I watched Super Bowl LII at Belushi's, the same expat-friendly*, hostel-connected bar in which I watched the Eagles' first two playoff games.
*Which I would usually avoid
In the back room there are tables, chairs, a couple huge projection screens – at least 2 meters diagonally – and a bunch of regular-sized TVs. I would guess 100 people fit. About an hour before kickoff Sunday night – around 11:30 p.m. in Barcelona – I spotted along the wall one of the scant open chairs remaining.
"Is this seat open?"
:Irish-ish accent: "Yes."
"Do you mind if an Eagles fan sits here?"
"I'm going for the Patriots, but I don't mind."
I left my jacket on the chair and went to the bar to order food.
I almost sent this newsletter Friday, after returning from my trip to Milan, but I got distracted and it stayed in my drafts. At the bottom – believe what you like – I had written this prediction:
On my way out of the large back room to the bar, I saw a guy in an Eagles ski cap coming toward me. (I, wearing all black, packed no Eagles gear for my move to Spain.)
I grabbed him by the shoulder.
"I'm so glad you're here." He looked confused, having been apprehended by a stranger. "They're all Patriots fans," I continued.
"No Eagles fans?"
"I didn't see any. My jacket's over there, but I'm sitting with Patriots fans. If you find a table with open seats, I'll sit with you."
I didn't expect to see him again.
The "Jan. 3 prophecy" to which I refer above was written in this Facebook status three days before the playoffs began.
Basically, in a post that was a review of my 2017, I wrote this as something I would celebrate from 2018:
-Stayed up until 6 a.m. to watch the Eagles avenge their previous Super Bowl loss to the Patriots behind a miraculous performance by Nick Foles
Other than the game ending at 4 instead of 6, I think I nailed it!
When you order food at Belushi's, they give you a large wooden spoon with a number on it, and ask where you're sitting. I described my location with the Patriots fans against the far wall, signed my credit card receipt, and walked away.
I had barely breached the threshold of the back room when I saw the guy in the Eagles hat waving from the other side. With a glass of Coke and a can of Red Bull in hand, I walked his direction.
He had saved me a seat on the large, elevated wooden boxes – a better view than I would have had in the chair.
His name was Marc, and he was a Barcelona native who had been an Eagles fan since the Andy Reid era.
I thanked him for the seat, set my drinks down, retrieved my jacket from the chair across the room, and informed the server of my new location.
I have been to one Eagles playoff game in my life, on Jan. 11, 2004. My dad and I had driven to Philadelphia (about 2 hours from our Pylesville home) and bought tickets from a scalper.
What followed was one of the most exciting games in franchise history. Trailing 14-0, their first touchdown of that game was scored by Duce Staley, now the running backs coach.
Donovan McNabb and team eventually pulled within 17-14, but faced a 4th and 26th with 1:12 left in the 4th quarter. The ensuing 26 1/2 yard pass to Freddie Mitchell was one of the greatest plays I have ever seen live. David Akers finished the historic drive with a game-tying field goal with :05 remaining in regulation.
Marc knows more about American football – not just the Eagles – than most people I have ever met in the U.S. He asked my opinion on things I didn't even know were topics. He had intelligent thoughts on the Chip Kelly era. He was a Real Fan.
And not just of the Eagles. He also likes the Heat and Lightning, and once visited Miami and Tampa, respectively, to watch each of them play.
About 30 minutes before kickoff, another guy, after noticing Marc's hat, walked over to us with the same problem I had had earlier: He couldn't find any Eagles fans.
"Sit with us!" we said.
Jack, who's traveling Europe for a bit and was staying in the hostel connected to the bar, was a native of West Chester, a well-known suburb west of the City of Brotherly Love. My ideal crew to enjoy the game and simultaneously take on the legion of Patriots fans around us was complete.
The three of us agreed on a few things before the game began: 1) We would not get too excited if the Eagles got up early, for many obvious reasons 2) We would openly cheer for our team, but not obnoxiously 3) We would not pick a fight with the New England fans, solely out of respect for everyone else present*.
*Definitely not because we were vastly outnumbered, and definitely not because the Gronk doppelgänger sitting next to us looked like he was on steroids and also possibly cocaine and/or ecstacy.
Marc told us he had a bet with a friend – if the Eagles won, he would have to dye his beard green. I was confused as to how that would be a reward for his favorite team winning, but it was too tense for such questions.
