As a kid, one of the most exciting times of the year used to be the arrival of the Sears Holiday catalog. The catalog, or “Wishbook” as Sears rightfully called it, came out sometime in November. Most kids I knew grabbed the Wishbook and flipped to the toys section to work on their Christmas lists. A rare few flipped to the musical instruments section. Me, I went straight to the NFL merchandise section.
The Sears catalog was a goldmine of NFL items. They had officially licensed NFL everything: sweatshirts, jackets, hats, t-shirts, trashcans, lamps, replica children’s uniforms, pajamas, football helmet radios, blankets. This was stuff that the local John Wanamakers, Sears, Clover, K-Mart, Gimbels and JC Penney’s never had in stock at the physical stores. This was all stuff that I needed. Without being able to search for items online back then, the catalog was as good as it got.
The items in the Sears catalog dictated the direction of my Christmas lists. I think it was basically NFL merchandise and music related items like radio, stereo, albums and cassettes. Unfortunately, not every item in the catalog was available in every team. I think I fell in love every year with at least one item that wasn’t available in Philadelphia Eagles. I can remember one in particular—the helmet radio.
This was a battery-operated, desktop AM-FM radio inside of a small replica NFL helmet, with a small wire antenna sticking out from the bottom. When I looked at the corresponding description on the inside of the glossy page, the Eagles were missing. I needed this helmet on my desk, so I went Juniata Park style on it. Juniata Park was the neighborhood where I played travel baseball and basketball. We wore blue and gold. So I went Rams. It’s true, it was a VIOLATION, but that radio was a must.
I hit the merchandise lottery in the winter of 1981, thanks to my dad and our family being in debt. Dad was a firefighter. Dad took advantage of his schedule of four days of work and four days off to work part-time jobs. Some months, bill collectors seemed to call our house more often than family and friends. Dad hustled trying everything imaginable, usually starting his own businesses—wallpaper hanger, hot dog cart, lunch truck, photographer, doing tax returns, landscaping with his dad.
In 1980, the Phillies were World Champions. Dad had a buddy from the Fire Academy, who had a side-business selling sports merchandise. He made a killing off of the Phillies that year. Dad wasn’t missing out on the Eagles 1980-81 Super Bowl run. He became a “distributor” for his friend. Suddenly, our house was filled with Eagles merchandise like framed mirrors, pennants, hats, tumblers and rocks glasses, jackets, sweatshirts, etc. I think he had to spend most of his profits buying me items for my room, like a cylindrical metal Eagles trashcan.
On Sundays when Dad wasn’t at the firehouse, we would go to church at 9:00 a.m. at Holy Innocents. Then, we’d head to Duffy’s Bakery for a butter cake and Nino’s Italian Market for Provolone, Genoa Salami, Imported Ham, Gabagool (Capicola) and Italian bread. Church, butter-cake, hoagies and Eagles was a typical football Sunday with Dad and me watching the Eagles. I always knew the Eagles were my team. There wasn’t any other way. Dad used to be a season ticket-holder. However, I don’t think I fully appreciated the Eagles/Cowboys rivalry until I peddled merchandise on Pattison Avenue with my dad and Aunt Jeanne.
It was Sunday, January 11, 1981. We skipped church. I was nine years-old, but the energy of the city and local news coverage left no doubt that this was a huge game. This was the NFC Championship. I remember it being freezing outside. My Eagles knit hat protected my head and ears. Me, Dad and Aunt Jeanne walked up and down Pattison Avenue peddling Eagles pennants. I remember the pennants feeling rough, like wool. They had thin wooden dowels stuck into them so they could be waved. I guess you were allowed to bring the wood sticks into Vet Stadium back in the day. We sold them for three dollars and we sold a lot of them.
Everyone was screaming and hollering about the Cowboys. I heard the word “bum” quite a bit. I don’t think my mom knew how many “FUCK DALLAS” mentions I heard in the hour or so we spent on Pattison Ave, but I’m certain she wouldn’t be happy. Personally, I couldn’t hear it enough. I wanted to scream it.
I had heard the Cowboys were bums, that’s what my grandpa used to say. He’d also have a tendency to drop a bum reference after any strikeout by any Phillies player. The crowd on Pattison Avenue confirmed it, though. The Cowboys were bums. Everyone yelled it. “Beat these Dallas Bums!” “Cowbums!”
I remember one particular guy who bought a pennant from me. He had a thick black mustache and wore a knit Eagles hat similar to mine, except his was frayed and older. As he removed his black, leather gloves and pulled out his money he looked down at me with spit and steam coming out of his mouth and asked, “you hate the Cowboys, right?” I looked up and said, “Yeah…they’re bums!” He laughed, walking away screaming and waving his pennant. Once the game started, we got into the car and drove back to my grandparents to watch the game. I don’t know exactly how many pennants we sold. I do remember that Dad paid me twenty dollars.
More than thirty years later, there are still some tumblers and rocks glasses in the family. Dad still has a bunch of those wooden dowels that he’s been using for DIY repairs around the house ever since. I still have my hatred of the Cowboys. I don’t care if they stink or if the Eagles stink or if they both stink. The Cowboys/Eagles games will always be the standout games on the Eagles’ schedule.
After all these years, there is still one thing I’ll never forget from that day on Pattison Avenue. The Dallas Cowboys are a bunch of bums!