We are all fanatics about something: from our families, to our friends, to our sports teams, to the movies we love, to pretty much anything. That’s the glory of being fanatical, that it can encompass just about anything. Sometimes our fanaticism is pure and unadulterated, while other times it’s all tied up and twisted in the 12-step ethos. “Hi. My name is Sam, and I’m a Back to the Future addict.”

Is it better to be an addict for sugary sweets than an addict for the rush of catfishing? Is it too much to be fanatical over gambling? How about the Olympics? The definition of a fanatic is someone who “is filled with excessive and single-minded zeal.” It presupposes commitment to one thing to the exclusion of all else. To that end maybe it’s never a good thing, the idea that too much of a good thing cannot possibly still be a good thing. And too much of a bad thing is worse.

I am a fanatic about my schedule. I have a singular purpose, to make sure my calendar is evenly balanced, that I get to where I need to be on time, and that I don’t forget my appointed times to see and be seen by others. That’s what a schedule is, after all, a series of times when I have committed to being out and about, like a politician on an election tour. There’s an adrenaline rush I feel when I’ve made it to where I’m supposed to be, on time, a rhetorical fist bump that validates my entire being. Every once in a while I wonder if that’s too much emotion for maintaining a schedule.

I’ve known people who are fanatical about a variety of things, of people, and of situations. I knew a guy once who couldn’t sleep if he didn’t kiss the picture of his dog who died when he was 12 years old. There was a girl I dated a long time ago who had every ABBA album ever produced… on vinyl. Being a fanatic about things like that lead others to ridicule and harass them for it, which is ironic since the things we hold so dear we would fight to keep from being ridiculed. This is what they hold dear.

As a fan of the Eagles, I have followed them since I was a little kid, going to games, praying for the players, and fighting hard to gift them enough good luck to win the Super Bowl. I’ve collected team cards, copied every game I could see on TV, and watched those games so often I wore out the tapes. I’ve ranted and raved at the screen, at the team, at the refs, and at anyone else who would listen about the Eagles. I’ve cried when they lost games, and exhaled when they won, screaming my lungs out as if I had just caught that final ball, or called the final positive play. I say “WE” when talking about what the Eagles did.

But I would never hurt someone else as a result of an Eagles win, or loss. I would never run down the street and hurl a rock through a store window because I was amped up on the glory of an Eagles Super Bowl win. I would never boo Santa Claus just because I could, or punch another fan in the face because he happens to root for the Giants. I would never do any of those things because even though I’m fanatical about the Eagles, even though I spend some sleepless nights anxious over the possible outcome of the next day’s game, I understand that it IS just a game. I get that. Some people don’t.

So I’m ashamed when I read posts from people who say they have no respect for Eagles fans, when they lump us all in together because of what a few lunatics have decided is appropriate behavior for a fanatic. They judge all of us based on the actions of some rogues who refused to draw the line, who couldn’t separate the team from their own individual pride. But most of all, I’m ashamed when I see those posts because it doesn’t have to be that way. Tell that to the gambler who goes for broke just to actually go broke. Explain that to the Kevin Spacey fans who now have to come to grips with the actions of their hero.

Perhaps we can agree to disagree. Maybe you feel somehow superior by lumping all of us Eagles fans into some kind of “basket of deplorables,” but it doesn’t have to be this way. In the immortal words of Rodney King, “can’t we all just get along?” Well, can’t we? What’s stopping us from all treating each other as individuals instead of as caricatures of ourselves based on those of us who choose to be caricatures? I feel like some people wouldn’t know what to do if they couldn’t just generalize when it comes to everyone who isn’t quite like themselves, instead of digging deep and making informed choices based on actual solid information.

My fanaticism doesn’t preclude me from understanding and supporting yours, even if I don’t happen to share it. My fanaticism doesn’t stop me from treating you like a human being. And I hope it doesn’t stop you from doing the same.



Broad and Oregon

I was driving into Philadelphia on I-95, Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” playing on my car stereo, and I looked out my window to see the sports complex. Towering over everything was Lincoln Financial Field. Not far off was the Wachovia Center. Near it all was Citizens Bank Park. Three amazingly modern behemoths to house the Philadelphia sports franchises, a testament to owners with deep pockets and a city that lives and dies with its teams. These are not the landmarks I grew up with, not the destination of my myriad trips to Broad and Oregon streets as a child and young adult living in the city of brotherly love, growing up on the teams of our forefathers. As I drove into Philadelphia on that afternoon not so long ago I thought about the change of landscape…

1990. The Spectrum.  Michael Jordan and the Bulls are in town to play the 76ers. We have nosebleed seats, the highest you can get without hitting your head on the roof. But we had fun. The rotting posts holding up the old roof are like old friends we wanted to high five (and then wash our hands immediately afterward). The game is one-sided with the Bulls winning big, but the experience of being in the same building where Dr. J had won the NBA Championship, it is incredible.

