Today, I’m going to do something a bit different and tell a personal story, though I suspect it’s one some of you can relate to. For those that can’t, perhaps it will help you understand the pull sports has on society.
This Sunday will be the Eagles fourth Super Bowl. The prior three have all coincided with turning points in my life. Maybe that’s coincidence, maybe it’s not, but I choose to think it’s all about me!
Thus, I thought I would share why football means so much to me, how it has influenced me, and what I have learned from it.
1980: Super Bowl XV: Eagles vs. Raiders
I was in second grade. It was the year I fell in love with sports. A big part of it was 1980 was a special year.
Philadelphia is known for sports failures, but in 1980, all four teams (Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, Flyers) made their league finals. How could a little kid not fall in love with sports? Little did I know how desolate the coming decades would be.
The Flyers and Sixers lost their finals matchups, but the Phillies won their first ever World Series. Next up was the Eagles.
My dad bought us season tickets that year – they are still in our family. There was nothing like being at the stadium. They are some of my fondest memories.
My First NFC Championship Game
The game to make the Super Bowl – the NFC Championship – was at home against the hated Dallas Cowboys. I was still a football rookie, but I knew one thing. I hated the Cowboys.
It was cold that day. Really cold – ten degrees with a wind chill of ten below. And I couldn’t have been happier. I didn’t feel the cold, but the Cowboys did.
One of the greatest memories of my childhood was when a hole opened up on the right side and our star running back, Wilbert Montgomery, burst through for a 42 yard touchdown. I had never heard anything before as loud as that stadium.
We were going to the Super Bowl and I was a fan for life. But there was one problem.
Back then, most season ticket holders got Super Bowl tickets. We were going to the Super Bowl! But I wasn’t. Something about being too young and school the next day and all that, but my parents promised me I could go to the parade.
The parade never happened. The Eagles lost, 27-10, and a life long quest to go to a Super Bowl parade began.
Lessons Learned From Fandom
If you want to know how this blog came into being, it’s directly descended from 1980. Sports was my outlet to practice so many of the skills I leveraged later in life.
I learned strategy through arguing coaching tactics and plotting trades. I learned history through reading about old players. I learned research through studying record books. I figured out statistics by calculating batting averages and shooting percentages.
It was also a way for a shy kid to have confidence, because everyone at school knew I was the sports expert.
If you want to know a little secret to help your kids, find something they like and figure out what they can learn from it. They will master that skill far more than if you send them to some after school activity or tutor.
2004: SB XXXIX: Eagles vs. Patriots
It was a long wait for the next Super Bowl. I got married. I had a kid. It was a loooooong wait.
So many near misses. The uber-talented Buddy Ryan teams that always lost in the playoffs. Then, Andy Reid loses three straight NFC Championship games from 2001-2003. I was at those games in 2002 and 2003 and they were heartbreak.
But 2004 was our year. The team had finally gone all in and acquired superstar players like Terrell Owens (known as TO, more on him later) to get over the top. They were near invincible. And then it almost fell apart.
Lessons in Fatherhood
I said I had a kid. That was in December of 2004. The first game after we brought him home was, ironically, against the Cowboys. I had to learn, for the first time, to watch a game quietly. It was a trial.
As I’m holding my sleeping son in one arm, disaster strikes. TO, our star wide receiver, is injured. Badly. And I sit there in silence.
No screaming. No jumping around. Silence. Because I don’t want to wake the baby. That’s when I officially became a father.
TO broke his leg. Any other human being would have been out until the next season, but TO wasn’t really human.
A little bit about Terrell Owens. He had the greatest combination of size, speed, and work ethic arguably in NFL history. He also probably had a personality disorder as he was very self centered and had an ego the size of Mount Rushmore. That would become a problem later, but in 2004, everything was magical.
The Super Bowl was seven weeks away. Because it’s Philadelphia, everyone assumed doom. Yet, the team was so good that they cruised through the playoffs and finally made it back to the Super Bowl.
