Suddenly, Philadelphia Has a Major Identity Crisis

But what next? Will this force a reassessment by Philly fans? What will a Super Bowl victory do to their outlook? Will they become more assured, more generous, more impatient? Will this stoke their passion or quell it?

“I think the Philadelphia fans will always be the same passionate (sometimes obnoxious) fans they always were, win or lose,” Anne Clark, the matriarch of a family of ardent Eagles fans, said in an email during the game.

“Perhaps it should” change the fans’ mind-set, Jack Long, 69, a retired Philadelphia firefighter and paramedic, said at the gym. “You’re no longer the underdog. You’re just another team that needs to show up and spend the money to win.”


A cake on sale at Isgro Pastries in the Bella Vista neighborhood of Philadelphia on Sunday summed up the attitude of many Eagles fans entering the Super Bowl.

Michelle Gustafson for The New York Times

Long-suffering fans of the Red Sox, the Cubs and every team in Cleveland have faced a similar re-evaluation after championships won in recent years.

My friend Barbara Huebner, a longtime sportswriter in Boston, described herself as “a rabid, live-and-die-for-it Red Sox fan” until the Sox won their first World Series in 86 years in 2004, then followed with two more titles in 2007 and 2013.

Now, Huebner said in an email, with some exceptions, “I pay almost no attention to them anymore.” The attraction, she added, “was all about the suffering, the tragic arc.”

Philadelphia was once the United States’ political and financial capital. But it long ago ceded its primacy to Washington and New York. Sports are the most visible way to show that Philly still measures up. But its fans have endured a wounded passion. Until Sunday, Philly’s pro teams had won only two titles in the past 35 years — the Sixers in 1983 and the Phillies in 2008.

A couple of hours after those Phillies won, I interviewed a police officer in the suburb of Havertown. Let’s not get carried away with victory, Ken Krieg, the officer, told me. “This is Philadelphia. The curse is never really over.”


The 76ers, with Julius Erving and Moses Malone, won the N.B.A. title in 1983, but not since.

Associated Press

But the usual gloom was absent this past week.

Tom Brady was 40 and the Patriots’ dynasty seemed to be near its end. And being an underdog at home in two playoff games had left the Eagles and their fans in a familiar, comfortable position. Players and fans wore German shepherd masks and relished the role of the disfavored.

“It’s our turn,” said Kevin Meyers, 32, a mixed-martial arts fighter.

Around town, people painted their hair green, carved mozzarella cheese into the shape of the Eagles logo, and admonished each other not to punch any more police horses.

The team was as loose and confident as its fans.

Lane Johnson, an Eagles tackle, made fun of Brady, and told Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer that “seeing the Patriots in the Super Bowl is like watching the same episode of ‘Friends’ every night. You get tired of it.”

On “Saturday Night Live,” Tina Fey, a native of the suburb Upper Darby, called Boston “a college town with a fishing pier.”

And then the Eagles went out and won. They actually won. After five decades, they finally joined their rivals in the N.F.C. East — the Cowboys, Giants and Redskins — with a Super Bowl title of their own.


Oct. 31, 2008: The last time Philadelphians were champions in a major team sport. They celebrated at the Phillies’ victory parade after winning the World Series over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Chris Gardner/European Pressphoto Agency

Sunday’s opponent was New England, but Philadelphia’s true nemesis is Dallas. It is the team the Eagles measured themselves against as they ascended toward their first (futile) trip to the Super Bowl, after the 1980 season. It is impossible to overstate how much the Cowboys’ “America’s Team” moniker drives people crazy here. The Cowboys have five Super Bowl trophies. At least now the Eagles can say they have one.

“We got the monkey off our back,” said Rick Pergolini, 64, a retired guidance counselor and high school basketball coach.

Would this change the underdog mind-set in Philadelphia? Pergolini said he wasn’t sure, except that Eagles fans will “want more now. We’re not happy with just one.”

Edward G. Rendell, a former mayor of Philadelphia and governor of Pennsylvania, said on a postgame show that if star quarterback Carson Wentz fully recovers from a knee injury, “We have a shot to be back here every year for the next five or six.”

The Eagles’ victory parade, Rendell predicted, would draw two to three million spectators and become “the largest attendance at a sports parade in the history of the country.”

For once, Seth Joyner, a former Eagles linebacker said, it would be New England, not Philadelphia, “that gets to spend the off-season in the pit of misery.”

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