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Finding the real Eagles fans

Three films about Philly, family, and Eagles fandom

In
5 minute read
The poster for Maybe This Year. It has a chalk football diagram above a flying eagle with a German Shepherd’s head.
A nostalgic look at the Eagles’ championship season. (Image courtesy of Wavelength Productions.)

Everyone knows about the Philadelphia Eagles, their fans, and the fans' reputation. In the popular imagination, Eagles fans are a bunch of violent ruffians, prone to over-the-top hostility, drunkenness, parking lot brawling, and a few specifically notorious incidents.

https://themighty.com/2017/04/...That, I've found, is overstated. Sure, a lot of the famous incidents are real, but most purported Eagles fan pathology is really football pathology, the sort of stuff you’re going to see in any of the 30 NFL stadiums.

Eagles fandom, to me, is much more about a family gathering on a Sunday afternoon to watch the game over pizza, beers, and wings, while cheering, booing, and devising elaborate trade scenarios that promise a better team next year. Can even those gatherings lead to tension, anger, and hostility? Absolutely.

Over the years, there have been some cinematic attempts to capture the unique dynamic of Philly fandom. And like Eagles seasons themselves, these movies have had mixed results.

Silver Linings Playbook

The Hollywood movie most associated with Eagles fandom is David O. Russell's 2012 Silver Linings Playbook. Based on a novel by South Jersey native and La Salle alum Matthew Quick, it’s about an Eagles fan named Pat (Jenkintown native Bradley Cooper), recently released from a psychiatric hospital and seeking to reconnect with his estranged wife.

The film focuses on the character's bipolar disorder, and also his relationship with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a woman with issues of her own. But there's also a lot in it about his Eagles fandom. He constantly wears a DeSean Jackson #10 jersey, and his family is shown watching Eagles games every Sunday.

Silver Linings Playbook was a box-office hit and an Oscar juggernaut, becoming the first film in years to get Oscar nominations in all four acting categories. Philly people love to visit its locations, especially the Llanerch Diner in Upper Darby.

But I think the film is significantly overrated, featuring stilted dialogue and a miscast Jennifer Lawrence, who’s too young for the part. And while the movie mostly treats the subject of mental illness with sensitivity, it also implies, as many Hollywood films have, that the cure for mental illness is romantic love. Writer Erin Stair, back in 2017, articulated why it's not nearly that simple.

Also, for a movie set in Philadelphia in the fall of 2008, there's next to no hint of the Phillies's championship run, the financial crisis, or the election of Barack Obama. And the idealization of DeSean Jackson, accused of anti-Semitism during his second stint with the Eagles in 2020, hasn't aged especially well.

A scene from Silver Linings Playbook. Bradley Cooper wears a hoodie in a hospital hallway and carries an empty mayo jar.
An overrated Oscar nominee: 'Silver Linings Playbook' starred Jenkintown native Bradley Cooper. (Image courtesy of Lionsgate.)

I also never quite believed that these people were Eagles fans. The accents are a bit dodgy, while the scenes of game day Sundays in Delco didn't feel realistic. (English leading lady notwithstanding, Mare of Easttown better captured Delco culture, almost a decade later.)

Silver Linings Playbook can be streamed on Netflix and Pluto TV, but it leaves room for an authentic movie about Eagles fans. Fortunately, another entry debuted this fall.

Game Day

Game Day is a new, locally-produced indie film, directed by Edgar Michael Bravo, set over the course of a single day: a Sunday in which the Eagles are playing the Cowboys. A family watches on television, with plenty of their own drama.

Pete Postiglione, a co-producer and actor in Game Day, was actually in Silver Linings Playbook, in a bit part as a lawyer. He told me in an interview that the origin of the film came when Bravo spent a Sunday afternoon with his friend Dean Simone and Simone's family, and couldn't believe what he was seeing of their passion for the game. That led to the movie, with Simone playing the lead.

The film, shot mostly in Wallingford, had a well-attended premiere on November 13, 2021, at the MJ Freed Theater at the Chester Cultural Arts and Technology Center, in downtown Chester. It represents another example of the resurgent local film production scene.

The film does a much better job on the accent, thanks to its almost entirely local cast. And if you've ever been at a family gathering in which tensions were exacerbated by what's going on in the football game, you’ll likely see something familiar here (though hopefully your family dynamics aren’t nearly as dark).

Game Day is available for rental from Amazon and other VOD outlets.

Maybe This Year

Another film that explores Philadelphia fandom, albeit in a nonfictional way, is Maybe This Year, a documentary about the Eagles' run to the Super Bowl after the 2017 season. The film, under its previous title Maybe Next Year, premiered at the Philadelphia Film Festival in 2019. The director, Kyle Thrash, is a Philly native and Drexel alum.

The film follows three Eagles fans over the course of that season, including "Eagles Shirley," a frequent sports-radio caller who conducts classes for women to learn about football, and a New Jersey man who built a sports bar out of his house. (An additional subject, the YouTuber known as "EDP445," was entirely excised from the current version of the film after he was accused of misconduct.)

Yes, it occasionally stumbles into well-worn cliche, as the first words we hear in the film are Mike Missanelli calling Philly a "blue-collar town." And these days, the 2017 season seems like a long time ago, especially the parts in which we hear sports-radio callers saying positive things about Carson Wentz. But those looking for a nostalgic look at the championship season, and the fans who celebrated it, will likely find a great deal to enjoy.

Maybe This Year is available to stream on Hulu.

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