Now the only thing that mattered was would TO play in the Super Bowl?
Quick side note: I wasn’t in the stadium to see us beat Atlanta to make the Super Bowl. I had waited 24 years and I was defeated by a snowstorm.
Boston had 30 inches of snow that weekend and there was no way to make it home. I had to give up my seat. Cruel.
My First Live Super Bowl
If I missed being at the NFC Championship game, I wasn’t going to miss the Super Bowl. So yes, I splurged on Super Bowl tickets and went with my dad. I was finally going to that Super Bowl I missed as a kid.
As word got out that TO was going to try to play, nobody cared about his shortcomings. He was the hero of all heroes.
The Eagles lost, 24-21 (but it wasn’t that close), and the next season TO had a meltdown that saw him go from hero to villain, but that’s not today’s story.
Did it matter that they lost the Super Bowl? Sure, but I will always remember being there. It was definitely worth it.
A Year of Change
But more importantly, 2004 was the single greatest year of change in my life. As I mentioned, I had become a father. Two weeks later, I started a new job leaving the safety and steady income of Fidelity for a gamble on the hedge fund world.
Most people have kids and take the steady job to make sure they can pay the bills. I did the opposite. I took a gamble I could succeed and accepted a big pay cut to hope I could earn a meaningful bonus.
You want to talk stress? Yes, late 2004, early 2005 was stress squared. But it all worked out in the end, even if the parade didn’t happen.
2017: Super Bowl LII: Eagles vs. Patriots, the Sequel
2017 came out of nowhere. It was supposed to be a team on the upswing, but still few years away. Instead, it was the year football became a Disney movie. No, that’s not it. Not a Disney movie, but a Rocky movie.
See, if you’re from Philadelphia, that Rocky statue isn’t some cheesy thing to show on TV during games. Rocky was Philly. Everybody I knew had a friend, cousin, or even a father with a story like Rocky.
That’s why the character resonated. Not because of a boxing movie, but because we all knew someone like that. They were rough on the outside, but a good person on the inside and life didn’t always go their way, but they persevered.
Then, you add in the whole New York to the north and DC to the south, and the soul of Philly is being the underdog nobody pays attention to.
Not Another Injury!
And then we got a football team like that. Not only was little expected of the Eagles to start the season, when they emerged as the surprise team of the league and fans got their hopes up, Carson Wentz, the new star quarterback got injured.
They were 11-2 and on their way to the Super Bowl and they lost the soon-to-be MVP of the NFL for the season. For a city that had its heart broken so many times by their sports teams, this was an all time disappointment. The magic carpet ride had come to an end.
But, there was hope, because our backup QB was Football Rocky.
Nick Foles was a third round draft pick, which as a QB, generally means a career backup. Yet, in 2013, he got a chance to start and had one of the best seasons in NFL history. 27 touchdowns (in just 10 games) vs. just 2 interceptions. He had 6 TD in one game which tied the NFL record.
That Nick Foles looked like a future Hall of Famer. But he got hurt the next year and then, long story short, he got traded to the Rams and everything went wrong before he eventually returned to the Eagles as a backup.
Nobody believed Foles could play at Wentz’s level and it was expected the season would end in failure. Worse, Foles really struggled in his first few games. In fact, it got so bad there was some serious talk of playing the rookie third string QB in the playoffs instead.
But, just like Rocky, when you count Nick Foles out, he gets right back up. The Eagles tied for the best record in football and had home field throughout the playoffs. But they were an underdog for every playoff game. Because nobody believed in Nick Foles.
He struggled in the first playoff game, but still won. Then, 2013 Nick Foles showed up against the Vikings and we were back in the Super Bowl! (side note: once again, I couldn’t be there, this time by reluctant choice as I was too busy with year-end earnings)
The Philly Special
But waiting in the Super Bowl was the Patriots. There was no way in the world Nick Foles could beat Tom Brady. Impossible! It would be like Rocky beating Creed (which, if you recall, he didn’t do the first time).
