FIREWORKS1
Credit: Julio Sosa

With the adrenaline from the Super Bowl still running high and the thrills and spills of the Winter Olympics gracing my Facebook News Feed every day, I’ve watched and engaged with sports more in the last two weeks than during the entire fall semester.

Before Feb. 4, Super Bowl Sunday, I honestly could not have cared less about football. Or at least, this “football.” I cared a lot about the “other” football (ya know, the one where you — actually — use your feet a whole lot). I am not even going to try to hide the fact that I, like many Penn students, totally hopped on the bandwagon. If the Philadelphia Eagles had not been in this year’s Super Bowl, the Super Bowl would have barely registered in my head, and passed me by with barely a whimper. I don’t even remember the Super Bowl happening last year.

This year, I didn’t need to follow football to understand what was at stake. There’s something universal about the stories we tell in sports. Triumph and defeat, hope and disappointment, courage and fear. Against injury, doubt, and uncertainty, the Eagles made it to the last game of the season, to face the New England Patriots. The country’s underdogs against the decorated defending champions. A gritty city on the cusp of triumph.

For 60 minutes of playing time and 3-plus hours of viewing time (seriously what is with this game?), the Philadelphia Eagles danced between tragedy and glory. Tragedy, for if they had lost, it would have been another case of “almost,” “nearly” — a story of having come so far but fallen so painfully short. Another Super Bowl appearance, another loss. Glory, for history rode on their shoulders, the weight of the city’s hopes and dreams. They would either win big, or fail spectacularly.

Credit: Andrew Fischer

Sports can turn athletes into heroes and stars, but can mercilessly brand them as villains and duds just as quickly. The finest of margins, the smallest of plays, the littlest of mistakes, can rapidly determine the vanquisher, or the vanquished.

At the final second, you could almost feel the city erupt in victory all at the same time. I flung open the windows on the ninth floor of an apartment building, and the cacophony of shouts and car honks flooded into the room. I went downstairs with friends, eager to soak in the revelry of the city. Our intended “quick trip” turned into a long, rowdy walk to Center City, as we soaked in Philadelphia in all its brilliant, flashy, beeping, honking, waving, screaming, shouting splendor.

For a night, high fives with drunk strangers and people hollering at you from cars were nothing terrifying. In fact, they were reciprocated with zeal. Nothing could separate us. Not that night. That night, under the night sky set alight by the dazzling glow of fireworks and abuzz with the fervent chants of feverish supporters, we were one and the same.

The Super Bowl showed me how sports can redefine relationships with place. Philadelphia had always been a tough place for me to love. I travel around Philadelphia at least twice a week, often on SEPTA. I am not unaware of the problems that plague this city. Yet, the Super Bowl was a moment that redefined Philadelphia for me. Yes, Philadelphia was a place I associated with grit and grime, conflict and crime — but now, also with glory and victory, pride and community, hope and ambition. 

Credit: Andrew Fischer

Forgive me for saying this, but I always thought football was silly — some invented game that one country plays, makes a big deal out of, and calls their top team “world” champions. Yet, Feb. 4 changed my views radically. Football in this country — a sport ardently loved and revered — can smash barriers and bind communities together in ways that no government nor social cause ever could. Super Bowl night in Philadelphia provided a precious glimpse of a united city — out of reach almost all the time, save for that fleeting night. Shortlived as it may be, it ignited questions: How do we make community a reality? How do we break down barriers, for good?

Turning our eyes towards the ongoing Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in the midst of heated political tensions, it is perhaps a good time to reflect on what truly separates or binds us together. 

SARA MERICAN is a College sophomore from Singapore, studying English and cinema studies. Her email address is smerican@sas.upenn.edu.

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