Sunday, November 10, 1985
Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Dad leans over me on my bed. I don’t understand why he refuses to let me sleep in my game outfit. He grins as he pries the gray corduroys down my waist. The Kelly green Eagles jersey flails over my head and around my arms like a hockey player who’s losing a fight. After he flings Ron Jaworksi’s number-seven to the ground his wiry black eyebrows furrow and his mouth frowns. He puts his hands on his hips, and sighs as he leaves. You may recognize Jaworski and his nickname Jaws, as one of ESPN’s football analysts. Maybe Mom puts my pajamas on after. Maybe I cry. I’ll be nine in two days. By refusing to let me wear my Eagles gear to bed, Dad violates our code, our unspoken truce about all things Eagles.
I watch Jaws on TV as a boy, barking out signals from behind his narrow gray two-bar facemask. The Eagles suffer from a mighty hangover after their loss in New Orleans during Super Bowl XV. In 1981, they win ten games, but lose in the first round of the playoffs. The following season, the NFL strike wipes out eight weeks of football, and after a dismal year, the celebrated head coach Dick Vermeil resigns. In the following three seasons, when I’m ages seven, eight, and nine, the team’s combined record is 18-29-1.
Apparently, these dire times are cause for calling upon Jesus, Mary, and Joseph for help. Or, actually, it sounds more like it is their fault, the way Dad pounds his fist on the arm of the chair, and stalks by me, shaking the floorboards where I sit. When he calls upon the holy family, it sounds like “JeeeeeeSUS MaryandJoseph,” a long, overdramatic exhalation for the first syllable, and a breath in for the second. The Virgin Mary and the adopted father of the savior for the Christian religion are expelled in one collapsed grumble.
Those “Damn Birds” lose so often, I learn that part of the rules of the house mean toning down the chitchat during dinner after a defeat. If Dad raises an eyebrow at me, it is like a yellow flag on the field, a personal misconduct on my part. The eyebrow is worse than hearing him tell me to go sit in “the chair,” my parents’ 80s talk for taking a timeout. Mom and my sister can speak, and they have to carry the conversation. But if I blabber on it’s a sign of blasphemy. Chirping at the table is disloyal? to “the damn Birds” a little—but it’s more about a bond we are forming over the Eagles. It is clear to me that Jaws is the leader. He gives the commands on the field and holds the ball every play. I learn the rules of the game on the field and in the house. I learn to follow my dad’s signals. 
 I am a few months away from making my First Communion. Each Sunday our family goes to nine o’clock Mass. After, my parents go out to breakfast with Grandma and Pop Pop, while my sister and I spend an hour in Confraternity Catholic Doctrine class. Catholic kids who attend public school need to go to what is commonly referred to as CCD. I’m sure we talk about the Eucharist that fall. And at some point my conclusions cross disciplines.
During the prayers of the faithful, at Mass, when the priest says, “And now for any intentions that lie in the silence of your hearts,” I bow my head and pray for Jaws, and number eighty-two Mike Quick, possibly the most aptly named wide receiver in the history of the NFL.
The Eagles have the power to close any gaps between my father and me, like the tight-spiraled missiles Jaws throws to Quick over the middle of the field. I don’t ever really question why it matters so much, but I accept Dad’s prayerful bursts to the holy family as Eucharist. The team feeds our relationship. It is a subject of immediate and uncontested agreement between us. Touchdowns mean yelling, a shared grin, possibly a high five. An Eagles interception or a shanked field-goal attempt mean calling upon Jesus Christ, or simply groaning incomprehensibly to each other as some constipated people tend to do privately. 
I’m still trying to figure out why my father leaves before that game is over. It’s just getting good, for the team and for us. In the first quarter, the team mascot, Birdbrain, approaches our section. I run down to hand my drawing of an Eagles helmet made with green, gray, and white pastel markers on yellow construction paper. I ask him to give it to Mike Quick. Birdbrain stops his frantic gestures for a moment. He points his beak in my dad’s direction, then rubs my head with his wing, and moves along the metal railing waving white wings, knocking over empty clear plastic cups with oversized yellow bird feet.
The game is somewhat famous because of how it ends. The Eagles blow a seventeen-to-nothing lead. The Atlanta Falcons tie the game. They are twenty-five yards from the goal line. Nine seconds are left in the fourth quarter. They miss the field goal. In overtime, the red helmets receive the ball and cannot score. They punt it back to the home team. The punt soars in the air for sixty-two yards and dots the Eagles’ five-yard line, bouncing out of bounds inside the one. The field position hushes the remaining sixty-three thousand fans who attend the game. We sit in section 372, row eleven. Maybe he make’s us leave because of all the sloppy drunks, spilling beer and curses as well as the thought of being in a post-game traffic jam with them and his only son. Or maybe it’s that the game is in the opposite end zone. Without any warning, Dad pats both knees and says, “Let’s go.” 
I descend concrete steps, and traverse through the concourse. Thousands upon thousands shift through the opening of each section entrance as we hustle past them. Each opening is a glimmer of where we were. The game is not over. And he decides to leave? It is overtime. Dad alters the lead shoulder under his blue jacket as he moves through the crowd. The back of his gray wool cap and the red flannel lining of his hood shift to the right, then the left. He is my lead blocker. The openings offer light, yellow security jackets, and traces of blue sky. The entrances are giant speakers amplifying a chant that is just catching on, or dying out. The public address announcer booms, and the crowd’s thunderous murmur roars on.
In the car, Dad turns on the radio. Over the concrete and the steel and up into the blue, all those voices erupt. Merrill Reese’s voice crackles through the static side door speakers. “He’s gonna go! 25-30, 35-40—midfield—45-40, 35-30. Mike Quick. Touchdown. The Eagles win.” Jaws and Quick connect for a record breaking ninety-nine-yard touchdown catch and run, the winning score of the team’s first overtime victory in franchise history. Dad’s car wheels flatten a beer can. In my sideview mirror, I watch the aluminum slide and scrape the parking lot blacktop in the direction of the stadium—the concrete and the steel shrinking, as we drive away.

