The New England Patriots play Sunday for their third Super Bowl title. While favored to win, the Patriots will face a strong Philadelphia team and its loyal fans. The Eagles have not been to the championship game in 24 years, and have never won it.
For three straight years, the Eagles were defeated at home in the game that could have sent them to the Super Bowl. Philadelphia sports radio announcer Anthony Gargano explains the anguish of Philadelphia fans. "Well, I always say you need to bleed to know bliss. This town was hemorrhaging for a long, long time," he said.
This season was different, as fan frustration erupted into jubilation. Some spent all of their life savings just to come to Jacksonville to personally witness Philadelphia sports history. Some took second [loans] on their homes to raise the money needed for the expensive trip, accommodations and a prized ticket to the game.
That is no surprise to Gargano. "We gained our identity through sport. And for our love of sport. And this is where the Eagles come in. It has become a 'thing' now. It had to happen," he said.
Thousands of Philadelphia fans without tickets to the Super Bowl also made the 1,300 kilometer trip to Jacksonville. They came here just to be close to the game and part of the festive atmosphere.
There are New England Patriots fans here. Although many of the team's faithful have already been to at least one of the Patriots' other Super Bowls. Even with his head shaved and painted like a football helmet, New England supporter Mike Schuster exudes a quiet confidence compared to Eagles fans. "We have been through this many times before. Patriots fans are slow and steady. We know how to pace ourselves. Eagles fans are using up all their energy before the game," he said.
As with the World Cup (soccer) final, and other championship games of all kinds, one group of fans will leave very happy, while the other will begin to dream about next year.