Fly, Philly, Fly

Eagles fans flocked to the City of Brotherly Love to celebrate the Super Bowl champs in true Philly fashion.

City of champions: On Thursday, Feb. 8, hundreds of thousands of Eagles fans gathered for the city’s first Super Bowl championship parade in Philadelphia history. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTOS

Standing in front of a crowd of people that stretches as far as you can see is an unforgettable feeling. Maybe the crowd didn’t measure up to original expectations. Or maybe it did — city officials have voiced doubt in the early estimated 700,000 crowd total.

Either way, Philadelphia somehow managed to live up to its underdog reputation while packing a roaring crowd of football fans and city lovers along Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The crowd sprawled as far as the eye could see in every direction from atop the steps at the Art Museum. The energy was thrumming. It hit you square in the chest as a mixture of sound, excitement and pride.

Thursday, Feb. 8, was the first time in history Philadelphians ever got to gather to celebrate the homecoming of its Super Bowl-champion football team. The Philadelphia Eagles, ever bet against, won the 52nd Super Bowl against reigning champion New England Patriots.

The underdog city became the champion.

“You know what an underdog is? It’s a hungry dog… Hungry dogs run faster,” center Jason Kelce said in a speech that lifted the cheers to deafening volumes, his growl of a voice crackling, his fist pounding the podium.

Dressed as a Mummer in bright green fabric, Kelce listed off how each of his teammates and coach Doug Pederson (who about a decade ago was coaching a high school team) were bet against before and during the season.

“This past offseason some clown named Mike Lombardi told him he was the least qualified head coach in the NFL,” he said in his now famous underdog speech that dropped more than a few expletives. “It’s the whole team. It’s the whole team.”

The parade began at Broad and Pattison at 11, making its way up to City Hall before finally ending at the Art Museum. Fans were lined up in the wee hours of the morning for a good spot — Center City was ripping at the seams before 9.

It was a historic event the whole city pitched in for. The School District of Philadelphia took off that day to give students, parents and teachers the chance to attend. SEPTA gave free rides on its Broad Street and Market-Frankford lines — an estimated 395,000 riders took advantage of that, while 65,000 to 80,000 rode the Regional Rail in and out of the city.

“We wanted it more,” Kelce said. “Everybody wanted it more and that’s why we’re the first team in the team’s history to hold that freakin’ trophy.”

Plenty of people talked, but Kelce summed up what everyone said best. The ceremony started with remarks from Gov. Tom Wolf and Mayor Kenney, and also heard from Coach Pederson and players Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Lane Johnson, Jason Peters, Brent Celek, Malcolm Jenkins and others. But no one captured Philly as accurately as Kelce.

The celebration leading up to the event was triumphant and oozed Philly. Jets wrote “Philly Philly Dilly Dilly” as clouds in the sky, and while music was played for at least an hour, no other song got more people singing along than Will Smith’s infamous “In West Philadelphia born and raised…” verse in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song.

I can’t say I’ve ever been the biggest football fan, but the Eagles have always been a presence in my life. I can recall curling up in a sleeping bag printed in the team’s signature midnight green when I was a kid. I remember my dad wearing colors for his favorite team, and my mom chirping with excitement and ultimately disappointment at the TV during the 2005 Super Bowl.

But I can’t say it was something I ever got excited about. Not until now. Not until I stood on top of the Art Museum steps and looked out at the crowd and realized how a sport like football could simultaneously shut down and unite an entire city.

In the week since Philadelphia won the Super Bowl, the city has been a different world. One that finally lives up to its reputation of the City of Brotherly Love. Kelce concluded his speech with a chant that captures our spirit well.

“No one likes us, no one likes us, no one likes us, we don’t care. We’re from Philly, we’re from Philly, no one likes us, we don’t care.”

Philly, you needed this. And doggone it, you deserve it. ••