In overtime of the playoff game I went to with my dad, the Packers had the ball first. Less than 2 minutes into the extra period, Brett Favre was intercepted by Brian Dawkins, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame the day before this year's Super Bowl.
Minutes later, Akers kicked his second field goal of the game, sending the Eagles to the NFC Championship, which they would lose for the third consecutive year.
The next season, in 2005, they would finally reach the Super Bowl for the second time (but the first in my lifetime), only to lose by 3 to Tom Brady and the Patriots.
We stuck to our three rules throughout the game. Marc only got up once at halftime to get fresh air outside. Jack the same, to buy himself another beer – and me a 2€ Red Bull, for which I Venmo'ed him $2.50. I never left the back room, and barely my seat.
It was reassuring to be surrounded my like-minded, knowledgable (me the least of us three) Eagles fans. No doubt that our relentless strategizing, analyzing and commiserating was a key factor in final outcome.
Marc took on the role of the person who would yell at the refs. Jack was the chief cautioner (pessimist??), with me not far behind, as Eagles fans are wont to be. And I did my best to point out the most obvious things about the game – "Man, a touchdown would be really helpful here!" – so they would eagerly agree, thus making me feel like a genius.
Seconds before Brady's pivotal fumble late in the game, I predicted an interception. Close enough – Brandon Graham's forced turnover was the only sack of the game. We were going crazy, and at this point, had attracted a few other lukewarm Eagles supporters to sit near us. After the turnover, we reminded ourselves that, unless Philadelphia scored a touchdown or ran the clock out, there would be plenty of time for a classic Brady drive.
Sure enough, the Eagles were held to three running plays and a field goal, extending the lead to 8, before the Patriots got the ball back. After the questionable reverse pitch on the kickoff return pinned New England inside its own 10, the Eagles defense couldn't have asked for a better situation.
Once the Patriots drove toward midfield with 9 seconds remaining, it seemed possible that there would be two more plays. By the time Brady's infamous Hail Mary attempt landed incomplete in the end zone, I didn't notice the clock. I hadn't even considered that it would run out. And that's when Jack started celebrating, pointing out that there was no time left.
I, too, now noticed the 0:00 on the screen, but was scared the refs might add time. And I continued to be scared, until finally, both teams were on the field, the Eagles celebrating, the Patriots sulking.
It was official. As I had only half-jokingly told my parents in the fall after receiving my Spanish visa: "The Eagles are finally going to win the Super Bowl and I'm going to be all the way in Barcelona when it happens."
In the cab ride to my apartment after the game, I called back my parents, who had FaceTimed me as soon as the game ended, though I couldn't hear them in the bar.
I wish I had a screenshot, but they – Ravens fans – were faithfully decked out in Eagles jerseys and hats I had left in Maryland upon moving to Barcelona.
I had also missed a call from Ryan, my cousin Julia's husband. They, a military family, live in St. Louis, and let me use their Sunday Ticket account for the last 3 or 4 years when I lived in the U.S. Of all my family members, Julia is probably the biggest co-Eagles fan I have.
When I called them back nearly an hour after the game, she was still crying – and getting ready for a flight the next day to Philadelphia so she could attend the parade this week. She promised to send lots of photos and videos.
The game ended at 4 a.m., but I wouldn't get in the cab, and later, my bed, for another 90 minutes.
After the servers promptly asked us to leave when the game ended, Marc said he knew a place where Barcelona fans go to celebrate championships. (Or something like that*.)
He said it was only a five-minute walk, and suggested we go there to take a photo. *Whatever the exact significance, which I wish I remembered better, Jack and I were happy to walk through the pouring rain to adapt this local tradition for our beloved Eagles.
After a brief accidental detour, we arrived at the correct spot at the top of Las Ramblas, in front of a fountain. Jack asked if we would indulge him with a video of the three of us singing the Eagles fight song.
So at 4:30 a.m. in the pouring rain in the heart of Barcelona, three Eagles fans who had met less than five hours before were staring into Jack's phone screaming "Fly Eagles Fly!"
Shortly after, we took cover in the stairway of the nearest metro station and exchanged contact info.
When we came back up the stairs, Jack headed for the hostel, and Marc and I for our respective homes.
I woke up around 12:30 p.m. Monday, still tired, still happy. Jack shared with us the photo and video from in front of the fountain. Marc followed up with a photo of his own: a smiling, green-bearded selfie.