Bittersweet celebration

Bridesburg family takes part in Super Bowl festivities with lost loved ones never far from mind

Historic, but bittersweet, celebration on Broad Street: From l to r, Timmy Murtha, Maggie Murtha, Brian Murtha, Jenna Lynn, Matthew Phares, Vincent Parks and Chelsea Lynn head down to the Parkway to watch Parade of Champions for the Philadelphia Eagles. PHOTO: PATRICIA MURTHA

By Melissa Komar

As Eagles fans revelled in the fact despite after “52 years, you’ve been starved of this championship,” Philadelphia could finally call itself the home of Super Bowl champions, for some, the celebration was bittersweet.

Patricia Murtha, 53, her son Matthew Phares, 16, and their family are just one of many who experienced the first Lombardi trophy appearance on Broad Street in the city’s history without family members who were die-hard fans by their sides.

Murtha’s mother, Dolores Murtha, 79, was born and raised in Bridesburg on Plum Street, and Sundays were spent gathered around the TV cheering on her Birds with her husband and eight children, Timmy, Micky, Jerry, Paul, Mary, Frances, Eileen, and Patricia, and eventually, some of her 19 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

“My mother was always a lifelong Eagles fan. My father, on the other hand, is a lifelong Phillies fan and there would be fights over who was going to be watching which game if the Phillies were playing when the Eagles were,” Murtha joked. “[Football] was always a sport my mother enjoyed. And, my brothers and sisters would come over and watch the game as well if my father let them watch it, God bless him.”

Matthew Phares watched many games with his dad and brother, but seeing his grandmother’s love for the Eagles was special.

“Whenever there was a game, she always wore her Foles jersey,” Phares said. “And, we would have conversations about how the games went, how the Eagles were doing. She would yell at the TV and really get into it. She loved it.”

Murtha’s adoration for the Eagles only increased as she grew older.

“She had her Eagles jerseys when she got older and when it was harder for her to get around, she would have her Eagles blanket on her,” Murtha said. “She was actually buried with an Eagles blanket. It was the first thing we made sure of, when she passed away, that she had her Eagles blanket in the casket with her to keep her warm.”

Murtha passed away a year and half ago, before being able to see her favorite team take it all on football’s biggest stage.

Murtha and her family had a party when the Eagles played the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005, but had to settle for defeat.

Still, it didn’t deter her from cheering then or until she passed away.

“For the last 10 years of her life, my mother probably watched every single Eagles game,” Murtha said.

The Eagles victory in Super Bowl 52 would have been sweet for Murtha, especially with her favorite player in shotgun.

“Oh my God, she just loved Nick Foles,” Murtha said about her mother. “She thought he was a fantastic quarterback and when he was traded originally, she was devastated. She actually had a Nick Foles jersey. And, when she passed away, we tore apart the house looking for it, but nobody could come up with the jersey. We were going to hang it in the window for the Super Bowl. But, someone had bought her an Eagles jersey with our last name on it, so we hung that in the window for the Super Bowl this year.”

While Murtha is not as big a football fan as her mother was, her absence was felt more deeply with this season’s success.

“The win was actually difficult because my mother has always loved watching Eagles’ games, so every time the Eagles came on, it was hard,” Murtha said.

“[Winning the Super Bowl] would have been the world to her,” Phares added. “I remember Wentz getting out of a 10-man pile up during the season and thinking my Mom-mom would have given her blessing.”

Murtha and her immediate family went to Richmond and Orthodox after the big win.

“I grew up on Orthodox Street,” Murtha said, “so, It was just a natural instinct for us to walk down to Richmond and Orthodox to celebrate when they won the game. That’s what this neighborhood does.”

While Murtha and her siblings and nieces and nephews weren’t all gathered around the same TV for the Super Bowl — they kept in touch through texts and Snapchat — when it came time to celebrate, being together wasn’t a question.

“It definitely was not an option to not go to the parade,” Murtha said. “The first questions were, ‘When is the parade,’ and ‘How are you getting to the parade?’ ”

Missing from those group texts was Murtha’s brother and another die-hard fan, Timmy Murtha, who passed away three years ago.

“He was buried in an Eagles jersey as well,” Murtha said. “When it came time for the funeral, most people discuss, ‘Should we put a suit on him? How should be dressed?’ And, that questions never arose. It was, ‘OK, go through Timmy’s Eagles jerseys and let’s decide which one we’re going to put on him.’ ”

And, although Timmy Murtha wasn’t here to witness history, one of his jerseys was part of it: Murtha’s nephew, Brian Parks, wore his Terrell Owens jersey.

“Brian walked along the parade route wearing Timmy’s Owens jersey,” Murtha said. “He wore it to school for a pep rally, he wore it the night of the Super Bowl game, and he wore it to the parade.”

For Dolores’ and Timmy’s family, the win was a testament to their years spent waiting.

“We all, in our hearts, dedicated to my Mom-mom and Uncle Timmy,” Phares said.

“For them not to be here for the Super Bowl win, it really hit home,” Murtha added. “But everyone said, ‘This is a win for Mom. This is a win for Timmy. And, they’re up there with all the other Eagles fans who have earned their wings. This is a win for all the Eagles fans who are not around to be here.”