And yet he did. And he did it as the hero, throwing for three touchdowns and catching another (the famous Philly Special) while winning the MVP.
Look, I don’t want to pretend I wouldn’t have been happy no matter how we won or who we beat. I had been chasing this white whale for nearly 40 years.
But the way we did it couldn’t have been better. To win when nobody expected it against the toughest possible opponent you could face…nothing could be more Philly than that.
If you know the stories about the generations of Red Sox fans or Cubs fans who finally, finally had that moment of joy. That’s what Nick Foles did for Philadelphia. I will forever be grateful.
PS: Foles went back to being a backup the next season, because that’s the kind of person he was.
The Closing of Chapters
But now I had a decision to make. I had waited all my life for a parade and it was finally here. But it was the middle of earnings.
If the end of 2004 was about starting a new career, the end of 2017 was about ending it. Something few people knew at the time was I had decided at the beginning of 2018 it was going to be my final year in investments. 2017 was a good year and I arguably could have walked out on top, but I thought I would do one more year before calling it a day.
So the problem was, I was (and am) a highly conscientious individual. Sure, there were lots of people I worked with who didn’t think twice about going to some boondoggle conference for a few days or taking advantage of entertainment offers.
That was never me. I never missed earnings. Never.
Except the parade was scheduled for the busiest day of life insurance earnings. If you don’t know what that’s like, it’s four straight hours of calls for six or seven companies (some overlap).
It’s very demanding. After the calls are done, you need to update all your earnings models and decide on any portfolio changes you want to make in the few hours before the next set of earnings are released.
But… the parade. So I made a plan to play hooky. But, because I’m insane, the plan wasn’t to skip earnings to have fun at the parade. I tried to do it all.
Multitasking At A Parade
So, I got to the parade route early to stake my spot. And I had a backpack stuffed, not with a six pack like everyone else, but with my company notebooks.
That’s right I killed my time waiting for the parade to begin on my cellphone listening to earnings calls and taking my usual notes.
I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in history to ever be listening to an earnings call (actually multiple calls) at a championship parade. I even called in some trades in between.
As soon as the parade ended, I went back to the hotel and started grinding models. By the way, I lost a lot of money that day. Earnings went badly that day and, frankly, I struggled for like the next month or two before I finally got things stabilized.
Yes, I believe that was cosmic punishment for one day of hooky over my career.
That said, while I remember it was a bad earnings day, I can’t tell you which stock it was I got most wrong (I think maybe it was PRU but I’m not really sure anymore). But I can tell you all about the parade. I will never forget that, for sure.
So, yeah, no regrets for my one day of hooky or even any jinx it put on my portfolio afterwards. There are too many sacrifices I made in the name of career. It owed me one day off for that parade I’d dreamed about for decades.
2022: Super Bowl LVII
And that brings us to the present. It’s so much different than five years ago. Every sports experience up until then was tension and pressure. Now, it doesn’t seem to matter quite as much.
Don’t get me wrong I’m plenty excited, but the anxiety isn’t there anymore. I can enjoy it more. I’m more confident too. Unlike five years ago, I saw this good season coming and this team felt like a Super Bowl favorite since September.
This time, I did make it back to the stadium for the NFC Championship game, and I finally got to see another victory from the stands for the first time since 1980. The bitterness of 2002 and 2003 were finally erased.
There was one moment where everything came full circle. There was a teenager behind me in the stands, probably about my son’s age. And late in the game, when it was clear what the outcome would be, he screams out “this is the best day of my life”.
I had to turn around and hug him, because that was me 42 years earlier. I knew exactly what he felt. That is the bond of sports.
I’d still like to see a Super Bowl win in person, but I’d rather just win another Super Bowl. Hopefully, that happens Sunday.
As for what the momentous personal change in my life that comes with this Super Bowl, well, that has yet to be revealed, but I’m sure it will be something good. It always has been.