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Eagles fans unleash a half-century of anticipation on downtown Philadelphia after Super Bowl win

Eagles fans in downtown Philadelphia celebrate their team’s Super Bowl victory late Sunday night, Feb. 4, 2018. Some fans pulled down traffic lights and pushed over planters in rowdy celebrations after the Eagles won their first Super Bowl championship. (Michelle Gustafson/Copyright 2018 The New York Times)

PHILADELPHIA - Nobody needed to be told what to do, where to go and how to act shortly after 10 o'clock Sunday night in the City of Brotherly Love, at the end of Super Bowl LII. It was as if the joyous, teeming masses streaming out of the bars and houses and into the chilly night were guided by some deep-rooted, instinctual force in their bloodlines. If the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots, the people were going in the streets. It's what they do.

And if Eagles fans went in the streets, they would know what to do once they got there: "We're going to break some [stuff]," said Marco Borda, 26, of South Philadelphia, heading down Packer Avenue toward Broad Street following the Eagles' cathartic 41-33 victory that brought the franchise and the city its first Super Bowl title.

For any unsuspecting strangers who knew nothing of Super Bowls or the pent-up generational angst of Eagles fans, and who might have found themselves plopped down - tragically sober - in the middle of Broad Street in the wee hours of Monday morning, at the height of the postgame mob, the scene that revealed itself would have looked like some apocalyptic hellscape.

All along Broad Street, the city's main north-south artery, there were fireworks going off in all directions, their smoke mixing with that of cigars and marijuana and hanging over the street like a jungle fog. There were broken beer bottles everywhere, their shards of glass reflecting the blue and red lights of police cruisers and making brittle crunching sounds beneath hundreds of thousands of boots.

An unholy cacophony enveloped the city - horns honking, fireworks popping, pots and pans clanging, cowbells ringing, sirens wailing, fans chanting "E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!" A different, three-word chant went up every few minutes, one that began with an expletive and ended with "Tom Brady."

Every square block of Broad Street, from the deepest reaches of South Philly, all the way up to City Hall, and north to Spring Garden, seemed to be jammed shoulder-to-shoulder with people - many of them wearing Eagles jerseys and holding beers, signs or small children, and many of them seeking nothing more than to celebrate the best night of their fan-lives with their like-minded brethren. Strangers shared tearful hugs with each other, the moment they had waited for all their lives finally at hand.

"It changes your whole outlook about yourself, your whole identity," said Tom Russo, a business owner from South Philly and Eagles season-ticket holder, as he headed up Broad Street from South Philly toward City Hall. "When you're an Eagles fan it's like you've been a loser your whole life, and suddenly you're not a loser anymore. I'm not a loser anymore."

In the middle of Broad Street in South Philly, a young man looked skyward and screamed, "This is for you, Aunt Pauline!" - a reminder that the Eagles' futility had spanned generations, and for everyone who was partying in the streets Sunday night, there were loved ones who hadn't lived long enough to witness the sweetness of the ultimate victory.

But still other fans were hellbent on destruction - driven by what seemed like a sense of duty to uphold the city's reputation as the hardest of hardcore sports towns. Those people made good on their vow to "break some [stuff]," the destruction getting worse as the night wore on and the alcohol made its inevitable turn from happy buzz to sinister drunk: An occasional smashed store window. A looted convenience store. A small tree somehow uprooted just outside City Hall and being paraded around like a trophy. A handful of cars flipped over. A couple of small fires set.

Many of the street-bound congregants seemed to be governed by an internal drive for verticality, every object that could be climbed upon adorned with one or more people. They climbed atop cars, atop police tactical trucks, garbage trucks, concrete barricades, bus-station shelters, ledges of buildings and the awning of the Ritz-Carlton hotel - until it collapsed under the weight of a half-dozen or more people, who, upon picking themselves up from the sidewalk, ripped the awning to shreds and waved the pieces around like pennants.

And then there were the light poles. In what had become a fascinating cat-and-mouse game between police and fans, the city had tried greasing the poles with Crisco before the NFC championship game two weeks ago, in a failed effort to keep fans from climbing them and pulling them down. This time, they slathered them with Bio-Bottle Jack hydraulic fluid. But it, too, proved woefully ineffective - particularly after the first couple of climbers of each pole rubbed off the fluid on their clothing.

By the end of the night, dozens of lightpoles were toppled to the ground, their wires severed and exposed.

"We have had several acts of vandalism where windows have been smashed, and some injuries have been reported around light poles that have been pulled down," the Philadelphia Police Department said in a statement. "We have one report of looting at a gas station. There have been no fatalities."

From deepest South Philly, near the Eagles' home stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, it is about a three-mile drive up Broad Street to City Hall. Late Sunday night, with the roads blocked off and jammed with people, thousands of fans made that pilgrimage on foot, passing through pockets of revelry and destruction that unfolded block by block, the lighted clock tower of City Hall glowing in the distance like the North Star.

At Broad and Wolf Streets, an elderly woman stood alone shouting, "We did it, honey! We did it!" and offering high-fives to everyone who passed by.

At Broad and Carpenter, someone was blasting Hall and Oates from an open window three stories up, and everyone below was singing and dancing.

At Broad and Kater, a brass band played in the middle of the intersection, everyone joining in to sing the fight song, "Fly, Eagles, Fly!"

At Broad and Chestnut, just a block south of City Hall, fans had two light poles yanked out of the ground, one on either side of the street, and appeared to be attempting to sword-fight with them.

Nobody could be quite sure what they would wake up to on Monday, when it would be time to return to work and school - what state of dishevelment the city would be in, what state of impairment their own heads and bodies would be in.

But for Eagles fans, the world changed overnight. They weren't losers anymore. And the next time that many people line Broad Street, later this week, it will be for a victory parade that was decades in the making and arrives not a moment too soon.

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