On 94.1FM WIP in Philadelphia during an afternoon ride home a couple of weeks ago, Harold Carmichael called in to comment on the three tiers of Eagles fandom. This was just coming off of our big win in the snow against Detroit, and in Philadelphia at that point, some die-hard fans were expressing aggravation at bandwagoners jumping on board with the end of the season excitement that came when we mounted the division, like a shining star upon the highest bough of a Christmas tree. (It’s December after all.) Carmichael mentioned, brushing over the fact almost, that okay fine, being a fan is better than not being a fan. One of the guys at the station said he wanted to know what exactly constitutes these tiers. What puts someone on the bottom rung? What puts someone on the top rung? What does it mean to be a true fan?
Carmichael gave a long answer about what constitutes a top tier fan that turned out to be a simple one. He didn’t say much about the middle or bottom rungs, but I think it’s safe to say if you’re a bandwagoner, we do, albeit begrudgingly, welcome you. We like that you love our team because we don’t understand how anyone in our area couldn’t. But you’ve got some work to do. And then, anyone who doesn’t fulfill what it means to be a top tier fan but isn’t a bandwagoner, well, you fall onto the second tier. You also have some work to do. In so many words, what I got out of what Carmichael said was that being a Tier #1 Philadelphia Eagles fan means knowing the struggle, building a history, and doing your homework. That’s what puts you on the top rung.
SECTION 1: THE THREE COMMANDMENTS OF BEING A TIER #1 FAN
The First Command: Know the Struggle
Eagles fans know one thing: it’s hard to be us. Our team has brought us again and again to the brink of success only to let us down over and over. But rather than reject the team because of these multiple tragedies, we embrace this. Every stroke of luck or display of skill an opposing team celebrates while we suffer, be it a 63-yard field goal sent sailing through the uprights, a fumble right into the hands of a defensive lineman, or breakaway run down the sidelines, this tragedies make us love our team even more.
You may ask: How? Why? And the answer is actually quite simple: every terrible everything that works against our fandom only makes it matter more when we do get there, only makes it mean more when we do make the playoffs, when we do win the games that matter. Philadelphia is a blue collar town—our average citizens work hard for their money and put love, sweat, and effort into the jobs they do. Life itself is all about the struggle and the rewards that come from it. And the Eagles have a history that the average citizen can relate to, in a way. Winning isn’t just about winning, it’s also about all the hard work it takes to get there.
Even when a game turns to a nightmare, the true fans embrace the pain, adding it to their list of let downs. And we use these defeats to want for a victory even more. Knowing the struggle, feeling the struggle, being one with the struggle, this represents an important part of what it means to be a true top tier Eagles fan.
The Second Command: Build a History
Carmichael talked about how important it is to teach your kids how to be good fans, to give them the memories of watching and learning about the game and the team. This is what my Dad calls “Good Parenting”. In other words, don’t let your kids grow up to be Cowboys fans. One of my favorite Instagram posts by the Eagles this year was a video that started off with the words “Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be COWBOYS FANS” and then featured a series of historic Eagles/Cowboys moments birds’ fans could appreciate. I don’t care if you grew up during the mid-nineties when the Cowboys won consecutive Superbowls. I did. I bet my Dad every year that Dallas would win, and every year he had to buy me a book when I won the bet. But did I grow up to be a Cowboys fan? Absolutely not. I wound up with a lot of YA series books, yes, but that’s as far as it went. Instead, these days I know to thank my Dad for teaching me that there was no way I could be both an Eagles fan and a Cowboys fan, despite the books. I had to choose. “But why?” my favorite question, from grades 1-5, maybe younger. “I can’t explain it, daughter, you just can’t. You must hate the Cowboys.” I had no idea what a division was in grade 4. I could barely do long division. But the idea stuck with me until I finally did understand. There was a history of dislike that I had not yet been able to comprehend. It wasn’t something to be explained in so many words. So I paid attention. And I learned not only was I to hate the Cowboys, but the Giants and Redskins as well. I learned that the Eagles were in the Superbowl once before. I learned that the stadium I had been to a few Phillies games to, well the Eagles played there, too. I listened, and I learned what I could manage to learn, and I began to build up my own ideas about being an Eagles fan, to begin building my own history as an Eagles fan.
