worry, somewhat: Kids tried to swarm the truck with the jerseys. Employees asked if they could have an extra jersey, the same employees who tried to slip paper game plans in Reid’s pants before games.
“These people are nuts,” Lattanzio says. “We’ve hid it all these years. They’re foaming at the mouth, these people, to see this stuff. Guys are saying ‘Can I touch it? Can I touch it?’ Well the guy ain’t here! It’s just his uniform.”
Like everyone else around West Passyunk, he’s been an Eagles fan since he was a kid. He most relates to Reid, whom he has never met. Lattanzio’s son, like Reid’s, overdosed on heroin, another tragedy affecting a city that has been called heroin capitol of America. Lattanzio starts muffling his words explaining what happened. It destroyed his life. His son died at 20 years old.
“You’re never the same,” he says. “People don’t understand it. I have a soft spot in my heart for Andy.”
It’s hard to talk about anything else, but this is how Lattanzio identifies with this team. It is how he continues to watch knowing what he’s lost.
Sitting at a wooden table, Lattanzio tries not to cry. We spend some moments quietly sitting in the sunlight, which creeps into the room. Then he looks up for a second.
“You like Andy?” he asks me.
“Yeah, man,” I say. “Love Andy.”
“Greg,” who goes by “Violations Greg” on Twitter and runs a blog called “Jawnville,” ran out of the stadium to Broad and Shunk Streets around 10 p.m. the night of the last win and posted a picture of two guys holding a “Fuck Millie” sign. Millie is Minnesota’s adorable grandma who went viral for cheering for the Vikings at age 99. After the photo blew up, Greg wouldn’t apologize when Minnesota fans were upset.
“It’s not about Millie; she’s a sweet old woman. We’d buy her beers or make her screwdrivers if she was at the tailgate,” he tells me. But he also wasn’t going to let Philly get disrespected, however he defines that.
Millie never said anything about Philly. But that’s now how it works here, sometimes. Other fans have played up the underdog status. The NFL posted early social media clips of a Vikings-Patriots Super Bowl. This was, truly, bound to happen. Millie just became a well-known casualty.
“People saying ‘we need counseling,’ ‘you people are pieces of shit,’ ‘what would Carson Wentz say?’ Everyone in Minnesota is a Patriots fan now,” he says. “Fuck this. Fuck Millie. That’s why that sign resonates with people.”
Most fans are more restrained than “Greg.” There are kids at Saint Joe’s Prep in North Philly who are part of a “Trust The Process” club, celebrating Sixers and Philly fandom, who have never experienced the last few weeks in Philly.
Nicholas Mattera, a junior, described it as a blur. “It’s surreal to finally have a chance to get a championship compared to watching this when I was eight or nine,” he says. “I have no idea how I’m going to feel.” Jacob DeAnnutis, a 16-year-old and season ticket holder, echoes that. He was three the last time the Eagles were in the Super Bowl. “You know how Eagles fans are: pissed off and all negative. But everyone is high-fiving and going nuts and best friends. It’s pretty cool.”
I try to explain all of this collective, yet different, hype to Gayle Saunders and Eric “Erock” Emanuele over crab fries at Chickie’s & Pete’s on Packer Avenue. Saunders and Emanuele run a popular podcast named 4th and Jawn and lead one of the most publicized, and diverse, tailgates outside of Lincoln Financial Field.
They met at training camp in 2008, have podcasted for a few years, and both have blogged for almost a decade. They’ve traveled to multiple cities with the Philly Phaithful, even getting picked up in Los Angeles by a fan in a decked-out Eagles van.
They’ve been with this team for life. When Saunders was 12 living in Connecticut, a classmate sent him a Randall Cunningham action figure with the legs broken off in the mail to taunt him. Emanuele’s fandom runs so deep his mom rented out a bar for the Super Bowl to watch with family and friends.
“When you look at the team and see ourselves in the mirror, there’s no bigger connection,” Emanuele says. “That’s why Eagles fans were taking over stadiums more than any other year. I feel at peace with everything we’ve done for this team this year. They’ll get the job done. I’m not a religious man, but it’s in God’s hands.”
For a while the two men discuss how fans have been casted as “Negadelphians,” a refrain in Philly fandom that highlights pessimistic residents. Saunders asks Emanuele if he would be a changed person if the Eagles finally win a big game.
He’s silent for a moment.
“I’ll be a changed person. I can’t lie,” Saunders finally says. “I said it with my chest in Week 8 that they were going to the Super Bowl, and we are here. When they win, I’ll run down Broad Street. I’ll drop on my knees. I’ll cry my eyes out.”
The next day I am sharing a drink at Finn’s Ale House on South 12th Street with Shamus Clancy.
The last two years of Eagles fandom defined his life. Two years ago, Clancy was having a rough spell. He wasn’t going to class. He didn’t understand it at the time, but he was failing out of the University of Pennsylvania and wouldn’t graduate on time. He couldn’t leave bed. Penn gave him a medical leave. The diagnosis was depression and bipolar disorder. He’d struggled with depression before, but never like this. He felt he wasn’t completely blameless and he “fucked his life up.”
He lied to his friends and parents about graduation. Penn connected him to therapists, and things slowly got better. He started working construction that summer. “I’m a blue-collar guy from South Philly, but these aren’t construction hands.” Things were rocky. Then the Eagles drafted Carson Wentz.
The Eagles improved. Clancy started bringing headphones to work. Radio soothed him. Football podcasts got him out of bed. “It made everything bearable.”
Clancy eventually told his parents. He dropped weight. He went back to Penn and graduated, though returning to school was rougher. But nothing mattered as long as the Eagles were winning.
“It was like hearing your favorite song on repeat for months in a row. It was like hitting 21 on blackjack repeatedly,” Clancy said. “It was the worst year of my life. But it seemed poetic that as I was getting better, so were they.”
Then came this season. His happiness skyrocketed. The tailgates were the “best parties of my life.” He went to Los Angeles to watch Wentz’s last start before injury. He’s not anchored to a Super Bowl win now, because the Eagles gave him something he never expected.
“I could have easily killed myself. But I’m here. It’s no longer a thought on the table. I felt like as I was trying to redeem myself to friends and family, and this team redeemed me through those traumatic moments as a fan,” he said.
Hearing this, I think about many Philadelphians. There are people like Clancy whose life was literally tied to this team. There are folks like Lattanzio whose pain will always sting, but had joy ironing a man’s pants because he could relate to his hurt. There are guys like Poffer who saw Philly fandom redefine his entire life.
The Eagles have often used a tag line saying, “We all we got. We all we need.” It is not just fodder used for creative marketing schemes to excite hungry fans for fun football. It is also the string that, at times, holds the lives of this city together: a football-fevered city that has always prayed for a Super Bowl, one that too often has found a way to escape us. Everyone has different reasons to love this team. So when the game clock ran out in the NFC Championship game numerous fans cried watching the Eagles advance. Clancy was one of them.
“This last weekend I was crying when they were winning,” Clancy said. “I was crying my eyes out. There is absolutely nothing better than this. We both did it. They did it, and I did it.”