Diehards Enjoy Their Day Of Days
This is a story about allegiance, about unwavering, nearly incomprehensible fandom. It’s about wedding ring tattoos, a football-themed wedding, a living room shrine and a father-son pilgrimage to Jacksonville. It’s about Philadelphia Eagles fans.
It’s about crossing that shadowy point of no return where Sunday’s armchair fan becomes the painted face in the stands, where the team logo makes its way onto the mantel next to portrait of the tow-headed son, where championships won or lost are afforded the prime mental real estate next to memories of births and marriages.
For the true blue, or rather true green, Eagles fan, today is certainly a long time coming — 24 years of nail biting, television- cursing endurance. For Bashir Woods, whether the Birds win or lose, his love won’t die tonight. As if his green hat, shirt, jacket and shoes weren’t herald enough for his diehard love, his loyalty has taken indelible form across his chest.
Three hours beneath a humming tattoo gun ensured Woods’ lifelong bond with the team will never fade away. An eagle, its wings outstretched as if taking flight, stretches from shoulder to shoulder.
He had the tattoo’s outline started when the Birds clinched the NFC championship. Wednesday night the tattoo artist stopped by Woods’ Wilkes-Barre home for a final inking session. “I said I’d get it finished before they go to the Super Bowl,” Woods said, standing in the snow in his front yard, his shirt tossed to the side. “That’s for life man.”
Just for good measure he extended his arms and slowly flapped them, like an Eagle. “That’s the T.O. move,” he said referring to Terrell Owens, the team’s flashy Pro Bowl receiver. For John Petrilyak and his son John — to simplify matters they go by Big Pilsey and Little Pilsey — the Eagles are the tie that binds.
Meeting his father at a Hazleton-area coffee shop before beginning his workday at the federal prison in Minersville, Little Pilsey, 31, discussed years of Eagles fandom and family. For him, the two are inextricably intertwined.
“There’s probably not a tighter father-son combination when it comes to sports,” he said. Big Pilsey, 58, flipped through a photo album of aging snapshots of a truly tiny Pilsey posing with bygone Eagles at their West Chester training camp. Little Pilsey with Ron Jaworski. Little Pilsey with Bill Bergey. Little Pilsey with former coach Dick Vermeil.
Even if the two don’t get a chance to come together during the workweek, a Sunday get-together in the glow of a TV or in a parking lot of Lincoln Financial Field is a sure thing.
“This is our church service,” Little Pilsey said. Early mornings driving down the turnpike turn into all-you-can- eat oyster tailgating parties. “We’ve been going down, win or lose, for as long as I can remember,” Little Pilsey said.
The dyed-in-the-wool Birds fan even found a way to inject a little football into his wedding day three years ago. The groomsmen donned Eagles jerseys and the bridesmaids wore Giants jerseys to celebrate the soon-to-be cemented intradivisional romance with his wife.
The floor at the reception was covered in Astroturf, and the wedding party entered to the theme from Monday Night Football. Even Little Pilsey’s wedding ring tattoos, despite being gold, shines with a green tint.
On Friday, Big and Little Pilsey left for Jacksonville and a 14- hour drive straight through to the end of the season’s long road to catch the final game. “For me, other than the birth of my son or getting married, this is definitely the limelight of my life,” Little Pilsey said.
In Nanticoke, worshiping at the altar of the Eagles isn’t so much about a father-son connection as enjoying the beer-fueled picnic that is tailgating. Joel Antolik, 23, with his high school buddies, made it down to every single game at Lincoln Financial Field but never actually made it inside. “We just drive down to support them in the parking lot,” Antolik said.
He has the pictures to prove it: Antolik and pals atop a party van. Antolik and his friends with the marauding Eagles pep band. Antolik and his friends with a Christmas tree adorned with empty beer cans.
A version of that yuletide scene actually made it on to a fan Web site, an ESPN sports show and then the Armed Forces Network, from which Ron Bruza, a member of the 109th Field Artillery Bravo Battery, caught the snapshot from a world away in northern Iraq.
He was watching television when his hometown friends popped up in all the way from the Linc. Worlds collided. “We were all just sitting around,” he said, home now after a yearlong tour of duty. “I look and I go ‘No, those are my friends.’”
Through years of following the Eagles, Antolik said, there have been quite a few painful moments, not the least of which was the Birds’ loss in the conference championship game last year.
But the most painful? He has a photo of that too. Antolik points to a photo of himself sidelined by excel tailgating on the asphalt outside the stadium — and that was before the game ever started.
At Pete Palmentere’s apartment in Edwardsville, there aren’t a whole lot of furnishings. He’s only been there a few months and his mattress lies on the floor in front of a small television. But he has a full-blown Eagles shrine set up in a hallway alcove. Flags, hats, lights, it’s an homage to the Bowl-bound Birds.