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Eagles vs. Patriots: A tale of two cities

Philly cheesesteaks vs. Boston clam chowder, but with a great game everybody wins

Deciding which team to root for in next week’s Super Bowl will be easy for some: Either the Philadelphia Eagles or the New England Patriots is their team, always has been, always will be. For the true believers, the run-up to the Super Bowl is like being a kid and taking the first bite of cotton candy at the circus, sweet and ephemeral.

Other fans will choose their favorites because of city chauvinism. Beantown and Philly are full-service big cities defined by sharp contrasts. They offer everything from world-class symphony orchestras to sumptuous sliced pizza. They are rich and poor, effete and tough, secure and vulnerable.

The two Northeastern cities, one founded by Puritans (Boston), and the other by Quakers (Philadelphia), have been rivals since the 1600s. During the 1700s, future Founding Father Ben Franklin left Boston and settled in Philadelphia, the best thing this Philadelphia native believes Philly ever got from Boston. During the early 1800s, both cities, which had been prominent in the fight for America’s independence, were overtaken by New York, the majestic metropolis that stands between them.

Nevertheless, since the late 1800s, the two cities have embraced the nation’s secular religion: big-time sports. They have competed against each other across a wide array of collegiate and professional sports, from Harvard versus Penn to the Boston Celtics versus the Philadelphia Warriors and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Consequently, some will pick Boston over Philly for the same reason they’d pick Boston clam chowder over Philly cheesesteaks or rowing on the Charles River over rowing on the Schuylkill River, the New Kids on the Block over Boys II Men or the other way around: One is very much of their city and the other is not.

Further, the gamblers will root for a team in the hope of winning a bet: a friendly wager with the person in the next cubicle at work, or a more serious bet placed with someone named Little Paulie at a neighborhood bar, a place where it would be more likely to get a punch in the mouth than a chichi craft beer.

But others, including the sports gods, will decide who to root for based upon which team they believe deserves to win.

That decision will be strongly influenced by how they view the worthiness of the owners, coaches and players and fans, including the respective cities’ sports hooligans. Stories about all things Patriots and Eagles began after last week’s conference championships and won’t end until the Super Bowl kicks off in Minnesota Sunday evening.

With the annual expectation of more than 100 million domestic viewers, watching the Super Bowl is one of the few good things our divided nation does together. Come Sunday, we’ll watch the same game and the same commercials and halftime show. And many of us will consume the same snacks: chips and salsa, wings and beer.

When the game is over, we’ll all know who won and by what score. There will be no recounts.

The latest sports chapter in the tale of two great sports towns will have been written.

No matter who wins the Super Bowl, I’ll look to the winning players and team officials: I’ll look to them in the hope that they will find a way to assert a national comity in a country whose political divisions will be displayed during the president’s State of the Union address Tuesday and the Democratic rebuttal that will follow.

Victorious Super Bowl teams always make a strong tacit statement about people from very different backgrounds coming together to achieve a common goal, a celebration of interdependence. And it’s likely the game’s gushing MVP will say something like, “I couldn’t have succeeded without the trust and help of my coaches and teammates.”

Still, I’m rooting for the players and officials of the winning team in the Super Bowl to do more: make a postgame declaration of interdependence in America; call for unity in our house divided, a call that needs to be heard and heeded from the mountains to the prairies, Wall Street to Calle César Chávez, Maine to Mar-a-Lago.

A graduate of Hampton University, Jeff Rivers worked for Ebony, HBO and three daily newspapers, winning multiple awards for his columns. Jeff and his wife live in New Jersey and have two children, a son Marc and a daughter Lauren.