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Chester County Press

Editorial: Hope in the glow of flashlights

01/23/2018 12:44PM ● By Richard Gaw
Very late in the evening of Oct. 27, 2004, cemeteries all around New England slowly began to fill with middle-aged men, teary with the effects of what happens when redemption at last rubs against jubilation. From Bangor to Bridgeport, flashlights broke through the autumn night, illuminating the names of those who lay waiting for their son's arrival, or their grandson's. One by one, each flashlight seemed to find its destination and remain there, lighting the way for the private pilgrimage of every man who had just left his home, his local tap room or the loneliness of his car radio so that he could reunite with the ghosts of his life and tell them that the wait was at last, finally over – the Boston Red Sox had just won their first World Series since 1918.

A similar ritual was seen again early in the morning of Nov. 3, 2016, in cemeteries throughout the Midwest, when the news was shared that the Chicago Cubs had ended a 108-year-long drought to win the World Series. In all of these cemeteries, at all of these graves, grown men could not rationally explain away the reasons for their action to their wives and their families. How could they possibly understand that this midnight impulse comes from a sweet and sad place that began a long time ago, when they were small boys, when they were tugged by the hand through the turnstiles of a ballpark for the first time? How could they understand that which compels a father and a son, or an uncle and a nephew, to remain faithful to one team our entire lives, especially one that breaks our heart, season after season? And yet, whatever was said between headstones and visitors on these respective evenings, words likely flowed like absolute truth, and somewhere in the middle, a team, finally victorious, served as a mere conduit to the passage of time.

Since their only championship in 1960, the exploits of the Philadelphia Eagles have served as the continuing conversation for four generations of their loyal legions. It is fodder for pessimists. It is the great punchline joke for those who root for the Giants or the Redskins or, dare we say it, the dreaded Cowboys, all of whom have Super Bowl trophies to boast of. From Bednarik to Bergey, from Buddy to Chip and everywhere in between, the pain of losing is real and the hole is palatable. Season after season falls away. The only thing that remains is hope.

The 2017 Eagles season has served as a whirlwind of highs and lows for their fans, who have clung to the fortunes of a team led by an emerging young quarterback, a dedicated coaching staff, and a team-centered focus that has overcome a slew of injuries to key players. Their resilience in the face of adversity has galvanized Eagles Nation, and after two playoff wins against the Atlanta Falcons and the Minnesota Vikings, their story is now a part of the national conversation. On Feb. 4, they'll take on the five-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. From West Chester to Oxford to West Grove to Landenberg to Kennett Square, television sets and taprooms and car radios will tune in to the game, and the streets of these towns are likely to be nearly empty. Long into the night, well after the game has ended, it is our fervent wish that groups of middle-aged men – and women – will make solo journeys into the cemeteries where their loved ones lay buried. They will not be alone; the flicker of flashlights will pop like fireflies on a summer night and connect them all like kindred souls. Kelly green banners and Eagle caps will adorn the headstones of loved ones who never got to experience the ultimate joy of winning while they were alive. Whatever emotion comes in the wake of the long-awaited victory, it will serve as the private love letter that binds one generation to the other, and it will likely be heard in the form of a whisper.

They did it, the visitors will say. They finally did it.