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Tom O'Leary

Tom O'Leary

GUNTER KLEIST

GUNTER KLEIST

Tom O'Leary

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The New England Patriots are arguably the most polarizing team in professional sports today, if not in history. Nearly every fan either hates them or loves them, with very few falling in between.

However, I happen to be one of the rare people who have recently existed on both ends of the spectrum.
I have long been a Patriots fan. My dad grew up in the Boston area and the majority of that side of my family still resides there. Years before I really cared or appreciated football, I was being gifted countless team memorabilia, which only increased as the they formed what has been a nearly two-decade-long dynasty. I was already passionate about the rest of the New England professional sports franchises, so accepting their football team seemed natural.

But at some point during the early 2000s, I strayed from the path of righteousness and decided that although I would still support the Patriots, the Philadelphia Eagles would be my true team. I honestly don’t have a logical explanation for it. I think it was mostly due to some minor teenage rebellion against my family, and the fact that growing up in Vermont, a state devoid of its own pro teams, allows you to decide your allegiances for yourself more freely than more populated areas.

Regardless of the reasons, my self-inflicted “expatriation” hasn’t provided my life with much additional happiness over the years. While I have enjoyed New England’s reign over the National Football League (NFL), and root for them in every game except when they play the Eagles, it hasn’t negated the supreme disappointment that my primary team has rained down upon me.

Frankly, I expected the 2017-2018 NFL season to mirror the previous one — the Patriots would win another Super Bowl and I’d appreciate it, but it wouldn’t be enough to cleanse my pallet of the recurring bitterness of being an Eagles fan.

Don’t get me wrong, I was feeling hopeful about the future of the “Birds.” They were a year removed from exorcising themselves of the Chip Kelly experience and all of the scrub players he brought to the team to replace the previous stars that “didn’t fit his system.” Quarterback Carson Wentz and Head Coach Doug Pederson were looking to improve off of a decent, if not overly impressive, rookie year, and there were significant additions to roster on both sides of the ball. But I don’t think anyone anticipated the soon-to-be meteoric rise that would culminate in the cities first ever Super Bowl Championship.

Eagles Nation has a deep-rooted and very justified cynicism. A kind of skepticism that can only be caused by a 52-year championship drought rife with devastating losses. It seemed like no matter what they achieved, the season was doomed to end in heartbreak.

The team stunned the football realm by starting out with a league-best record of 9-1, dominating their opponents on each side of the line-of-scrimmage as a vastly improved Wentz led the Most Valuable Player (MVP) conversation. Philadelphia appeared to be the only legitimate challenger to the Patriots throne.
Then, as with every prior example, all optimism vanished when Wentz suffered a season-ending knee injury during a week 13 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. Football is often called the ultimate team sport, but you can’t win a Super Bowl without an elite quarterback. The Eagles had survived significant injuries all season, but this was the one that would have them pushing daisies.

Cue Nick Foles, who was in his second tour with the squad after nearly retiring before the previous season after being released by the Rams. He had one tremendous season during the reluctantly aforementioned Chip Kelly era, but had struggled mightily in the years since. It’s safe to say the spirit of Philadelphia had regressed to the mean.

Although with Foles under center, the Eagles managed to stay afloat and finish with the number one seed in their conference, confidence in the team was so low that they became the first team in NFL history to be the gambling underdog in every game en route to a Super Bowl.

After barely escaping their second-round matchup with the Atlanta Falcons, Foles channeled his inner Wentz and dominated the Minnesota Vikings in the Conference Championship. The matchup was set for a showdown with the mighty Patriots, an event that would become the most conflicting and stressful game of my life as a sports fan.

It was the first time I vehemently wished the Patriots would lose a game, since they hadn’t faced the Eagles meaningfully since the 2004 Super Bowl, in which I was much less personally invested. Having been on the positive side of innumerable Tom Brady-led comebacks, I was never comfortable, regardless of the size of the Philadelphia lead. I maintained the same attitude I’ve always had in my relationship with the team, I wanted nothing more than for them to win but didn’t believe it would come to fruition.
Somehow, against all improbabilities, Foles matched Brady throw-for-throw and was awarded Super Bowl MVP. By the time the game clock expired and Brady’s “Hail Mary” fell short, my Eagles jersey was drenched in sweat and I had been pacing and yelling to the brink of laryngitis for nearly four hours.

Weeks later, I still don’t think it has fully set in, but the 2017-18 Philadelphia Eagles are, and always will be, Super Bowl Champions.

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