Sunday, September 17, 2000
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Green Bay Packers

The 3-6 Eagles’ loss is not the quarterback matchup it’s hyped to be, between gun-slinging Brett Favre and the scrambling second year man, Donovan McNabb. It’s a forgettable kicking contest between Ryan Longwell and David Akers, except that Dad visits me in Connecticut, and we watch it together. I stay in Connecticut after college, and sign up for a satellite service and the NFL package, which allows me to see every game, every Sunday. 
Dad “cooks” before we leave for church. He cuts open a package of sauerkraut. The pickled cabbage and yellow juices squirt out of the bag and thud into the metal pot Dad has brought with him. He places three pieces of pork on a foundation of sauerkraut. Kielbasa, hot dogs, another bag of kraut and a bottle of beer fill the rest of the pot. Dad places the lid on top, turns the electric burner on low, rubs the palms of his hands together, and says, “Should be ready by kickoff.”
The Eagles game is almost over; the pot on the stove is half empty. I shoot the TV with the remote to switch channels from one upcoming four o’clock game to the next. Dad sleeps in the Laz-E-Boy. I sit a few feet away on the futon. The backs of his hands rest against his khaki-covered thighs. The fingers turn in toward the palms. The folds of his white-and-brown windowpane button-down shirt expand with his breath. Black glasses rest in his shirt pocket. Afternoon whiskers poke through his neck, lowered chin, and cheeks. His open mouth is pink. The wrinkles across his forehead cannot relax, even in sleep. Slow-motion replays and commercials shift colored lights between thin wisps of silver hairs on his shiny scalp.
I want him to wake up, raise his arms out toward the green players who flash on the screen with wings on their helmets. He should be hooting and hollering first names, in sentences punctuated by the pop of a single clap. I want his voice to bounce off my apartment walls, to grumble with me in disgust, to speak to me before he leaves.

