From across the country, a love letter to Philly’s underdog spirit

“Philadelphia, be true to who you are.”

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Sydney Schaefer / Billy Penn
Lenny Pazhavila

Roving bicycle youths impeding traffic, blazing hot triple digit summer days, a cuisine rooted in immigrant presence since its founding — and now this.

A Super Bowl victory that deserves to be owned by the best underdogs this country has ever seen. It’s a Rocky-esque tale following the journey of a much-loved and well-loathed team — usually both by the same people. And although my loyalties lie with an intense rival located up I-95, I can’t help feel an elation about this victory that truly belongs to Philly as much as it does to the Eagles.

On Super Bowl Sunday, as I completed clinical rotations at a hospital in the San Francisco Bay Area for a program at Drexel, I wished so desperately to be at the party (and maybe scramble up a statue or climb a greased pole).

It’s not just about sports. Philly deserves to celebrate who it is.

I moved to Philadelphia from my undergraduate college town of Buffalo, NY over six years ago. What a difference between a small, rust-belt, Great Lakes city, and this jewel that sits on the Delaware river. I immediately fell in love with your grit, your rough-around-the-edges existence, and the general demeanor of all your people. I never imagined myself feeling connected to a city as I have with Philly. Somehow, I fit in perfectly without realizing it.

Let’s not forget the ever present and continuously changing food scene. Your food is by far one of the greatest reasons for out-of-towners and foreigners to come to this city. But what am I saying? My driver’s license still has my address being in Philadelphia, so it’s my food, too. Food unites people, and it allows us to enjoy and appreciate the local culture. And Philly has so many ethnicities contributing.

Getting to the meat of what I want to say: This isn’t an op-ed piece written by the local tourism board. It’s the heartfelt outpouring of someone who is grateful that Philadelphia is able to live up to the honorific “City of Brotherly Love.”

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Sydney Schaefer / Billy Penn

Over a year ago, I was trying to help a friend going through a really tough breakup, one that left him feeling mentally and emotionally disconnected from who they truly were. Two nights before Christmas, he dashed off as I and a couple friends were attempting to take him to a hospital. From about 8 p.m. until 3 a.m., we had no idea where he was.

I could go on and tell you how I went about making sure we caught up with him and were able to get him the help he needed, and that he survived, and is doing pretty well today. All this is true, and he has made great strides in personal development and much needed healing. I didn’t know what he would do during those hours. But I also didn’t know what Philly was going to do, either.

You came through — in the most amazing way possible.

Multiple Philadelphians at different points and times saw him and realized he was distressed. They provided gloves, a wool pea coat (can you believe that, I mean really, some dude pulled the coat out of the back of their Audi SUV), hot chocolate from Wawa, an ear to listen, and even a roof over his head should he need it. All this for a stranger in a city that he doesn’t call home. All this in the cold, dark of a winter’s’ night. All this because Philadelphia knows how to show love to a brother (and sister…anyone, really).

This is hard to write without tearing up. You saved a very close friend of mine, someone whom I can continue being friends with today. You quite possibly also saved me, too, because you gave me a chance to learn who I am.

Through all the years of living, celebrating and struggling in Philly, you made me feel like a part of something greater. You have a lot of heart, compassion, and emotion that can be used for better or for worse. I know everyone gives Philly a hard time about how it treats itself — and to some extent it is true. But I, like many, see the potential that lies beneath it all.

When you joyously remember the Eagles Super Bowl LII victory and the celebrations thereafter, please remember that it’s not just a celebration of a football team. It’s a celebration of one of the toughest, grittiest, notoriously realest places in the world.

Philadelphia, be true to who you are, and keep doing the good that has been placed in your hearts. Doubt and dismay are a part of life, but do not discard the faith of knowing that your defining qualities will always make you standout, and be the most loved underdogs to ever exist.

But to me, you will always be more than underdogs.

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