The San Juan Daily Star
In the middle of Eagles territory, an oasis for Kansas City fans
Laura Sessa, the manager of Big Charlie’s Saloon, said that plans for Super Bowl Sunday would consider the local opponent. “It’s a little tricky now,” she said.
By JERÉ LONGMAN
Big Charlie’s Saloon in South Philadelphia seems like a perfect watering hole for watching the Super Bowl on Sunday. It is expected to be packed, but not with Eagles fans. It’s a Kansas City Chiefs bar in a passionate but parochial sports town that doesn’t exactly roll out the red carpet for fans of other NFL teams.
“We’re in a pickle,” said Laura Sessa, the manager.
Ordinarily, it wouldn’t be an issue. There is no tense rivalry between the teams. Coaching and family ties bind them.
Andy Reid, the affable Kansas City coach, led the Eagles for 14 seasons and took Philadelphia to the Super Bowl. Travis Kelce, Kansas City’s gregarious tight end, is the brother of Eagles center Jason. Their mother, Donna, has been known to wear a customized jersey that mashes up colors representing both teams.
If an Eagles fan wanders into Big Charlie’s on any given Sunday, it’s no big deal. But the Super Bowl won’t be any given Sunday.
“It’s a little tricky now,” said Sessa, 54.
A bench is painted in Kansas City colors outside Big Charlie’s. A team flag flies on Sundays. Inside, the place is stuffed with helmets, mugs, autographed footballs, even an Emmy Award from a feature that NFL Films did on the bar. There’s also a signed jersey from quarterback Patrick Mahomes and a replica of the Lombardi Trophy from the Super Bowl that ended the 2019 season.
For that Super Bowl, Big Charlie’s threw a block party complete with a disc jockey and fireworks as Kansas City defeated San Francisco 31-20. This year, the watch party will be more subdued as a sign of municipal respect; it will be held entirely inside the bar — an island of red in a sea of green.
“I don’t want to instigate anything,” said Paul Staico, 57, the owner of Big Charlie’s. “This city is tough.”
So far, there has only been good-natured ribbing from Eagles fans.
“The mailman heckles us,” said John Alessi, 56, a Kansas City fan.
It has been suggested that wearing the jersey of an opposing team in Philadelphia is akin to putting a sign on your back that says, “Hit me.” In 1983, Eagles fans infamously plucked the feathers from the headdress of Washington’s unofficial mascot at the time, tore off his costume like drunken tailors, ditched his rubber spear and gave him a pugilistic send-off that required hospitalization.
But those were the loony days of long-gone Veterans Stadium. Sure, there is still the occasional and regrettable punching of a police horse (2018) and more than occasional taunting that showers visiting fans like vulgar confetti. But Eagles fans are generally better behaved these days.
Before last weekend’s NFC championship game, one 49ers fan was seen on video climbing onto the Rocky Balboa statue outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and he appeared to survive the locals without any unexpected dental bills or orthopedic realignments.
“A Chiefs bar?” said Kevin Meyers, 37, an Eagles fan. “How do they exist?”
Probably because the owner and his regular patrons are not outsiders. They’re mostly guys from the neighborhood. Big Charlie’s is their corner bar. The Kansas City allegiance began during Super Bowl IV in 1970, when Big Charlie himself, Charlie Staico, placed a winning, if not strictly legal, bet on the team.
“The Chiefs won, and the next day I had a bike,” said Paul Staico, Big Charlie’s son, who recalls marveling at the team’s red helmets and arrowhead logo, now tattooed on his arm. “I was a fan ever since.”
Charlie Staico passed away in 1983. Eventually, Paul remade the bar into a Kansas City shrine.
Don’t misunderstand. This is still a Philly hangout. Logos of the Flyers and Phillies are inlaid into the side of the brick building. The place was packed for the recent World Series. But for pro football, the home team is not the preferred team.
Paul Staico’s passion spread to his friends, a number of whom have been converted. Word has spread beyond Philadelphia, and Kansas City fans might drop in on Sundays from New York, Baltimore, Texas and California — and, of course, Kansas City — as the crowd sometimes swells to 150 supporters.
“It’s a family thing, it’s our thing,” said Michael Puggi, 48. “It’s an Eagles city, but this is our corner.”
Anthony Scola, 62, a retired carpenter, built the bench outside the saloon.
“The atmosphere in this bar when the Chiefs play, you don’t care about the Eagles anymore,” Scola said. “I might wear green underwear, but I’m watching Kansas City.”
Tickets will be required to enter Big Charlie’s on Super Bowl Sunday. The vast majority will go to regular customers. Kansas City fans. There could be a sprinkling of Eagles fans, friends from the neighborhood, but no one is expected to show disrespect by wearing visible Eagles’ colors.
Some patrons will surely feel conflicting allegiances.
“I am the biggest Eagles fan around, but this is my family,” Patrick Newcomb, 55, said of his bar mates, reciting the lyrics of that noted football ballad from 1976 by Mary MacGregor: “Torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool, loving both of you is breaking all the rules.’’
Others will have no tortured loyalties. Alessi, a Kansas City fan for 30 years, said he did not attend the Eagles’ victory parade after their 2018 Super Bowl win over New England. His wife and daughter went, he said with a laugh, and “they almost had to call a locksmith to get back in my house.”
In the two-week lead-up to this Super Bowl, Alessi added, “We’re not talking.”