Eric Wiater watched the last four minutes of the Super Bowl with tears in his eyes. In the company of roommates, co-workers, fraternity brothers and his girlfriend, he cried for his team. No words were spoken by the Holland, Pennsylvania native when the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl bid came into jeopardy in the final minutes of the game. With hands propping up his head and his eyes glued to the television, he observed the purest victory imaginable — the deserved victory, the long overdue victory, the earned victory.
“You can’t be comfortable against the Pats, it’s just not an option. I was in my group chat and they were saying back home, ‘once they kick this field goal, it’s over.’ I was like, Don’t say that. I’ve seen it happen too many times. Don’t say that. It’s not over till the clock hits zero. To be honest, when they were down that last drive; this is just gonna end bad for us. When he threw the hail mary, I didn’t realize it at first what happened. I guess I was in shock. I was in shock. I was like, ‘is the game over?’ Then it kind of hit me, oh my god. The clock ran out on that play and it was kind of anti-climatic like, what now?”
Through sonorous sobs, Eric processed the victory wordlessly. The victory, following a week of waiting and listening to Patriots fans chiding his Eagles at every turn, was sweet. Though Eric is no stranger to trash talking in defense of his preferred teams, there is nothing quite like the onslaught of verbal attacks of Patriots fans. Like in any other season, Eric took the odds against his team in stride. While the Eagles made themselves a strong regular season, the Patriots were running the tables on the rest of the NFL. The Eagles’ success was muffled by the perpetual success of the Patriots and 2018 MVP Tom Brady.
When my 2016 Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots failed to retain running back LeGarrette Blount, allowing him to sign a one-year deal with Philadelphia, I texted Eric, “Congrats on the Super Bowl.” In that moment, I could not imagine what a Super Bowl victory would mean for Eric.
“Coming into this year, I knew we were gonna do well. I had a really good feeling about Carson [Wentz]. The pickups we had, Ajayi and Darby. Blount was a big pick up. We’ve always had those speedy guys: Mccoy, Westbrook, Maclin. We really needed a third down, fourth down back and I think Blount really secured that spot.”
Eric Wiater, born in Philadelphia in 1995, sees sports differently. Employed by UMaine Athletics as a graphics operator, Eric designs graphics and attends between three and five games a week. What may be leisure for the paying spectator, attending a game is at the same time Eric’s means of employment. This fusion of labor with his perception of sports has not deterred his love for athletics. Eric’s ability as a technology operator has even allowed him to work for ESPN.
“I work in it, it’s my life. I remember going to my grandparents’ house, I was a fan at that point. I mean, you’re not devoted when you’re that young. You don’t get devoted till like middle school.”
Since Eric’s birth, the Philadelphia Eagles have lost four Wild Card games, four Conference Championships, three Division Championships and one Super Bowl before winning it all on Sunday. They’ve finished last in their division seven times during this span as well. “Year after year, it just blows. Even when I was younger, I went to training camp. Seeing the guys they pick up and seeing what they play like, it’s just like, ‘why aren’t we winning?’ And to finally have it happen, it’s a good feeling.” In my lifetime, the New England Patriots have won the division 17 times and have collected five Super Bowls as well. Anybody with the knowledge of these perspectives would arrive at the thought of our different relationships with the game.
“It probably won’t hit me until next year. Like we had the 2008 Phillies, and that was hype. We had one. That team was good. It wasn’t the same. The Eagles, that is a totally different animal, the city loves them more. I mean, I’d put that moment with if the Flyers won next. I’d seen them lose the Stanley Cup twice.”
Eric was lucky enough to attend a regular season game this year. He watched the Eagles beat the Atlanta Falcons at home in Philadelphia. “By far the best game I’ve ever been to. Just the atmosphere in the city. The guys sitting in front of us were diehard fans, faces painted with the shoulder pads. They were constantly high-fiving, helluva time,” Eric said.
The Philadelphia Eagles, with their murky past, represent resilience. The New England Patriots more so represent prosperity and dominance. A region accustomed to victories season after season will develop an altered expectation of their team. This can result in high expectations, rather than high hopes. Where Patriots fans are dissatisfied with a second-place finish, Eagles fans are joyous about a season above .500. Where the Patriots have had the pleasure of hosting future hall of famer Tom Brady at the QB position since 2001, the Eagles have rotated through 18 starting quarterbacks since Eric’s birth — including beginning this season with Carson Wentz and then winning it with Nick Foles.
“A lot of the players will stay. Obviously the big question mark is what to do with Foles. I want to keep Wentz, obviously you don’t get rid of him. What happened to him was a freak injury. I’d like to keep him [Foles], if he wanted to go start on another team, I’d be fine with that as long as we got something in return. Obviously he’s not a backup quarterback, and we can’t just let him go to waivers. I’m sure Howie [Roseman] will figure something out,” Wiater said.
The Patriots’ catchphrase, “do your job” relates to the perfectionist path set by head coach and general manager Bill Belichick. The hierarchy established within the Patriots franchise is to trust your boss and do your job. The Eagles, to combat better men with the upper hand, must look up. Philadelphia is the city where the basketball team’s motto is to “trust the process,” a practice of performing poorly in the regular season in hopes of securing elite draft picks. The Eagles’ fight song, “Fly Eagles Fly,” speaks to the tough city’s inspired reaches for greatness. Patriots fans must consider the question: how satisfying can greatness be once it is already achieved? The first car means much more to a driver than their sixth car. For the countless others who, like Eric Wiater, “trusted the process” — know that the real fan cries real tears.