Sunday, January 18, 2008
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Phoenix Cardinals

When the crisp air of autumn returns, and maple leaves crunch underfoot, watching football can be as holy for me as praying in church. I manage to bring my Sunday bachelor practice and the NFL satellite package into family life. We lay on top of green pillows, the floor, the couch, and each other. We take turns holding James, who’s almost four months old. He wears the same Kelly green sweatshirt with gray snaps that was once mine. The Eagles’ patch on the chest is separating from the cotton. The gray strings from the hood have frayed. I guess in the midseventies, when the sweatshirt was made, they actually put strings in baby clothing.
Lynne ladles her chili into bread bowls before the one o’clock games, by the four o’clock kickoff, she’ll slide a tray of tortilla chips topped with her chili, chopped raw onions, and shredded cheddar cheese out of the top metal rack of the oven. James will nap in his crib, while Lynne sleeps on the couch. It’s our day of rest.
Sundays become as dead as my father when the Philadelphia Eagles season ends. The whistles, cheers, replays, and familiar commercials we may have grown to like—it all recedes into a winter snowstorm and hibernates for eight months.
I throw the remote across the room that January night. It bounces off the couch. Batteries and plastic pieces clatter across the carpet as midnight green jerseys head for the locker-room and the off season. The wings arched in mid flap on the players’ helmets walk past white and Cardinal red jerseys celebrating their National Football Conference Championship victory and a trip to Tampa, Florida, to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. A haze of red and white confetti litters the TV screen.
Without the relevance, the immediacy of the game, or the promise of the next game, the paraphernalia surrounding me seems lifeless. The Kelly green and the midnight green constitute the colors of my dual self; the son in me who longs for his dad and the young man, who in 1999 (when the uniform changed to midnight green) prepares to graduate college and find a job. Grow up. Midnight green fades through red and white confetti like the faces of people walking outside when the flakes fall and winter gusts blow white everywhere. The team’s fourth NFC Championship game loss in seven years sends me into a fury, an illogical frenzy my wife of two and a half years hasn’t seen yet because I’ve been too embarrassed to unleash myself fully over those Damn Birds. 
I have yet to consider ridding myself of this ridiculous obsession, but I do want to tear down the posters, autographed pictures, football cards, the three helmets on the shelf, and the deflated football, cracked and autographed by the entire 1988 team. McNabb and the Damn Birds have brought me too close, too many times. The jus from the au jus roast-beef sandwiches steaming in clouds above the crock-pot nauseates me. My barley-and-hops-soaked head throbs.  
What do I expect from a Super Bowl victory? A championship team cannot grant me the transfiguration of my father. It wouldn’t deliver him from the subconscious to a seat on the couch for an introduction to his daughter-in-law and his grandson. It wouldn’t give us the chance to talk again, or exchange a grin. Football cannot resurrect a father. 
Most of the players that stare back at me through dusty glass frames are retired. I call out their names next to Dad, as a kid. Some of them aren’t even alive anymore. And when that season ended, when every season ends, the room haunts me until the sting of the playoff loss wears off. The Eagles’ wall clock ticks above the TV. The once-white pennants spanning three decades seem to yellow before my eyes. The 1960 NFL Championship team poster did not belong to me. They have never been my team. They’re stories of a famed past, names from another century: Norm Van Brocklin, Tommy McDonald, and Chuck Bednarik?the players who beat Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers at Franklin Field, they are ghosts of Sunday’s past haunting the present.
And why do I hang my childhood poster of football helmets? The NFL consisted of twenty-eight teams then. The images occupied my boyhood mind at night. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I left the Advent candles on in my bedroom. They were single plastic candles, with a bulb for a flame. The lights illuminated the helmets, my parents were in the next room and I was free to wonder: Can I name the state where each team is located? Is it the capital city? If not, what is? Can I name who is in first place in each division? Can I connect the Eagles helmet to the one belonging to their opponent this week in horizontal, vertical, or diagonal lines? Darn. What about next week? Wait. Who are we playing next Sunday? Maybe I can guess?
I shouldn’t expect old faces and variations of green to reconnect me to my dead father. Perhaps I’ve surrounded myself with autographed football cards of Ron Jaworski, Harold Carmichael, Wilbert Montgomery, and Mike Quick, those stars of the early 80s, to hear their names spoken in my father’s voice. That his voice could once again holler at the TV with mine when the game is on and the collective voices of thousands hums through the TV speakers. My grief is not the loss on the field, but the loss of the man, whose absence make off-season Sundays as empty as Veterans Stadium moments before it imploded. 
I spread the Eagles blanket out on the floor and put all three helmets in the middle: the midnight green helmet with white wings, the Kelly green one with gray wings, and the mini white helmet with green wings. I wear my father’s gray t-shirt, which he bought at Lehigh University during training camp in 2000. McNabb was a rookie then. I reached out to shake his hand in the autograph tent that morning and shot him an awkward grin when his large hand enveloped mine and his fingers wrapped around my wrist and part of my forearm.
I form an X with both arms, grab the bottom and fling the worn cotton of the T-shirt onto the helmets. James sits on the floor and watches me. I unsnap his sweatshirt and pull it off. I hold the blanket together at the corners and head upstairs. I ransack my drawers, and continue to fill the blanket with Eagles apparel.
In the attic, I shove it all in the bin of summer clothes. I hammer the plastic lid with my fist, and ask myself “Why should this loss drive me to stand, shirtless, panting alone in the dusty cold attic on a dark winter’s night?” When Dad was alive, as I grew older, I vowed to keep football in perspective, to recover from a loss and engage others at the dinner table. And yet, this is how he would have reacted—stunned into silent anger. Dad shakes his head in my memory, and I shake mine back at him. Get a grip. Dad, I think to myself. But here I am in the attic.

