Henry, the Eagles' good luck charm

May 15, 2018

I've been an Eagles fan for 53 years, and I wondered if I would ever see an Eagles Super Bowl win before I died. When Carson Wentz went down in December, I thought I could add another year to the drought.

Then something magical happened - besides Nick Foles finding his groove.

My daughter, Lauren, and her husband, Colin, became parents for the first time in December. The arrival of Henry, a 6-pound, 11-ounce bundle of joy, brought love, excitement and happiness to both families. They live in Wilmington.

But Henry was also a lucky kid. Since his birth, his dad's alma mater basketball team, the Purdue Boilermakers, had won 13 straight games. A coincidence? Maybe. I thought, maybe this kid could be the Birds' good-luck charm, too.

But there was a problem. Lauren's husband, Colin, a great guy, is a New York Giants fan. Colin is from North Jersey so he can be excused for this transgression. Colin soon announced his son would be raised a Giants fan.

The problem was that, although I was acquiescing Henry's football allegiance, my Eagles were headed into the playoffs and needed all the help they could get. Just let me borrow Henry for the playoffs, and after that, he can go back over to the dark side. "No" was all he said.

We had kept the Eagles-Giants rivalry out of the marriage for the most part, with one exception. The day after their wedding in 2014, the Eagles trounced the Giants in front of family from both sides.

After a couple of outbursts from me, I got some side-glances from the other team. Lauren and I were reduced to giving "low-fives" on the side of the couch as not to offend our hosts. At the end of the game - an Eagles rout - Lauren turned to me and winked.

"Hammering Hank"

As the game approached, Lauren said: "Dad, wouldn't it be great if you watched the Eagles win the Super Bowl with your grandson?" That was it. Then she invited about 30 family members to join us. The stage was set.

My earliest memories of being a fan was 1965 when I was 10. Pepsi-Cola ran a promotion where you glued Pepsi bottle caps to a large sheet that had all the Eagles' players' names and photos.

When you completed the sheet, you got a free football. My dad worked rotating shifts at the DuPont pigment plant in Newport. He arranged with the Pepsi delivery guy to leave all the bottle caps for him whenever he restocked the Pepsi machine.

Once a week, I would find a lunch bag full of bottle caps on our kitchen table. I'd scrape out the cork inside with a knife to expose the players beneath: Norm Snead, Jim Ringo, Maxie Baughan, Timmy Brown and others began to complete the sheet.

When it was done, dad would drive me to the Pepsi office in Wilmington. As I handed the completed sheet to the man - a sheet I had meticulously completed and cared for over the past eight weeks - he crumpled it up and shoved it into the trash can: Symbolic of many seasons to come.

You got a winner in town

But we crawled out of the trashcan when Dick Vermeil arrived and gave us hope for the first time in decades. Vermeil was young, dynamic and claimed he knew how to beat Dallas. He took a rag-tag group of free agents, castoffs and low-round draft picks and molded them into a Super Bowl team. Unfortunately, we lost to the Oakland Raiders.

We got our second chance for a parade with Buddy Ryan. Buddy brought a swagger back to Philadelphia. Buddy declared: "You got a winner in town," and proceeded to build one of the greatest defenses in NFL history - Gang Green - which included Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Seth Joyner and Wes Hopkins. They were a scary defense that gave us classic NFL games like the "body bag game" and "house of pain game."

Buddy was fond of saying, "It's hard to throw touchdown passes when you're lying on your back." Buddy's downfall was his hatred for all offensive football.

Unfortunately, that included his own offense, which he denied talent and coaching during his tenure.

Our next Super Bowl shot was against the Patriots in Jacksonville in 2004 with Andy Reid. My wife Denise and I flew into Miami and drove down to Key West for vacation on Super Sunday.

On the beautiful drive down, Denise videotaped me giving my prediction (Eagles by 10). This was before we found out the Pats also liked to videotape - and deflate footballs.

The Keys were beautiful but the game was ugly with turnovers, penalties and Donavan throwing up more in the huddle that Henry does after drinking too much formula.

But that was then and this is now. It's just before halftime when the Eagles pull off the "Philly Special," a play that will go down in Super Bowl history for its daring, ingenuity and execution.

The living room erupts in a roar. I look over expecting to see Henry in tears. But he is still sleeping - his pacifier barely clinging to his bottom lip.

He is out cold. I'm thinking, "This kid has ice water in his veins." I'm feeling pretty good going into the half up by 10.

For who? For what?

During halftime, I think about four people who are not here - who would have loved to see this game with Henry. My mom and dad, Joanne Lynn Hoban and Jack "Shorty" Hoban, were from Pittston, Pa. They are Henry's great-grandparents. They both loved sports and were a great support system for me and my four sisters. My mom was widowed at 40 and raised five kids.

Her favorite player hands down was Wilbert Montgomery, probably the best running back in the NFL during his prime. When we watched a game, and mom would go to the bathroom during a commercial, we would give her a few minutes then start screaming "Go Wilbert" like he just broke a big run. My mother would come running out of the bathroom, and seeing that she had just been duped, would start hitting everyone. Mom died in 1983.

My brother-in-law, Jack Vernon, a carpenter by day and local dinner theatre star at night, had a great voice. He wrapped up our annual Christmas Eve celebration with a beautiful rendition of "O Holy Night." Jack used to sit in a kitchen chair, Budweiser in hand, and watch his Eagles.

Jack was a former catcher with bad knees. I kidded him that he still taped his knees before watching the game. Jack died in May 2008, the year the Phillies won the World Series.

My father-in-law, Dominick DiSabatino, was a local restaurateur.

When it came to the Eagles, it was a zero-sum game.

If they lost they were bums, and everyone should be fired. If they won, they were going to the playoffs. Dom was excited about Carson Wentz's rookie season but could never have imagined that this team would win a Super Bowl this year - and without Wentz. Dom died last June.

Lauren and Colin had about 30 guests including my other daughter, Alison, my four sisters and their families.

With about three minutes left in the game, Henry started wailing. It was either hunger or a full diaper.

I couldn't help but think that Tom Brady handled losses the same way.

But as Brady heaved his desperate "Hail Mary" pass toward the end zone, the room held its collective breath.

When the ball deflected to the ground and the scoreboard showed zeroes, pandemonium broke out.

I reached for my sister, Katie, and we jumped up and down. I grabbed, hugged and kissed everyone in the room. Finally, our Eagles were Super Bowl champions.

As the confetti fell and the Lombardi Trophy rose, I picked up little Henry, and gave him a kiss on his chubby cheeks. It had taken me over 50 years to win a Super Bowl, and it had taken Henry about 50 days. "Great game, pal," I said, still wondering if he had anything to do with the outcome. Henry smiled at me, spit up a little milk, and then burped. And as the room continued to celebrate, I swear that the little guy winked at me.

I'll be damned. Fly, Eagles, Fly.

  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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