At approximately 10:17 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 4, cheers, tears and sighs of relief filled the Delaware Valley as Super Bowl LII ticked to its final, blessed moment, and the beloved Philadelphia Eagles were crowned champions of football.
For superfan Joseph Galante, Bishop Emeritus of Camden, it was an evening unlike any other.
The Philadelphia native and Saint Joseph’s Prep grad grew up listening to the Greasy Neale and Steve Van Buren NFL Championship games of 1948 and 1949, and was in the stands at Franklin Field when the Eagles won that title again in 1960.
But never has he seen his team bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Philadelphia. Until Sunday.
On game night, I traveled to Bishop Galante’s Atlantic County residence for what turned out be an evening of history.
Predictions and appetizers
6:06 p.m.: I get out of my car just as a sports radio host finishes his pre-game interview with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, I hope that, by the end of tonight, there is no joy in Foxboro.
6:07 p.m.: I enter the home, and am immediately greeted by Bishop’s caregiver, Steven Katona, who ushers me in. Sitting in his recliner, with his “Fly Eagles Fly” towel draped across the back, and wearing his green Eagles jersey, Bishop Galante greets me warmly with a smile. Next to him are his longtime friend, former Eagles General Manager Jim Murray, and his wife, Dianne.
Murray proudly shows off his 1980 NFC Championship ring, courtesy of Dick Vermeil and Ron Jaworski. We don’t say it, but the sentiment can be felt; we want more than conference champs jewelry tonight.
6:15 p.m.: As everyone munches on pigs-in-a-blanket appetizers, Bishop Galante makes his prediction for the big game: 28-17, Eagles victory.
“They have a superb, varied offense, good running, and a great pass game,” he says. Quarterback Nick Foles, whose star has improbably risen these last few months, “has a lot to recommend him,” Bishop adds.
6:27 p.m.: Time for the coin toss, and who will determine possession of the ball. After winning the “terrible toss,” in Bishop’s words, by the referee, the Patriots defer their kickoff until the second half, meaning the Eagles will get the first chance for points.
6:41 p.m.: Foles and the Eagles rush down the field and seemed poised for a touchdown until a false start on Zach Ertz pushes them back 5 yards, and the team settles for a field goal and three points.
“Ertz ruined the touchdown” and the possible 4 points left on the field, Bishop laments. In a game against a Hall of Fame quarterback (Brady) and coach (Bill Belichick), all points are precious.
6:58 p.m.: In a nod to the superstitions of sports culture, Murray tells me he is sitting in the exact same spot as he did two weeks ago, with Bishop Galante, when the Eagles defeated the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship. (I can understand these rituals with friends: during Game 1 of the 2008 World Series, Phillies vs. Tampa Bay Rays, my friend Mike was in the bathroom when Chase Utley hit a home run in his first at bat. Every time Utley came up later in the game, I threw Mike back into the bathroom.)
8:03 p.m.: In a brilliant play call that will be replayed for years to come, Nick Foles catches a touchdown pass from tight end Trey Burton on fourth down just before the end of the half, making it a 22-12 Eagles lead.
“That was thrilling,” Bishop smiles.
Halftime hope, followed by quiet anxiety
Ignoring Justin Timberlake’s halftime entertainment, Bishop Galante tells me about his current daily routine, now filled with dialysis and radiation treatments. The 79-year-old spends these times in prayer with his rosary and breviary, offering up his afflictions to those he’s ministered to on his journey from Philly, to Rome, to Texas, to Camden.
“Suffering is never a problem; it’s what you do with it,” he says.
9 p.m.: The Eagles score another touchdown, making it 29-19. As the clock ticks, the anticipation grows, but Bishop knows the late-game heroics Brady and Belichick are known for. He is “not counting my chickens before they hatch,” he tells me.
9:40 p.m.: The tide has turned, and the mood has changed, with the Eagles now down 33-32. What was once an optimistic room has become anxious, quiet.
9:59 p.m.: A call on the field is confirmed, and the Eagles have retaken the lead, 38-33, with Zach Ertz’ run in the end zone. With three minutes left in the game, can the Eagles hold on in Minneapolis, with their city back home holding their breathes?
10:02 p.m.: Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham strips Tom Brady of the ball with two minutes left. Patriots fumble, Eagles recover.
The bishop senses what is coming.
“Brandon Graham, my man! I love it!”
10:17 p.m.: Brady’s pass falls dead in the end zone amidst a scrum of green, red, and blue, and a city’s dream has come to Broad Street. A city that for years has held fast to the fictional heroics of Rocky Balboa, now has the Lombardi Trophy.
“Relieved and elated,” are the words Bishop Galante uses to describe his feelings. Like all of in the room, and Philadelphia fans everywhere, he is “wrung out” after almost four hours of tension.
“That was quite a game,” he adds, and one a passionate fanbase has wanted for decades.
“The Eagles’ fanbase is a great example of the virtue of hope,” he stressed.
10:35 p.m.: As the confetti falls and Eagles fans cheer, head coach Doug Pederson holds the Lombardi Trophy, and starts his celebratory remarks with “praise to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” The next players on the public stage, Zach Ertz and Nick Foles, likewise give “glory to God.” Ertz continues by saying that “we wouldn’t be here without him.”
Bishop Galante explains that these are not flippant, one-shot words; throughout the season, he has seen these men, and other Eagles personnel, publicly give witness to God for his blessings.
“They’re not superficial, but solidly Christian gentlemen,” the bishop says.
“This team is a fine, fine group of God-fearing men who are not afraid to praise him. They are doing what we all need to do, to evangelize and give witness. I am edified by their willingness to openly give praise and glory to God.”
11:15 p.m.: As I say my goodbyes and thanks for a night I’ll never forget, Bishop Galante gifts me with a rosary, and sprinkles it with holy water before my departure.
I step outside into the cold, taking with me not only my new gift, but the faith of a team, a fanbase, and a bishop.
All glory and praise to God, for a brand new day.