In my senior year of college, the Kansas City Royals went to the World Series for the first time but lost the fall classic to the team from Philadelphia, four games to two. That was forty-two years ago—a long time to hold on to something. But that’s what sports fans often do. “Philly” is the nickname for a Philadelphian; a “Phillie” is a member of their professional baseball team. They boast that it is the oldest continuous, one-name, one-city franchise in all of professional sports. Either way you spell it, it implies a brotherhood of love, and is not to be confused with a filly, which is a baby female horse. If you call a phillie or a philly a filly, you might just feel their hoof in your teeth or fist across your jaw. They are tough in their displays of brotherly love.
In the fall and winter, however, these fans turn into eagles that try to soar while singing “Fly, Eagles, Fly!” But much like the Phillie Phanatic, they never physically leave the ground. And as Jalen Hurts demonstrated after the NFC championship game, individually they’re no Pavarotti yet together they form an amazing chorus. Fans in Philly have been known to throw batteries at Santa Claus and snow-packed objects at opposing players and referees. Like in the famed movie, Silver Linings Playbook, they have extreme dedication and emotion that they take to sanity’s edge.
Bradley Cooper likes to rile up the fans as if still playing the role of his character, Pat, who bragged about being in a superior mental illness category to Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany, the girl who was chasing him. Quite frankly, however, when big games like this year’s Super Bowl draw near, we all behave a bit like werewolves howling at a full moon. We tend to go a little nutty, and Arrowhead is filled with its fair share of cases where seemingly normal people cut loose. Though both teams, like most professional cities, claim to have the very best fans in the league, the Chiefs may be able to back up the boast better than others when it comes to important categories of fanhood (football intellect, noise level at appropriate times, tailgating cuisine…). Being a fan, by definition, means being fanatical, but I’ll submit that we possess a superior form of unbridled mental and physical fanaticism. Unfortunately, because of the celebrity status of the Super Bowl crowd, we don’t get to see much of it inside the stadium of the biggest game like we do in home stadiums.
A kid asked me a question the other day and then answered before letting me respond: “How does Jalen feel when he gets sacked?” “Jalen Hurts!” Whether fan-ship is innocent, knowledgeable, or certifiable, football fanatics anywhere on the spectrum are more acceptable than religious fanatics. Though I hope I’m not one, I do often seek a religious or spiritual angle to events like this year’s Super Bowl. For many citizens, America is a religion. In that case, I suppose the nation’s first capital city deserves the mascot of the bald eagle, the emblem which our founding fathers chose to designate strength and freedom. In Kansas City, we have our own traditions and story that, to me, are also spiritual. The Chiefs were named by Lamar Hunt to honor former mayor H. Roe Bartle, who was known to many as “Chief” because of his leadership in the Boy Scouts of America as he welcomed the Dallas Texans to make their home in KC in the early 1960s. As a scout, he revered this frontier country. To me, it is important that the nickname also pays tribute to Native American tribes and leaders who dwelt on these lands before westward expansion developed them. Though I realize not all agree that it is a tribute to Natives, the nickname reminds me that this magnificent countryside was once inhabited by heroes of that historical culture and it helps us recall a heritage that once existed, as well as old ghosts that linger, along with others who played the game and whose jerseys now hang from the concrete rafters. It beckons us to rise above our human preferences, sides, teams, imperfections, fanaticisms, craziness, and things we hold onto for over forty years, so that we might elevate to higher levels.
I suspect that brotherly love will be shared by Travis and Jason before and after—but not during—the game. Though perhaps a little nutty, themselves, the Kelce’s illustrate something powerfully good for us that cheer them on. Similarly, Coach Reid, who has tremendous affection for both cities and both football programs, will spark something positive within us. The football season is a blast for fans, especially when our teams make it to the final and triumphal game. Let’s enjoy it and not go too crazy.