1996. Waiting outside the Spectrum for tickets to an Oasis concert (the first concert to be staged at the new Wachovia Center). There is a Phillies game tonight at Veterans Stadium and we see the crowds of people pass by as they queue to go in. They are rabid fans, I see, as they wear old-school Phillies jackets, shirts and caps. Remember, this is 1996. The Phillies are abysmal this year but the fans don’t seem to notice, at least not out here.

1997. The Spectrum parking lot. A free Metallica concert is raging for three hours.

1998. Veterans Stadium. The Eagles are playing the Giants, one of those grudge matches where everyone comes out muddy (it is raining cats and dogs). We are sitting in the area directly behind the player family seats and we see Holly Robinson Peete (her husband is Rodney Peete, our quarterback of the moment) pass by. She is as stunning in real life as she ever was on 21 Jump Street. My uncle is wearing a Giants cap. I swear there will be a riot if the Giants win this game and they get a hold of him.

I miss Veterans Stadium. I miss the Spectrum. I miss the feeling of those places. The history associated with them. Veterans Stadium opened the year I was born. That it had outlived its usefulness by the time I was 30 I just cannot wrap my mind around. Citizens Bank Park is a wonderful place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Same with Lincoln Financial Field, but the Vet was like home. Beaten down and overused, but like a member of the family. All this talk is paid to the “new” Yankee Stadium, but Veterans Stadium was the place to be in South Philly.

And I will see the Eagles play at their new digs. I will watch Halladay pitch in Citizens Bank Park. But I will also always remember the places I grew up in, the places that helped me become a fan. Of Philadelphia. Of sports. Of life.


Throwing the Rock

I remember when I first discovered I liked sports. It was baseball season, 1987, and the Phillies had a pretty bad team at the time, with the notable exception of Mike Schmidt, a Philly legend to this day. However, I became obsessed with the pitchers on the team instead. I wanted to be just like them, to throw the ball 90+ mph and have it hit the catcher’s glove exactly when and where I wanted it to. While the pitchers weren’t quite as successful, with the notable exception of Steve Bedrosian, the Phillies closer, it didn’t matter to me. I was determined to work my arm into shape for the major leagues, in the comfort of my own bedroom.

So, I taped a bullseye to my closet wall (you know you did it, too). It had four rings to it, with a small dark circle in the middle, my ultimate aim. Now, you’ll have to know the dimensions of my room first. When we first moved to the house, the previous tenants had been using it for a storage closet, so you know I didn’t have very much distance to my throws, but I figured if I threw hard enough (like Steve Bedrosian) I would still grow my arm strength. Little did I know, but I had fun with it. In that way I would play whole nine-inning games by myself while listening to the Phillies play on the radio (I didn’t have a TV in my room). By the end of the season, my record was somewhere around .500, and I was pleased when my arm would be hurting at night when it was time for bed.

After the baseball season, I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I turned to football, and the hype of the moment in Philly was a quarterback named Randall Cunningham. Because he threw the ball, and throwing was my newfound love, he became my favorite Eagle. It took some adjusting, but I was able to fix my bullseye so it was raised higher on my closet door, and it was expanded to six rings around it. Now, I’ll say that I felt sufficiently chuffed about my amazing skills with paper and tape by that point. I just knew that if Sport magazine was doing spreads on bedroom football ingenuity, they would want to see my room. Yes, I took pictures of the bullseye with my Kodak camera, but of course they got lost throughout the years or I would post one here. I’m sure you can imagine it, but you know. Anyway, I would take my nerf football (recently acquired from the Salvation Army, where my dad worked as a manager), I would take my football stance, and I would throw the ball just like Randall Cunningham, my hero, while, you guessed it, listening to Eagles games on the radio. My record in football wasn’t as dynamic as my baseball record, because I didn’t realize that sometimes throwing harder wasn’t going to make things happen for me.

Now, you’ve realized by now that I was the king of arts and crafts, but around this same time (Christmas of 1987) something arrived at our house that blew it all out of the water. It was an amazing new piece of technology given to us by our uncle, something called a Nintendo, and it came with all kinds of games we could play and sit down while doing it. I, of course, didn’t know it then, but that would lead to the winter of the chubbs, which my sister (affectionately) called it. While I became somewhat of a hero in Tecmo Bowl, and Bases Loaded, it was still not the same, and later on I would realize that was a regret. I always seemed to go all-in on everything I did, and I think if I had thought better of it, I would have adjusted my playing schedule to continue to include my closet door bullseye games.

So you know what I’m going to do this week? Yeah, you know. Get ready, closet door. You ain’t seen nothing yet.


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