In the middle of Eagles territory, an oasis for Chiefs fans

PHILADELPHIA — Big Charlie’s Saloon in South Philadelphia seems like a perfect watering hole to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday. It’s expected to be packed, but not with Eagles fans. It’s a Kansas City Chiefs bar in a sports-loving but parochial town that doesn’t exactly roll out the red carpet for fans of other NFL teams.

“We’re in trouble,” said Laura Sessa, the manager.

Normally this would not be a problem. There is no tense rivalry between the teams. Coaching and family ties unite them.

Andy Reid, the affable Kansas City coach, led the Eagles for 14 seasons and took Philadelphia to the Super Bowl. Kansas City gregarious tight end Travis Kelce is the brother of Eagles center Jason. Their mother, Donna, is known for wearing a custom jersey that mixes colors representing both teams.

If an Eagles fan walks into Big Charlie’s on a Sunday, that’s okay. But the Super Bowl will not take place on Sunday.

“It’s a bit tricky now,” said Sessa, 54.

A bench is painted in Kansas City colors outside Big Charlie’s. A team flag flies on Sunday. Inside, the place is filled with helmets, mugs, autographed footballs, and even an Emmy Award from a feature film NFL Films made about the bar. There’s also a signed jersey from quarterback Patrick Mahomes and a replica Lombardi trophy from the Super Bowl that ended the 2019 season.

For this Super Bowl, Big Charlie’s threw a block party with a disc jockey and fireworks as Kansas City beat San Francisco, 31-20. This year, the watch festival will be more subdued as a sign of municipal respect; it will be held entirely inside the bar – an island of red in a sea of ​​green.

“I don’t want to provoke anything,” said Paul Staico, 57, owner of Big Charlie’s. “This town is tough.”

So far, there’s been nothing but good cheer from Eagles fans.

“The mailman is heckling us,” said John Alessi, 56, a Kansas City fan.

It has been suggested that wearing an opposing team’s jersey in Philadelphia is the equivalent of putting a sign on your back that says “Hit me”. In 1983, Eagles fans infamously tore the feathers from the headdress of Washington’s then-unofficial mascot, ripped off his suit like drunken tailors, ditched his rubber spear and gave him a pugilistic sendoff that required hospitalization.

But those were the wacky days of the long gone veterans stadium. Of course, there’s always the occasional, regrettable punch of a police horse (2018) and the more-than-occasional taunts that shower visiting fans like vulgar confetti. But Eagles fans generally behave better these days.

Ahead of last weekend’s NFC Championship game, a 49ers fan was seen on video climbing the Rocky Balboa statue outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and he appeared to survive locals without any unexpected dental bills. or orthopedic realignment.

But stay.

“A chef’s bar? said Kevin Meyers, 37, an Eagles fan. “How do they exist? »

Probably because the boss and his regulars aren’t strangers. They’re mostly guys from the neighborhood. Big Charlie’s is their corner bar. The Kansas City allegiance began in Super Bowl IV in 1970, when Big Charlie himself, Charlie Staico, placed a winning, if not strictly legal, bet on the team.

“The Chiefs won and the next day I had a bike,” said Paul Staico, son of Big Charlie, who recalls being amazed by the team’s now red helmets and arrow logo. tattooed on his arm. “Since then, I have been a fan.

Charlie Staico died in 1983. Eventually, Paul turned the bar into a Kansas City sanctuary.

Do not mistake yourself. It’s still a Philadelphia haunt. The Flyers and Phillies logos are inlaid on the side of the brick building. The place was packed for the recent World Series. But for professional football, the home team is not the preferred team.

Paul Staico’s passion spread to his friends, a number of whom became converts. Word has spread beyond Philadelphia, and Kansas City fans could come on Sunday from New York, Baltimore, Texas and California — and, of course, Kansas City — as crowds sometimes reach 150 supporters.

“It’s a family thing, it’s our thing,” said Michael Puggi, 48. “It’s an Eagles town, but it’s our corner.”

Anthony Scola, 62, a retired carpenter, built the bench outside the saloon.

“The atmosphere in that bar when the Chiefs are playing, you don’t care about the Eagles anymore,” Scola said. “I may be wearing green underwear, but I’m watching Kansas City.”

Tickets will be required to enter Big Charlie’s on Super Bowl Sunday. The vast majority will go to repeat customers. Kansas City fans. There might be a sprinkle of Eagles fans, neighborhood friends, but no one should be disrespectful by wearing visible Eagles colors.

Some clients will surely feel conflicting allegiances.

“I’m the biggest Eagles fan, but it’s my family,” Patrick Newcomb, 55, said of his bar mates, reciting the words to that famous 1976 football ballad by Mary MacGregor: ” Torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool, loving you both breaks all the rules.

Others will have no tortured loyalties. Alessi, a 30-year Kansas City fan, said he didn’t attend the Eagles’ victory parade after their 2018 Super Bowl win over New England. His wife and daughter went, he laughs, and “almost had to call a locksmith to get home.”

In the two weeks leading up to that Super Bowl, Alessi added, “We’re not talking.”

nytimes sport

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