Sunday, November 1, 2009
New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles

I know football games are an excuse to melt cheese on tortilla chips, drink a beer in the afternoon, and hang out. At thirteen months old, I teach James to lift his arms up toward the brown wood panels of the ceiling and say, “Touch, touch, touch,” whenever the Eagles cross the goal line. And I know that I’m seducing him by buying him gear and wrapping him up in excessive affection when he raises both arms. I sell it to Lynne as our day of rest. I turn the volume down late in the afternoon while she naps on the couch.

The leaves from the limbs of my neighbor’s birch tree blanket the space in an autumn quilt. The Eagles on the walls in my den hover through memory, awakening my younger self. The team is off to a promising four-win and two-loss start. McNabb has passed the ball well, and speedy, young, skill players LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin dash across the screen for big plays. But even casual fans know McNabb doesn’t have many good years left in his career. And soon, someone my father and I never watched together will replace him as the next franchise quarterback.

My father eludes me in the commotion of every day. I walk on the 300-level concourse of a stadium that no longer exists. I thought that as I grew older, the fanaticism might wear off, dwindle at least into a controlled following, with a more grounded emotional response to the outcomes of Eagles games. But what has remained, if not intensified, is a feeling: an old hope rises up that the winged helmets can once again close the gap between us. Under the wood-panel ceiling, and between the sage green walls, while I recline in my chair in the reverie of a lazy Sunday, catching my father seems possible, if only he would turn around.

James M. Chesbro's essays appear in The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project.His essay "Night Running," which appeared in CT Review, was selected as a notable essay for The Best American Essays series, 2012. He is the co-editor of  You: An Anthology of Essays Devoted to the Second Person (Welcome Table Press, 2013). Read more of his work at Follow him on Twitter.