Can My Lucky Eagles Shirt Carry The Team To Victory? No, But Also: Yes
3:33 PM EST on February 8, 2023
I planned to do everything I could to help. I would put on my lucky shirt. I would light my prayer candle. I was going to help the Philadelphia Eagles make it to the Super Bowl.
If you made me swear on a copy of Ray Didinger and Robert S. Lyons’s The Eagles Encyclopedia, I would admit that I do not actually think any of that makes any kind of difference. There’s research that fans can influence referee calls, which accounts for much of the home-field advantage in sports, but I was in my living room. I would definitely be yelling, but no refs would hear my boos. No matter. I would be doing this, just as I had been doing it all season. My lucky t-shirt would be bringing the Eagles a victory.
I have little rituals like this every Eagles season, and after a lifetime of fandom, I have a system for this particular part of it. During the summer, I will purchase an Eagles shirt that I deem “lucky.” It’s a know-it-when-I-see-it situation. Often it’s a shirt for a new player on the team; I bought a bootleg Carson Wentz shirsey outside a late August Phillies game in 2016, for instance. The magnitude of the team’s new arrival does not match how seriously I take the purchase; in 2006, I went all out and got a Donte Stallworth jersey. In 2010, I had a shirt the team put out for the 50th anniversary of their NFL title team. The Super Bowl-winning season I wore a kelly green DeSean Jackson jersey from 2010; I had bought it from a dude selling sports jerseys on the side of the road in Brewerytown. When I asked for a price he pretended to make a phone call to ask someone how much he should charge.
Maybe I remembered these ones because they all kind of worked out. Wentz’s first year was about as good as I could have hoped. Stallworth caught a 75-yard touchdown pass in a playoff game, even though I’m still disappointed the Eagles didn’t steal that one. I still think that the Eagles could’ve beaten the Saints in 2014, too. (How is Rich Kotite the only Eagles coach to beat them in the playoffs?) Another they-could’ve-won Eagles playoff loss came in 2010, but that was also the year of the Miracle at the new Meadowlands and multiple games featuring absurd Mike Vick highlights. And obviously the Eagles won the Super Bowl the season I got that DeSean jersey on the side of the road. Who was the guy supposed to be calling? His boss at the Rack on the Side of the Road Jerseys, Inc.? A representative at Brewerytown Bootleg Jersey Authority?
Like any other sufficiently scientific endeavor, the process is refined through tinkering. I looked at a video from the night of the NFC title game against the Vikings—my friend and I were throwing a mini-football around to demonstrate the flea flicker to our partners—and I am wearing some Eagles shirt I got at Mitchell & Ness back when they used to do that half-off sale on Black Friday. Presumably under that was the t-shirt I wore to the Super Bowl, which my wife got me from a deli in Kensington that sells its own Philly sports themed shirts. I have four different Eagles shirts from there. Over it I wore a long-sleeve Eagles shirt that my mom bought me, and over that a Chalk Line Eagles jacket one of my best friends gave to me for Christmas a few years before. My dad was at Super Bowl 15 and the Eagles lost, so I didn’t want to bring anything from him. This is how seriously I take it. Sorry, dad.
I am not this way in my non-sports fan life. Or I guess I should say that I am unreasonable in various ways but not superstitious like this about anything else. Once a friend visiting asked my wife if Eastern State Penitentiary was really haunted. “No,” she replied. “Nowhere is really haunted.” In that moment, she looked almost as good as she did on our wedding day. That is my approach to the world in basically every facet but this one.
But I am into a bit of ritual. I went to 12 years of Catholic school with weekly church attendance and I was sort of into it, partially for the social justice aspect and also for the basketball free-throw shooting competition, the sense of community, the pancake breakfasts, and so on. I was mainly into it to meet girls. I fell away from it once I could get into bars, which is another place you can meet girls but not generally a place you should get pancakes. But I still bless myself when I hear a siren. I usually capitalize God when I write it out. I light candles or ask my mom to.
Mainly this superstition/faith manifests in and is expressed through athletic exploits. My dad used his father’s Guadalcanal patch as a talisman. I blessed myself and hit my chest twice before races. When I finish a run now, I do two claps and an arm pump. These, though, are more real. In some way a little celebration at the end of a run motivates me to continue to do it. Marquette University dean William Cullinan said last year that a free throw ritual really does work. “The idea is that you’re kind of like accessing that type of procedural memory, that’s going to allow you to be more consistent as a shooter,” he said. “In a sense, it's a type of priming.”
But that doesn’t quite apply to me wearing a special t-shirt for the Eagles game. I do it anyway. I think it’s to calm my nerves; I want the Eagles to win, so I pretend I can do something about it. This year has been pretty lucky, and I like to think it was due to me. I can't prove it wasn't.
Here’s how this year started: I was driving down Lancaster Avenue in Chester County, Pennsylvania, just before the NFL season. We drove by a pop-up vintage fair, and I convinced my wife that we needed to stop. Only a few minutes in I saw a what I can only describe as a 1990s proto-rap tee for Ty Detmer. It was glorious. I picked it over a Bobby Hoying caricature t-shirt. Honestly, I should’ve gotten both.
I am going to admit this here, and it is very embarrassing, perhaps even more embarrassing than having a lucky shirt: I paid $60 for that Ty Detmer tee. I rationalized it like this: since I can get five percent off groceries each Sunday by wearing an Eagles tee (this is a store policy where I shop) it would eventually pay for itself. It did, but this justification process really only works if I had not previously owned any Eagles tees. There's no bonus for wearing one with Ty Detmer's face on it.
The season started well, and I kept wearing the tee. The Eagles kept winning but had some closer games and went on bye, and so I washed it. It was still drying—yeah, I hang-dry my 25-year-old t-shirts, thank you—but when the Eagles were struggling against the Colts I grabbed it and put it on, wet. A few minutes later, Jalen Hurts ran into the end zone untouched to give the Eagles the win. I decided then that this should be my shirt for the whole season, even if the Eagles eventually lost a game or three.
The power of the shirt was so vast that I forgot to light my St. Martha prayer candle before the NFC Conference Championship game and the Eagles still won 31-7. I wore it in spite of Detmer’s two-interception game in a 14-0 playoff loss to the 49ers in 1996. I thought I could reverse that luck. It worked. As it did all season, I will be wearing it again Sunday.
Ty Detmer did not return a request for comment sent thru T14, his Texas dude ranch, about what it was like to get a rap t-shirt made in his honor. This is probably for the best. Does he really need to know that someone in Philadelphia is using him as a good luck charm to make sure the Eagles win the Super Bowl? I hope contacting him didn’t wreck the luck. Nobody send him this article, please.