When I first left the Philadelphia area to go to college in Boston, if I took one thing with me, it was my fandom (and the funny way I pronounce the word “water”). After Donovan McNabb twisted his ankle that season, I hung a sign I made from a photo I printed from my computer and some construction paper on my door that read “Get Well Soon, Donny!” Little did I know that with that first season away from home, and consecutive ones, I was building my own history as a fan. Little did I know that giving the finger to the Patriots parade as it passed by my college in 2005 would stick with me as an important moment of my fandom. I also didn’t quite know yet that building your own history isn’t enough. But every time I’ve shared my story of where I was, what I was doing, who I was with during that Superbowl loss, I’ve shared in an important part of Eagles fandom and perpetuated the idea that your history as a fan is an important part of being one.
The Third Command: Do Your Homework
It is nearly impossible to embrace the struggle without knowing at least a little history of the Philadelphia Eagles team. You can only learn so much from your family/fellow fans during the years when you first begin building your history. Many a times, it’s a personal story, “I remember when the Eagles played Oakland in that Superbowl, back from before you were born, well…” Think about it. You not only have to feel the burn of the current and most recent tragedies, but you have to know how many years Philadelphia has been suffering for the struggle to truly be felt. And you yourself have to feel it as though you were there, too, even for those times before you were born. Your heart must burn with the same rage as all the fans before you who were alive to witness Jaws and the birds fall to one of the first wildcard teams to ever go on to win the Superbowl.
Counting the years helps. How long ago has it been since the Eagles won the Superbowl? Trick question: they never have. Someone could argue that the Eagles winning the NFL Championship in 1960 is when, but true Eagles fans know the sad truth: We have never won THE Superbowl. We are proud to have won the NFL Championship a few times, sure. But that’s not the same.
If you do your homework, you know what it means when someone says “For who? For what?” You can talk about not one but two Miracles in the Meadowlands—you know where you were, who you were with, when you watched those games. And if one of them was “before your time”, you have heard someone else’s story of where they were and who they were with enough times to tell it like its your own. (And if you lived in goddamn Boston during the 2005 Superbowl, you damn well better have flown home for that game, in full regalia.) You know who the Steagles are. You know the years of our Superbowl appearances and the outcomes. You loved TO as soon he was ours; you hated him as soon as he deserved it. You know who Harold Carmichael is when he calls into WIP. And more.
A top tier fan, in other words, is an Eagles fan in the past, present, and future. A top tier fan does homework on the past, embraces the struggle of the present, and knows that the future will hold a great piece of history for this team—soon, let’s say soon, why not.
SECTION TWO: THE TWO TYPES OF TIER #1 FANS
One last thing. There are two types of Tier #1 fans. There are the pessimists and the optimists. I happen to fall into the optimist category. I believe every season that this is our season. I watch every game hoping for the team to win, every after we’re so far down that there’s not a battery-packed snowball’s chance in hell that we’ll make the playoffs.
The pessimists, well, they watch every game, too, hoping for a win. But they yell “RUN THE DAMN BALL!” on every pass play gone sour. They yell “PUT VICK IN!” whenever Foles gets sacked for a loss. They are wary of the Chip Kelly offense, and wish he would spend more time on defense. But they root with the same intensity and the same hopes: they just happen to be more tired of getting their hopes up only to have them crushed every year.
Why I don’t understand the joy of being pessimistic fan, I wanted to acknowledge here that I do understand some fans aren’t as cheerful as others. But I know these fans would cause just as much a ruckus as myself and other optimistic fans if(/when) the Eagles take home the Vince Lombardi trophy.
How does your team’s fandom fit in? I feel like these are pretty standard rules, but that the STRUGGLE is something that does not apply to all sports/teams in the same way that it does the Eagles. I am curious what it might be replaced with depending on your team’s history. But most importantly, I am PUMPED for tomorrow’s game against Dallas. GO BIRDS.