I am a lifelong and second-generation Eagles fan so, for me, the fall has special meaning and deep emotional ties. My father attended the 1948, 1949 and 1960 championship games and I now hold his season tickets. In 2017, Dad passed away at the age of 91 on the day Carson Wentz was injured in the game against the Los Angles Rams. His passing came early in the morning on that fateful day, so, in tribute to him, my two sons and I watched the 4 o’clock game together – our own special way of acknowledging his fandom and how special the Eagles were to him. He would have wanted nothing less.
Earlier that season, Dad and I had traveled to Kansas City to visit my sister and attend the Eagles-Chiefs game. The trip turned out to be the beginning of Dad’s downfall as he suffered a mini-stroke. We never made it to the game. I had to get him back home for surgery to remove the blockage causing his neurological problems. A diehard Eagles fan, less than one week out of major surgery he was at the Eagles-Giants game where we had him set up as the “Season Ticket Holder of the Game,” a designation that comes with a stadium video-board appearance for all to see and a host of benefits. It was a great time but the boiling hot day — which he made it through – landed him back in the hospital for dehydration.
Unfortunately, his heart condition began to worsen and by December he would pass after a long and impactful life.
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Carrying on the family tradition, I attended the 2017-18 playoff games and cheered on the Birds as they moved on to the Super Bowl. Given all that the family had endured, and the fact that my younger brother who lives in Southern California was turning 50 in March 2018, I asked him to join me at the Super Bowl. For so many reasons, I just felt like we needed to be there together. He jumped at my offer and we joined a flock of Eagles fans in the frigid northland.
As the game unfolded and the Eagles were ultimately victorious, the moment proved to be one of deep emotion. We were ecstatic about the win yet deeply sorrowful because Dad wasn’t there with us to experience the Eagles’ first Super Bowl championship. Ultimately, I felt a sense of peace knowing that Dad would have loved that my brother and I found our way to Minneapolis (something he would have done) and that there was an avalanche of text messages among the family as tears poured out of all of us. We all knew that Dad was celebrating with us and this championship was for him.
I’m sure there are stories like mine among the legions of Eagles fans in the Philadelphia region, stories that represent the emotion and purpose that comes with the start of the NFL season. See, as so many of us have experienced, football season is much more than the games. It’s the rituals, the routines and the memories that they bring. It’s the bonding and the comradery that we experience and pass along to future generations. The strength of these emotions cannot be underestimated. They fuel our behavior, motivate us and have a profound impact. In families across our region, and across our country, the emotions are legendary and serve as a lesson in the power of social relationships.
As one who has advocated for the use of social circumstances to influence healthy behavior, I’d offer my story as just one small piece of evidence that men have the capacity to hold deep and lasting emotions that can motivate and influence behavior. Further, I’d argue that the depth of emotion in my story offers hope that, done right, such power can be directed to the cause of healthy behavior.
In my research on men’s health, I’ve cited European studies where men’s loyalty to their soccer teams inspired adoption of positive health behaviors when they had the opportunity to use the training facilities and coaching of their hometown soccer teams. Can you imagine, a rag-tag group of overweight men that would have nothing to do with diet and exercise, but insert a coach from their professional team and access to team’s training center, and, all of a sudden, they’re doing drills and paying attention to their coach’s advice about nutrition. The power of such social determinants is truly amazing!
So, to my colleagues across the Delaware Valley who, like me, will carry on the game-day traditions of Eagles fandom for the next five months or so, think about the rhythm that we experience with the weekly pace of the NFL season. Consider how we build our schedules around the Eagles and how we look forward to the game each week. Reflect on the power of this framework and the importance that we place on watching each game, not to mention the sports talk radio and prognostication that precedes the games. Now consider the discipline, focus and planning that we exhibit throughout the season. It proves our capabilities when something is a priority.
Now consider that all this behavior is in response to a game played by a bunch of 20-something millionaires and I trust you’ll see the overwhelming point – that it’s as much about the personal social dynamics that surround the game as the game itself. It brings us together and generates a bond like nobody’s business. If we can find the motivation here, it proves that we can certainly find the motivation to craft a healthy lifestyle that keeps us around to enjoy a future of seasons for years to come with our children and grandchildren.
Louis Bezich, senior vice president of strategic alliances at Cooper University Health Care, is author of “Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50.”