PHILADELPHIA - Philadelphia Eagles fans awoke Monday to sunshine and cold, nursing foggy brains that might still be trying to piece together the new reality confronting them. Along Broad Street, city sanitation workers had done such a stellar job of clean-up overnight, it might make one wonder: Was Sunday night real? Did the Eagles really win the Super Bowl? Did the raucous celebration, the tangle of overjoyed humanity - and the inevitable pockets of debauchery - really happen?
You could tune in to 94WIP Sports Radio, or glance at the cover of the Philadelphia Inquirer ("AT LAST!"), and hear or see that it was all true. Or you could walk out to Broad, run your finger along a light pole, note the coating of hydraulic fluid still present - and feel it: For Eagles fans, the world had changed overnight.
With their 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday night, the Eagles earned the first Super Bowl title in franchise history and set off a wild, teeming street party that lasted deep into the wee hours of Monday, one full of tears, chants, songs and the occasional overturned car and downed light pole - the hydraulic fluid applied in advance by city police proving woefully ineffective at keeping unruly fans off the poles.
A changed outlook
"It changes your whole outlook about yourself, your whole identity," said Tom Russo, a business owner from South Philly and Eagles season-ticket holder, as he headed up Broad Street from South Philly toward City Hall. "When you're an Eagles fan it's like you've been a loser your whole life, and suddenly you're not a loser anymore. I'm not a loser anymore."
Eagles fans may not have much experience in celebrating the biggest of victories - the franchise's last championship was in 1960, before the Super Bowl era, and they had lost the big one in 1981 and 2005 - but nobody needed to be told what to do, where to go and how to act at 10:18 p.m. Sunday. It was as if the joyous hordes streaming out of the bars and houses and into the chilly night were guided by some deep-rooted, instinctual force in their bloodlines. If the Eagles won, the people were going in the streets. It's what they do.
And if Eagles fans went in the streets, they would know what to do once they got there:
"We're going to break some (stuff)," said Marco Borda, 26, of South Philadelphia, heading down Packer Avenue towards Broad Street following the Eagles' cathartic victory.
For any unsuspecting strangers who knew nothing of Super Bowls or the pent-up generational angst of Eagles fans, and who might have found themselves plopped down - tragically sober - in the middle of Broad Street in the wee hours of Monday morning, at the height of the post-game mob, the scene that revealed itself would have looked like some apocalyptic hellscape.
All along Broad Street, the city's main north-south artery, there were fireworks going off in all directions, their smoke mixing with that of cigars and marijuana and hanging over the street like a jungle fog. There were broken beer bottles everywhere, their shards of glass reflecting the blue and red lights of police cruisers and making brittle crunching sounds beneath hundreds of thousands of boots.
An unholy cacophony enveloped the city - horns honking, fireworks popping, pots and pans clanging, cowbells ringing, sirens wailing, fans chanting "E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!"
Every square block of Broad Street, from the deepest reaches of South Philly, all the way up to City Hall, and north to Spring Garden, seemed to be jammed shoulder-to-shoulder with people - many of them wearing Eagles jerseys and holding beers, signs or small children, and many of them seeking nothing more than to celebrate the best night of their fan-lives with their like-minded brethren. Strangers shared tearful hugs with each other, the moment they had waited for all their lives finally at hand.
In the middle of Broad Street in South Philly, a young man looked skyward and screamed, "This is for you, Aunt Pauline" - a reminder that the Eagles' futility had spanned generations, and for everyone who was partying in the streets Sunday night, there were loved ones who hadn't lived long enough to witness the sweetness of the ultimate victory.
Chaos in the streets
But still other fans were hell-bent on destruction - driven by what seemed like a sense of duty to uphold the city's reputation as the hardest of hardcore sports towns - and those people made good on their vow to "break some [stuff]," the destruction getting worse as the night wore on and the alcohol made its inevitable turn from happy buzz to sinister drunk: An occasional smashed store window. A looted convenience store. A small tree somehow uprooted just outside City Hall and being paraded around like a trophy. A handful of cars flipped over. A couple of small fires set.
Many of the street-bound congregants seemed to be governed by an internal drive for verticality, every object that could be climbed upon housing one or more people. They climbed atop cars, police tactical trucks, garbage trucks, concrete barricades, bus-station shelters, ledges of buildings and the awning of the Ritz-Carlton hotel - until it collapsed under the weight of a half-dozen or more people, who, upon picking themselves up from the sidewalk, ripped the awning to shreds and waved the pieces around like pennants.
For Eagles fans, Monday was the first day of their new world. They weren't losers anymore. And the next time that many people line Broad Street, later this week, it will be for a victory parade that was decades in the making and arrives not a moment too soon.