BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Duce Staley has spent most of his adult life with the Philadelphia Eagles. He knows this week isn’t just about winning a Super Bowl. It’s about winning a Super Bowl for Philadelphia.
Staley was a running back for seven years for the Eagles. He has been on the team’s coaching staff since 2011, the last five seasons as running backs coach. He pulled one of the team’s young players aside this week and tried to explain what it would mean to be the team that finally brings the first Lombardi Trophy to Philadelphia.
“I said you don’t understand, as a young player, the passion, the love that is in this city if you bring home a Super Bowl,” Staley said. “You won’t understand the parade. You won’t the tears they’ll shed, because it’s tears of joy, it’s tears of memories, good, bad and the rest. You won’t understand it. It’s our job to deliver a championship to the city.”
No offense to the fans in Minnesota, Detroit, Cleveland or any other city that hasn’t experienced a Super Bowl title, but Philadelphia might be the most desperate to get its first one.
“There’s no city that wants a championship more,” Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson said.
They’re one win away, again. The Eagles are 0-2 in Super Bowls. The Eagles won NFL championships in 1948, 1949 and 1960, but that hasn’t helped ease the pain. Someone who was born the day after the Eagles beat Vince Lombardi and his Packers for the 1960 title is now 57 years old without ever witnessing an Eagles championship.
The players who have been Eagles for a while understand this Super Bowl is about more than just themselves. They all say they hear about the Super Bowl drought from fans since the time they become Eagles. In Chicago people can still recite most of the 1985 Bears’ roster, and that team won the franchise’s lone Super Bowl more than 30 years ago. It would be the same in Philadelphia. Beat the Patriots on Sunday, and everyone on the team will become immortal in Philly.
“It would be huge, man. Huge. First ones to do it,” Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks said. “Build statues of us. Monuments that would last a lifetime, for eons after we’re gone.”
“Legends. Legends,” tight end Brent Celek, who has spent all 11 of his NFL seasons with the Eagles, said as he contemplated what a Super Bowl win would mean. “We’ve got 60 minutes, and we can become legends.”
It’s different for the Eagles because of the fans. The intensity of Philadelphia fans is legendary. Sometimes they go over the line. But they care. When characters in the movie “Silver Linings Playbook” were a little too obsessive about he Eagles, it seemed authentic.
“They’ll tell you about yourself,” Staley said. “They’ll boo you. You can ask everyone, from Santa Claus and go on and on.”
Kendricks grew up in laid-back California, and went to college at Berkeley. Eagles fans can be blunt, and it was a bit of a shock for him when he joined the Eagles in 2012. Now the native Californian says, “Philly is home.” He said there’s a synergy between the Eagles fans and the players who wear the uniform. Players on every team talk about having great fans. Eagles players are the only ones who talk about the fans like they’re on the team with them.
“Philly fans, there’s nothing like it,” Kendricks said. “There’s a certain grit and grime about them that allows them to be who they are, and it trickles down to us. They’re like family. They’ll tell you exactly what’s on their mind too, even if they’re outsiders looking in. They’re always opinionated and you can count on their opinions surfacing. And that’s fine. That’s the culture. When you play in Philly, you’ve got to understand that.”
Staley is from South Carolina, but he sounds like he was born and raised in Philly. He understands and respects Eagles fans. He talks about people there being buried in Eagles gear when they die. He talks about Eagles history, and how fandom is passed down from generation to generation. He regrets not bringing a Super Bowl to Philadelphia when he played. He said he tries to explain the culture to all the younger players, especially this week.
“It’s not like they wake up and they’re passionate fans. This is in their blood. It’s pedigree,” Staley said. “These guys and women are born into this Eagles family.”
The championships by the 76ers, Flyers and Phillies are still remembered fondly, even though most of them happened long ago. The 2008 World Series title is the only one among Philly’s four major professional sports teams since 1983. Those past championships wouldn’t be the same as the first Eagles Super Bowl. The players noticed how the fans went crazy celebrating the NFC championship game victory a couple weeks ago, and can only imagine what would happen with a win on Sunday.
“We’ve got to bring this one home. It would be way more epic,” Celek said.
“It would be amazing,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what will happen. Get extra security.”
The Patriots will be remembered as one of the greatest dynasties ever whether or not they win their sixth Super Bowl on Sunday. In Philadelphia, getting just one Super Bowl championship means everything.
“I don’t think words can even describe it,” Staley said. “You talk about the older fans who have been through the ups and the downs with this team, I don’t even think words can describe how I would feel, or the fans. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see some tears being shed. Tears of joy. Tears of … ‘finally.’”
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