That was my dad, Paul Dougherty, and me. Trust me: We waited a long time to watch a Philadelphia team win a championship together. And it almost eluded us.
I grew up in Philadelphia and fell in love with Philadelphia sports — from 76ers guard Allen Iverson to Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb to Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins — because my dad loved them, and I wanted to be everything he was. But here is the thing about being raised a Philadelphia sports fan: You learn about losing, and you learn fast. You watch the Eagles go to three straight NFC championship games and lose them all. Then you watch them lose to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005, and you cry your eyes out while your dad tells you there is always next year. Except that’s not always true.
In 2008, my dad was diagnosed with tonsil cancer. There was all that losing, and then there was this — and it came right as the Phillies were making a run to the World Series, a long-awaited break met by a chilling setback.
As the Phillies pushed for the pennant, my father pushed through radiation treatment, chemotherapy and a lot of hospital visits my mom told me were “just check-ins” but still made me lose a lot of sleep. We attended games together throughout the run-up to the World Series versus the Tampa Bay Rays and somehow scored tickets to Game 5. But he wasn’t doing well. Game 5 turned into the clinching contest for the Phillies; he was in the hospital, and he told me to go without him. He would not let both of us miss the city’s first championship in 25 years.
So on that freezing October night, from my seat in the nose bleeds behind home plate, I held up my Nokia flip phone as Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske for the final out of the Phillies’ World Series victory. Citizens Bank Park exploded. He was on the other line, from his bed at Fox Chase Cancer Center 16 miles away, and I doubt he could hear anything but white noise. I couldn’t stop crying, and I felt relieved that everyone else in the stadium was crying, too.
We did it, but we didn’t do it together.
He went into remission in 2009 and has been healthy ever since. Then the Eagles gave us another chance this past week and we made sure to seize it.
In our house, in so many Philadelphia houses, the Eagles are different. When they made the Super Bowl in 2005, my dad and I drove for hours to find commemorative gear that was sold out at every store. After I moved out, for college and later the working world, he called me after every Eagles game to talk about that Brent Celek block or that Fletcher Cox sack or about how, man, this Nick Foles dude may actually be able to do it. After each win, he texts me some form of “Yabadabadooooo,” and it makes me laugh every time.
But we didn’t need a phone to connect Sunday.
He drove down to Washington, and it wasn’t always comfortable. There isn’t much seating in my box of a studio apartment. We mostly sat shoulder to shoulder at the end of my bed, no more than a yard away from the TV. The game stream — the one I promised all week would “not freeze, Dad” — was a little shaky at times. Then there was that Brady guy, who made us feel like each Eagles lead was just an ingredient for another letdown.
We high-fived after every Eagles first down. We leaped into the air when the Eagles stretched their advantage. We paced around the apartment as that lead shrunk, picked at all the Wawa food we bought, drank dozens of glasses of water, shifted our positions to see if it would change the Eagles’ luck. And it worked. Well, something did.
“Oh my God,” he said quietly after the Eagles recovered a fumble with 2:09 left on the game clock. “We’re going to win the Super Bowl.”
When that came true, after Brady’s final pass attempt touched the turf and the game clock showed all zeros, we were quiet for a few seconds. Then we looked at each other in a moment delayed by a decade. We hugged and jumped and laughed before he fell backward onto my bed, spread his arms out as if he were making a snow angel and shrieked: “IT’S OVER! OH MY GOD! IT’S OVER!”
Half an hour after the game, he looked at pictures of the street-flooding celebration back in Philadelphia on his iPad and said, “Jesse, I’m glad I was here with you, bud.”
I’m 23 years old now, have my own apartment, a full-time job, a car bill that zips in on the first of every month. But sports sometimes have a way of making you feel like you’re 10 years old again, sitting on the living-room floor in your childhood home, asking your dad what holding is, or if that play was good for us, or why the Eagles never win the big game. Not everyone got to watch this Super Bowl win with that person, the one who, at one point or another, turned their lives into an unending stream of wins and losses and heartache and hope. But maybe the night was a reminder, that somewhere within the fireworks and dancing cops and crowds of people on the streets of Philadelphia was an unbendable bond that finally had its moment.
There’s a lot of hoping when you root for a team that never wins the last game of the season — a lot of hollow hoping. Then it was all returned Sunday, with my dad sitting next to me and, damn, it was worth the wait.
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