Interrogating memories of the LAST Eagles-Patriots Super Bowl

Sometimes, when my psychotherapist and I are interrogating (my) memories, she brings up the Freudian concept of “screen memories,” in which we essentially replace a traumatic childhood memory with a more innocuous memory.  In her telling, a screen memory could be any set of memories which have become jumbled together, with the affect from an unpleasant event displaced onto a more pleasant event.

I will be making my way to San Francisco wicked early Thursday morning to attend my fifth consecutive NOIR CITY. As a result, I will not be updating this blog for up to three weeks, though I plan to write a comprehensive account of my time there when I return.

In the meantime, I thought I would present a possible “screen” memory for interrogation.

Let me preface by stating that while I vaguely root for all four major Philadelphia sports teams—the 76ers (basketball), Eagles (football), Flyers (hockey) and my beloved Philadelphia Phillies (baseball)—the only time I really follow any team other than the Phillies is when that team is in the playoffs, or on the verge of making the playoffs.

So it was with the 2017-18 Philadelphia Eagles, who on February 4, 2018 (the last day of NOIR CITY 16) at 6:30 PM EST (3:30 PM in San Francisco) will face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

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I knew that the Eagles were playing well last fall, and I learned that they were being led by a phenomenal young quarterback named Carson Wentz. And, like the rest of Philadelphia, I thought their Super Bowl hopes were dashed when Wentz suffered a season-ending leg injury against the Los Angeles Rams on December 10, 2017; the Eagles had already won the National Football Conference (NFC) East.

But then Nick Foles stepped in as quarterback and played well enough to garner the Eagles a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. That did not stop the Eagles from being slight underdogs to the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons. Foles and the Eagles looked shaky early before pulling out a nail-biting 15-10 win.

This past Sunday, January 20, 2018, the Eagles were again slight underdogs to the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game, although FiveThirtyEight.com gave the Eagles a 57% chance to win the game.

On their very first possession, Minnesota scored a touchdown (and extra point) to give them a quick 7-0 lead.

But then Foles and the Eagles’ defense took complete command of the game, leading them to a 38-7 victory and putting them in their first Super Bowl since 2005 (also against the Patriots) and third overall (1981 vs. the Oakland Raiders).

The Eagles lost to the Patriots 24-21 in 2005[1], having lost 27-10 to the Raiders in 1981.

So, the Eagles are still looking for their first Super Bowl victory, against possibly the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady (as dangerous at 40 as he was at 27).

**********

Readers of this blog will know that, while I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs (NOT the city proper, as a cousin rarely fails to point out to me) I have lived in the Boston area for the last 12+ years (and for all but four years since September 1989). You would think that would lead to some deeply divided loyalties.

Umm…no, even considering the fact that my wife, a former elementary school teacher, has a personal connection to the team (I am respecting privacy here).

You can take the boy out of the Philly suburbs, but you can’t take the Philly suburbs out of the boy.

FLY, EAGLES, FLY!

**********

Shortly after the Eagles beat the Falcons, one of my closest friends wrote a touching blog post linking the success of the Eagles to his late father, who had passed in March 2016.

For the record, David’s extended family has been an alma familia to me for decades—at his wedding, his mother introduced me “as her third son” (which meant the world to me), perhaps channeling the middle school teacher who one day saw David and me sitting together in the cafeteria and asked if we were brothers.

But when David wrote that the Eagles had last been in the Super Bowl in 2005, I thought that was a typo or a simple mistake of memory.

I have a very clear memory of watching the Eagles lose to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX with my mother and stepfather in the living room of the house in which they lived until January 2004, collectively ruing the Eagles’ missed chances to win that game.

The thing is, though, my mother died in March 2004, and by January 2005, my stepfather and I were locked in a fierce legal battle over my mother’s estate; not anticipating how recalcitrant my stepfather would become, she had made us co-executors of her modest estate in her will.

So that Super Bowl had to have been in 2002 or 2003, right?

Wrong, as I have already noted.

**********

Confirming that the Super Bowl I had been picturing enjoying with my mother and stepfather (for three-plus quarters, at any rate) was in 2005, not in 2002 or 2003, was surprisingly rattling, akin to straining to determine whether a newly-hazy memory was of an actual event or of an exceptionally vivid dream[2]. It was as though a bank of thick fog had poured into my head, unnerving me and causing me literally to shake my head in frustration.

