Meet the Most Insane Sports Fans in America
The new documentary “Maybe Next Year” explores the Philadelphia Eagles’ historic 2017-2018 season, as seen through the eyes of their bonkers fans.
When it comes to sports fans—and fanbases—there’s a fine line separating crazy passion from rude, loudmouthed jerkiness, and Philadelphia Eagles die-hards are renowned for routinely crossing that boundary. Epitomized by the now-infamous 1968 home game against the Minnesota Vikings during which rowdy attendees booed—and hurled snowballs at—a halftime Santa Claus, the city’s legion of Eagles loyalists have a reputation as staunch devotees with big mouths and belligerent attitudes, such that in a 2011 GQ poll, they ranked as the absolute worst sports fans in the nation.
Don’t tell that to Maybe Next Year, though. A feature-length look at the Super Bowl-winning 2017-2018 Philadelphia Eagles season as experienced by a collection of their most ardent supporters, Kyle Thrash’s documentary is less about QBs Carson Wentz and Nick Foles than about the folks who deck themselves out in green and white team apparel, call into radio shows to vent and commiserate, and log onto the internet to let off profane steam about the squad’s ups and downs. It’s a love letter to fanatical fandom, far more interested in celebration than in examining, or critiquing, its chosen subjects’ attachment to their hometown NFL franchise.
Maybe Next Year follows four Eagles faithful throughout the team’s improbable title-winning campaign, which culminated with backup Foles taking over for MVP candidate Wentz and leading the Eagles to victory against Tom Brady’s New England Patriots. Of those individuals, the most fascinating is Bryant Moreland, a heavyset Black man whose claim to fame is a YouTube channel (EATDATPUSSY445) full of videos in which he rants and raves like a lunatic about his beloved Eagles. Bryant’s anger and frustration aren’t just obvious; they reverberate with scary seismic force as he throws things, kicks furniture, and smashes toy action figures of underperforming players. He’s a man possessed by a rage that seems totally disproportionate to the circumstances, and his awareness about his out-of-control fury—which is about his own problems more than the team itself—makes him a fascinating case study in overzealous sports fandom.
“I feel like the Eagles are the scapegoat of my failures,” he opines in one candid moment. Unfortunately, Maybe Next Year exhibits no real desire to investigate Bryant’s ire, and the way in which he uses Eagles fanaticism as an outlet for his own life’s shortcomings. The film is mostly content to remain on the surface, instead casting Bryant’s vehemence as one of many examples of Philly’s deep connection to its team. According to director Thrash’s interviewees, that bond has been forged by a blue-collar ethos that values hard work, overcoming odds, and never quitting, Which may be true, although it doesn’t change the fact that such analysis is predicated on cliches one routinely hears on Sunday NFL pregame telecasts.
Just as fervent as Bryant is Shirley Dash, known throughout the metropolis as “Eagles Shirley,” whose quiet demeanor gives way to earsplitting mania whenever she phones in to Philly sports radio programs. Maybe Next Year doesn’t provide any insight into the source of Shirley’s fandom, nor that of Barry Vagnoni, who opted to spend his retirement savings not on a Florida getaway but, rather, on his own backyard sports bar dubbed “The Locker Room.” Decorated with more Eagles paraphernalia than you can likely buy on the team’s official online store, Vagnoni’s elaborate man-cave is an eye-opening wonder to behold. His fondness for having crowds of friends and fans join him there for each game underlines that he views his Eagles devotion as both highly personal (to the point of giving him heart troubles) and communal in nature.
Rounding out Maybe Next Year’s quartet is Jesse Callsen, whose allegiance to the Eagles comes from his father (who’s now dying of cancer) and which he plans to pass down to his young son, who has autism. In Jesse’s story, the film captures a sense of how sports fandom is often inherited (through relatives, or environment), thus imbuing it with a heartfelt meaning that—by virtue of it being a game played by millionaires you don’t know—it otherwise probably shouldn’t have. Alas, Thrash exhibits no inclination to get beneath his subjects’ skin. In place of in-depth snapshots of these individuals, who hail from disparate backgrounds but are linked by their shared affinity for the Eagles, what he delivers is a warm, rousing portrait of Philadelphians hanging on every gameday play, breathing sighs of relief or fuming over losses and injuries the morning after each contest, and praying that the team can finally end decades of futility by bringing home its first Lombardi Trophy.
To that end, Maybe Next Year vividly conveys the atmosphere of the City of Brotherly Love during the fall and winter months, where bars hang Eagles signs in their windows and banners across their ceilings, deli TVs blare broadcasts about upcoming games, and a mixture of anticipation, excitement and dread hangs over each frosty Sunday dawn. Using radio and television commentary as its de facto narration, the documentary gets the look, sound and feel of Philadelphia right, which goes a long way toward making its nostalgia for the immediate past resound authentically.
Anyone who follows the NFL already knows precisely how things turned out, at least for the Eagles themselves, and it’s to Thrash’s credit that he maintains strict focus not on the highs and lows of the team, but on the effect its performance has on Shirley, Barry, Jesse, and Bryant. It’s too bad, however, that whenever it strikes upon a promisingly incisive or colorful thread—such as a quick scene of two guys scouring the trash-strewn Lincoln Financial Field parking lot for abandoned, unopened beers—the film barely bothers to linger on it.
That ultimately also pertains to the larger question about the fate of long-suffering fandom in the aftermath of a championship: Does the fanaticism fade, or is it endlessly renewable, in all its euphoria and misery? Maybe Next Year likely has an idea or two about that topic, but would rather bask in past glory than wrestle with such bigger concerns.