Earlier this year, a friend who lived in the Philadelphia area during his college days showed me a video I’ve since replayed dozens of times: The Eagles have just won the NFC championship and spirits are high on the streets of the city. On the ground, the local channel-six ABC affiliate has begun interviewing the jubilant fans with one thick-necked dude crowing about the birds’ “amazing victory.” As he’s winding down his soundbite, a stranger clad in an Adidas track suit and an eyepatch wanders into the frame with a triumphant message: “Yo, it’s crazy — Wentz goes down, BIG DICK NICK STEPS THE FUCK UP!”
The first time I saw this ten-second clip, I laughed not because I knew who Carson Wentz or Nick “Big Dick Nick” Foles were, but because watching someone drop an F-bomb on network news will always be funny. More to the point, I laughed because I recognized this man. As a native of Massachusetts, I’ve met him hundreds and hundreds of times, his Eagles gear swapped out for Pats (or, more likely, Sox) regalia. The big-city townie who flocks by the thousands to sporting events with even bigger turnouts for higher-stakes games, ready to swill beer and call the other guys a buncha bums and maybe threaten to fight your cousin. He is, by most criteria, an asshole. But you love him, in no small part because he’s your asshole.
While my beloved Yo, It’s Crazy Guy does not show his eyepatch-clad face on this week’s episode of It’s Always Sunny, the Gang’s trip to Minnesota for Super Bowl LII salutes him and his legion brethren in the Eagles fandom. Mac arrives at their private box in U.S. Bank Stadium (like the jet they take to get there, an expense that goes without explanation) concerned with appearances, intent on giving Philly a face it can be proud of on the national stage in light of the rowdy embarrassment accompanying the previous playoff games. It doesn’t help that Frank has invited an all-star lineup of lowlifes including Rickety Cricket, Bill Ponderosa, Charlie’s uncle Jack, pyramid schemer Rex, and Dee’s soldier boyfriend Ben. Mac’s worried that America will see these loud, poorly mannered weirdoes and think that’s what Philadelphia is. Only the realization that they’d be right can set him free.
Everybody’s on their worst behavior at the game, being their Philly-est selves. Some of them can’t help it; Dee’s repulsive pink-eye situation is hardly her fault, though spreading it from one eye to the other certainly is, and nobody wants Frank’s surprise kidney stone out more than Frank. Everybody else has decided to just lean into it, whether it’s the waitress proudly flaunting her Patriots fandom over her crush on “Tommy Terrific,” or Rex hawking his magic berries to anybody who will listen. As they brashly confirm the worst conceptions of Philly natives as tacky and classless, Mac grows ashamed, until one man’s urethral distress triggers a change of heart.
Watching Frank’s determination in forcing a hunk of jagged calcium out of his pee-hole reminds Mac of what makes their city’s people great. Philly isn’t New York, and it doesn’t want to be. Eagles nuts have the same complex as the Sox faithful back in my New England childhood, hardened by decades of continued failure. Grasping for that elusive championship title year after year creates a pathology in a person, a belief that only by pushing and pushing and pushing can the boys on the field finally land the Lombardi. Whoever wrote the line, “Every single thing every fan does, whether at home or at the stadium, has a direct impact on the game!” was being tongue-in-cheek, but that notion makes up a significant part of the viewing experience for football diehards. As one city, the players and fans share the wins and losses, so those not handling the ball feel compelled to contribute with all the boorish enthusiasm they can muster.
“Those guys are Philadelphia,” comes the defining phrase of this half-hour. For a second, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia starts to sound more like a sentence than a title, a full statement of purpose. The Paddy’s crew steals, lies, and cheats as naturally as most people breathe, but they’ll die before they let someone say one negative word about their team or their home. In Philadelphia, as in Boston, as in Chicago, as in any town with a hardy rough-and-tumble spirit and a legacy of defeat, you stick by your guys even when they metaphorically shred the interior of your penis.
The writers perfectly cap off their valentine to the show’s setting with a montage of real-life reaction footage from Eagles Nation. The good ol’ Yo, It’s Crazy Guy is nowhere to be found in the snippets of overcome fans dropping to their knees in unadulterated joy, but make no mistake, he’s one of them. He and his ilk embody the soul of Philadelphia, for better more often than for worse. They can knock over the municipal property, and they might drunkenly curse on the news. At the core of it all, though, there’s nothing but love — for the green-bleeding birds, for the City of Brotherly Love, and for themselves.
Assorted Notes and Questions:
• A lot of big-ticket music buys this season — “Eye of the Tiger,” while perfectly suited to the occasion, cannot have come cheap. Just one of the perks of being a cable network’s tentpole!
• Dennis is nowhere to be seen, though his absence only makes itself known when Mac has to take the lead on engineering a scheme. The lack of Dennis distracts if another character is made to pick up his slack and perform the Dennis-specific function of ringleader-cum-mastermind, but a story allowing everyone to be themselves could conceivably function without him.
• Dee’s blindness by bacterial infection cues up one of the most reliably amusing types of physical comedy, in which a person unwittingly wanders through a construction site or otherwise hazardous space, narrowly dodging dangers of which they’re not even aware — a maneuver I call the Swee’ Pea.