Philadelphia has taken the underdog theme to another level during this Eagles run to Super Bowl LII.
In a place where a pillar of the cultural foundation is held upright by Rocky Balboa, the team and its fans understandably took hold of the "disrespect" by Las Vegas oddsmakers, who twice made favorites out of visiting teams to South Philly in recent weeks.
But when does an active yearning for underdog status become masochistic?
That’s like wanting to play the five-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in the Super Bowl instead of a lesser opponent — say, the no-title-holding Jacksonville Jaguars.
Wait, that’s how some Philadelphians feel.
“I was rooting for the Patriots. Beating the Jacksonville Jaguars wouldn’t be the greatest accomplishment,” says Ed Rendell, the former mayor, Pennsylvania governor, and Philadelphia’s hype man for two decades running.
Philadelphia’s collective psyche, which stretches from the shore towns of South Jersey to steel towns of the Poconos, is an odd thing: Tears often follow success; resentment and then begrudging acceptance usually come after heartbreak.
During the current Eagles playoff run, there seems to be a pep in people's steps, some more smiles than usual on people's faces. Those are newfound. More consistent over the years has been the feeling that an overwhelming challenge stands in the way. The deep-seeded underdoggedness goes back to the beginning, according to a proud observer of the ethos.
"We were once the second most important city in the British Empire," says MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who was born and raised in Philadelphia. "Then along came this city 100 miles up the road. New York took the spotlight away from us."
Since then, "we don’t even get mentioned," and that sense of being overlooked has lingered, he says.
It was present inside Lincoln Financial Field early on during the NFC Championship game against the Minnesota Vikings. Matthews saw it on the faces of fellow fans.
"I was not sure their faces were really ready for victory," he said. And when Minneapolis scored on its opening drive, "I sensed it in the crowd — another doomsday."
"And then the defense came through, not surprisingly,” Matthews said. He watched the fans some more. Hope was an unfamiliar look on them. "They weren’t used to this mood."
And then, there was jubilation. "Look at all those happy faces," he said.
Now in the midst of good fortune, with the Eagles just one upset away from the ultimate sports success story, the city is embracing the opportunity.
One man who has made a living off the highs and lows of local sports success is Peter Ciarrocchi Jr. As owner of Chickie’s and Pete’s, he loves a deep playoff run on multiple levels. Every playoff game is great for business.
"Business is slower if they lose. If they win, it’s a whole different place,” Ciarrocchi says. “They eat better food, drink better liquor. The food is better. Sex is better. Everything is better."
But he’s also a fan, and like most other Philadelphians, he has been waiting for the second shoe to fall, for an end to this success. He was one of those fans Matthews described seeing in the stands.
"The Philadelphian in me says, 'Are the Vikings that bad?'" Ciarrocchi remembers thinking as he watched the Eagles pound the Vikings, 31-7. "It’s not that way at all. It’s that the Eagles are that good. But going in as an underdog that’s who we are. We have been underdogs since 1776. Then we won the Revolution."
For the third week in a row, they'll be underdogs. Las Vegas oddsmakers opened betting with the Patriots as 5.5-point favorites in the game, Sunday, Feb. 4. Kickoff is 6:40 p.m. on NBC10.
Eagles fans may be surprised by what's happened in the week since betting began.
Gamblers are betting on the Eagles, so much so that that bookies have decreased the spread. The Patriots are still favorites, but now by 4 points.
That type of newfound respect is similar to the ascendancy Rendell has watched Philadelphia embark on since the turn of the century.
"I think a Super Bowl win would change the city’s feeling a little bit," he says. "But frankly, the progress this city has made has made a lot of people look at Philadelphia differently. It’s a place that hosts big things: the Pope's visit, the Democratic National Convention, the NFL draft. We've been rising over the last 25 years more than any other city in the country."
Maybe there’s something more to seeking out a dynasty like Patriots.
"We’ve already started to lose that inferiority complex," Rendell says.
For what it’s worth, Philadelphia’s funniest man alive, Kevin Hart, isn’t acting like the Eagles are underdogs. Regardless of a win or a loss in Super Bowl LII, he could be spokesman for the new era of Philadelphia self-confidence.