PHILADELPHIA — Dreams do come true.
Faithful fans of the Philadelphia Eagles, who captured their first Super Bowl championship Feb. 4, also captured the hearts of up to 2 million people who packed the row-house-lined streets and grand boulevards of the city for a parade under a bright, cloudless sky Feb. 8.
In a cathartic outpouring of passion borne from generations of coming oh-so-close but no further, parents and grandparents, children and teens, friends and strangers from every walk of life danced and sang together the Eagles’ fight song all morning.
The parade of more than a dozen open-air buses started on a five-mile-long route late morning in South Philadelphia, past City Hall and by early afternoon ended at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Along the way players and coaches, led by Eagles’ owner Jeffrey Lurie and head coach Doug Pederson, held the silver Lombardi Trophy high in the gleaming sunshine amid the rolling, deafening roars of the crowds that lined along the route.
They had started out for center city as early as 3 a.m. from their homes by train, bus or car to stream into the city from its neighborhoods, its suburbs and states near and far.
One of those travelers from out of state was Bernie McKarra, 48, and his son Jacob, 11, from Christ Our King Parish in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, in the Diocese of Charleston. They drove 11 hours to the parade in Philadelphia.
“My dad died about eight years ago. He’s looking down and smiling now,” said McKarra, who like many, if not most, of the parade-goers is the center of a generational devotion to the Eagles.
When his beloved Eagles wound down Super Bowl LII for the 41-33 win over the New England Patriots, “We were all thinking, ‘Finally!’ It was cool,” he told CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
McKarra said he watched the game with friends and family at his home, joined by friends from the Philadelphia area who, like him, also are transplants to South Carolina.
Closer to Philadelphia and making the trek into the parade was Mark Marine, a resident of Conshohocken and member of St. Matthew Parish, who came with his wife and son.
“I have relatives in Boston and we go back and forth. They torment me,” he said hours before the start of the parade. “Now it’s my turn. It was a lot of fun on Sunday.”
A longtime season-ticket holder when the Eagles played at Veterans Stadium from 1971 through 2003, and a patron of the infamous 700 level, Marine recalled decades of Eagles’ memories that he is passing down to his son Mark Jr. Chief among them was the 1980 NFC championship game against the archrival Dallas Cowboys, leading to the Eagles’ first Super Bowl appearance in January 1981.
With the NFC championship game played in single-digit temperatures and resulting in a 20-7 win over Dallas, Marine best remembers the tailgate party of that day.
“It was so cold, the ham froze,” he said. “So did the keg of beer.”
Before the Eagles faced the Patriots in Minneapolis, a few Catholic bishops placed friendly wagers on the outcome.
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput and Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston wagered $100 donations to aid the poor in their respective archdioceses regardless of the victor. So even though the Eagles won, the poor in both cities were winners too.
Two Ukrainian Catholic prelates made a friendly culinary wager: Archbishop Stefan Soroka of Philadelphia, metropolitan of U.S. Ukrainian Catholics, and Bishop Paul P. Chomnycky of Stamford, Connecticut.
The archbishop said if his Eagles lost, he’d provide a luncheon for the Stamford chancery staff highlighted with Philadelphia cheesesteaks. Chomnycky said if his Patriots lost, he’d provide the Philadelphia chancery staff with a luncheon “with Boston cream pie as the dessert.”
Father John Fields, archdiocesan spokesman, told Catholic News Service Feb. 8 that details on the meal were being finalized.
Next door to Philadelphia in New Jersey, the Eagles couldn’t have a bigger fan than Bishop David M. O’Connell of Trenton, a native of the City of Brotherly Love. Shortly after the game, he commented on the profession of faith heard on the winner’s stand when the team received the hard-fought trophy.
“I was struck by the Eagles’ speakers after the game. … All gave glory and thanks to God, a powerful and impressive prayer that showed the Eagles’ priorities,” O’Connell remarked.
“This has been such a great year for the Eagles with an incredible finish in Minneapolis!” he said. “A long time coming, for sure, but ‘the Birds’ did it and Philly and its neighbors are going crazy. Sunday night there were even fireworks all around Trenton. I hosted some priests for the game and all the basic Philly food groups were represented: soft pretzels, cheesesteaks, Yuengling!”
Back on the parade route, most of the crowd consisted of young adults and teens, owing to the high-decibel roar rising up hours before the parade as Jumbotron televisions replayed the Super Bowl game to cheers during the biggest plays. They’d already seen those unforgettable moments but gleefully relived them with newfound friends.
Joe and Lindsey Federowicz had watched the Super Bowl nervously with their 3-year-old daughter, Cassidy, whom they’d brought well bundled to the parade from their home in Harleysville and Corpus Christi Parish.
Amid the excitement and press of the crowds from their vantage point, the family remembered the tension of one of the most exciting Super Bowl games ever.
“There wasn’t a moment” during the taut game when Joe could feel confident the Eagles would win, he said, “not until the clock read zero.”
But they did win, as improbable as it may have seemed in the beginning of the 2017 season.
This 16-3 campaign capped by its first Super Bowl championship for the 85-year-old franchise had ended, blessedly, with a parade that drew folks from all walks of life. They took trains, buses, cars and even, in the case of Renee Badeau of North Philadelphia, a walk down Broad Street from her home with her father, sister and niece.
And what a scene they found. Observers said the parade and ending pep rally may have been unprecedented among American cities in its size, outpouring of emotion and by its end, an apparent absence of bad actors. Car horns and hoarse voices drowned out even mega-watt pop music on speakers.
The sustained passion was punctuated by explosions of joy as team leaders spoke to the millions who showed gratitude and joy as thick as a lineman.
The parade would be an indelible memory that, for those who believe year after year, generation after generation, dreams do come true. They’re made yet sweeter for the wait.
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Gambino is director and general manager of CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Rayanne Bennett in Trenton contributed to this story.