Nik Weber is living the dream right now. ESPN's Head of Ad Sales in Australia is a lifelong sports fan of all things Philadelphia. He details his journey from the cradle to Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.
My dad grew up 20 miles north of Philadelphia in a town called Ambler. In his mid-20s, he decided to trade in summers on the Jersey shore for a life as a schoolteacher on the beaches of Sydney. Dad was one of seven kids in a seriously sports-mad family. My aunt (who now lives in San Francisco) has had season tickets at AT&T Park since the day it opened, and she still scores every game by hand. My cousins could take you through a SWOT analysis of the Flyers' penalty-kill line. And given one of my earliest childhood photos is of me in a Harold Carmichael Philadelphia Eagles jersey, I guess I never had a chance to be anything other than a Philly sports fan.
Dad explained my Philadelphia connection very early on and showed me the ropes of Philly fandom. Your team was either really, really good, or really, really bad; there was no in between. My earliest memory of the Eagles, from my uncle's living room on my first trip to the U.S. in December 1990, was watching Randall Cunningham dismantle the Cowboys. When back at home in Sydney, my relatives would find a way to keep us up to speed -- whether it was mailing VHS tapes (which would arrive two months into the offseason), or screaming emphatically down the phone when the Phillies won the National League pennant in 1993. Things are a little bit different now with ESPN in Australia.
It has been a pretty dry run for Philadelphia teams in my lifetime. Back-of-the-envelope calculations indicate they've walked away with one solitary championship through a cumulative 134 NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL seasons. But that's what I love so much about the psyche of the Philly sports fan: You can beat them down, but when the players show some heart and give them a glimmer of hope, they'll give every bit of belief and support (mixed with a healthy dose of cynicism). It's why the heroes of the town are little guys like Allen Iverson, who never saw a shot he didn't like but never shied away from taking it to the lane against Shaq. It's why people turned up to the Wells Fargo Center for three long seasons of The Process. And it's why we believe Nick Foles can lead the Eagles to their first-ever Lombardi Trophy.
My parents were living in Indonesia the last time the Eagles made the Super Bowl, in 2005, and I was over in Jakarta at the time of the NFC Championship Game. Dad and I had to get out at something like 3 a.m. to watch the game, and we finally found a bar that had a sketchy satellite feed to stream it live. The Eagles were looking good early; Donovan McNabb was looking sharp as he led them to an early 14-3 lead, but a massive thunderstorm rolled through Jakarta and the satellite dropped out. We sat staring at the decoder box for the best part of an hour-and-a-half praying the game would come back. It didn't. We eventually hustled home to check the score on our dial-up internet, and sure enough they'd won to get into the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots. It was the last Eagles game I ever got to watch with my dad, as he passed away a year later.
When I think back to the months and years after my dad died, my strongest memories of missing him came after big sporting moments. Dad was a big baseball guy, and all I wanted to do when the Phillies went on an epic run in 2007 and made the playoffs was to call him to talk about how great Ryan Howard and Chase Utley were. I'd give up almost anything to have the chance to talk to him about the 2017-18 Eagles.
I can't fathom that I'm heading to Minneapolis. I don't yet know what it feels like to step outside into -20 C temperatures, but I imagine the shock to the system is somewhat similar to seeing your long-awaited saviour of a quarterback crumple to the ground with a torn ACL. Did I think the Eagles would make the Super Bowl after Carson Wentz went down? No way. I thought, unequivocally, that they were done. Perhaps I should have known. After all, Chris Maragos, Darren Sproles, Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks -- critically import guys -- had all previously dropped, yet the team never wavered.
They're an incredible group of guys. Chris Long donated his entire salary for the year to charity, and Malcolm Jenkins has been a leader in the fight for social justice. They're wonderful leaders and just so easy to root for. They show so much character in the face of adversity, and I just love this group of players and this team so much. I can't remember a more fun sports season.
Who knows when the Eagles will get back to the Super Bowl, or if I'll be able to get there, so I'm treating this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I've been asked if I'll be able to enjoy this game. Absolutely I will enjoy it. Absolutely I will not be overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed when they made it, but now it feels a bit like we're playing with house money. At the start of the season, I thought they'd be lucky to go 9-7, but now ... I feel like it's their year. And as a Philadelphia sports fan, I know you never ever say that. I just can't wait, and I can't believe I'm lucky enough to be there.
Fly, Eagles, Fly.