Just bear with me while I try to clear up this confusion to myself (I am literally researching this question as I write).

The simplest explanation is that I am remembering watching some other Eagles playoff loss with my mother and stepfather in that living room in Haverford. A little digging on line reminds me that the Eagles had also won the NFC East in 2002, 2003 and 2004, only to lose the NFC championship game all three years (29-24 to St. Louis, 27-10 to Tampa Bay and 14-3 to Carolina, respectively).

It could not have been the 2004 game, because by that point, my mother’s ovarian cancer had come back with a fatal vengeance, even as she and my stepfather were moving into a new house in Penn Valley.

So that leaves the 2002 and 2003 NFC championship games.

Looking at the scores of those games, something about the loss to Tampa Bay in 2003 rings a bell.

And a whole set of tumblers fall into place.

My mother’s ovarian cancer was first diagnosed in late 2002/early 2003. The Phillies were two years into a rebuilding phase that had begun in earnest when Jimmy Rollins became the Phillies regular shortstop in 2001 (becoming an All-Star as a rookie), leading them to a 16 win improvement (86-76) from 2000, though they missed winning the National League East or Wild Card by 2 games each.

Following the 2002 season, the Phillies opened their wallets and signed free agent third baseman David Bell (December 2, 2002) to a four-year, $17.0 million deal and first baseman Jim Thome (December 6, 2002) to a six-year, $81.2 million deal.

Those moves were exciting enough—especially acquiring Thome, a near-lock to be voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot on January 24—but then on December 20, the Phillies traded an unproven minor-league catcher named Johnny Estrada to the Atlanta Braves for right-handed starting pitcher Kevin Millwood (a former All-Star who had won 18 games in both 1999 and 2002[3]).

This felt like the final piece to the playoff puzzle for my long-suffering Phillies (one winning season between 1987 and 2000: 1993, when they lost the World Series in six games to the Toronto Blue Jays).

I was ecstatic.

So much so that the very next day, I was prattling on about it to my mother, somewhere in the Poconos, a resort mountain area about a two-hour drive north of Philadelphia, where she and my stepfather would rent a place for a weeks every winter.

I had also just been promoted in September, with a substantial increase in salary (on top of some data analytic consulting). This increase in income enabled me (in late January 2003) to move into a much nicer apartment, complete with schmancy new furniture I bought with my consulting earnings, than the one in which I had been living the past year.

Making that day-trip to the Poconos even more joyous was that it was one full year since my mother’s ovarian cancer diagnosis, and it seemed to be fully in remission. Her illness had prevented her from helping me find a new apartment the previous year[4], and she was throwing herself into this round with gusto.

In the middle of all of this excitement, on Sunday, January 19, 2003, the Eagles lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 27-10.

**********

There is no doubt in my mind (for now, anyway) that THAT was the galling playoff loss I watched with my mother and stepfather in that Haverford living room. For some reason, over time I superimposed the positive affect, derived from the upbeat circumstances of my life, attached to the memory of a “tough Eagles playoff loss” in January 2003 onto the memory of a different “tough Eagles playoff loss” in a far-less-happy February 2005.

On February 6, 2005, my mother had been dead for almost one year (and I was still wrapping my head around the loss), my stepfather and I were bitterly speaking only through lawyers, my interest in my current position was waning, and mentally I already had one foot out the door to Boston (where I would move in September to pursue graduate degrees in biostatistics and epidemiology). Another very close friend, who lived in the area, was a few weeks away from becoming a father for the first time, which I knew would radically curtail his “let’s go do something” availability.

I do not think this is a “screen memory,” as Herr Freud envisioned it—no traumatic childhood memory I sought to repress—but it does show once again the need to interrogate memories carefully. Memories are remarkably fluid, with details often sacrificed to emotion to create the most positive possible affect.

And, yes, that was a very pretentious sentence, to which the only valid response is…

GO EAGLES!

Until next time…

[1] Coincidentally, the Eagles also beat the Vikings and Falcons to advance to the Super Bowl in 2005, though in reverse order.

[2] Or perhaps it is like waking up with snatches of memory together with long gaps and asking, “Just how much DID I drink last night?!?”

[3] And, ironically, is also on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year. In the first 234 (out of a projected 424) ballots publicly-released, Millwood has received 0 votes.

[4] Basically, the third time was the charm in terms of finding the right apartment after I moved back to Philadelphia.

 

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