I actually remember the first Eagles bootleg t-shirt I got. I got it from a guy at Grant and Academy, back before Herb Denenberg blew apart the soft pretzel industry and there were guys selling pretzels and bootleg tees at every major intersection. In my memory it was high-quality and looked legit, but I’m sure it didn’t. The Eagles logo was surrounded by two words: DALLAS SUCKS.
I wanted it because a few of the cool kids at school had gotten them. Also, I wanted it because Dallas sucks and I wanted everyone to know it.
I remain fascinated with bootleg t-shirts. I think, at least in terms of Eagles bootlegs, that it’s because it’s a record of how fans actually want to cheer. The team’s official partners hand out signs. The stadium plays musical cues telling you how to cheer. They make you sing that stupid fight song. (The edited “Fly, Eagles, Fly” and post-touchdown singing has only been around for 20 years.)
But bootlegs are unlicensed. They do not stick to the Eagles company line. They’re what fans actually want to say. Sure, they’re not always the most eloquent or appropriate things. But history ain’t pretty.
Eagles fans’ t-shirts are usually pessimistic. We might not have as many Super Bowls as Cowboys fans, but at least we have t-shirts with Calvin pissing on the star logo. (In past years, regrettably, these shirts also said things like “T.O. swallows” and “Romo’s a homo.”) Another popular shirt is “The Eagles are playing like shit. Pass me another beer.” Another one is even darker: “I’m an Eagles fan. Just give me one before I die.”
Eagles bootleg hawkers have done a 180º the past few weeks. Everything’s all sunshine and rainbows. The Eagles are in the Super Bowl, everybody thinks they’re going to win, and the unauthorized t-shirt sellers are making loads of money.
Much as I do in Wildwood each year, I’ve scoured Philadelphia for the best Eagles bootlegs and sorted them into categories. Since everyone has an Eagles shirt right now, I had to come up with a the rule for what constitutes a bootleg: I must have purchased it on a street corner or at a place that does not normally sell t-shirts.
Backup quarterback Nick Foles has taken the Eagles to the Super Bowl, and people are ready to spend their money on the jersey of a guy who’s not going to be the starter after this season. So why not bootlegs? The shirt on the far left, which I picked up at Wing Bowl, hints at the most underreported story of Super Bowl week: Nick Foles supposedly has a huge hog. (If the Daily News still had a gossip columnist, more people would know this.)
Despite going 13-3 in the regular season Eagles were home underdogs in the divisional round and again in the NFC championship. The players themselves embraced the underdog label, plus you can make it without violating anyone’s trademark if you want to. So it’s no surprise underdog gear is the most plentiful. As such, there’s the most crap.
I mean, come on: “Be aware of underdogs?” That’s not right. Another shirt gets the phrasing right, but the dog drawing kind of looks like a dog/pig hybrid. And look how muscular that dog is in the Wentz jersey! Creepy.
Eagle-eyed fans will note that the shirt in the center is remarkably similar to the shirt Eagles offensive lineman Lane Johnson sold. But it’s not exactly the same, which means a bootlegger actually recreated the graphic instead of just swiping it. The proceeds from Johnson’s shirt went to charity, but the bootlegs may actually doing the public a service here: Public schools shouldn’t have to rely on Eagles playoff merchandise money. The public should fund them adequately. If the Eagles win I fear the city may try to fund the school district entirely with underdog t-shirt profits. That’s not sustainable.
Every Philadelphian is excited that the Eagles are in the Twin Cities Bowl, which (based on the waves at the bottom of the shirt) is being held somewhere near the ocean. Maybe this shirt is referring to the twin cities of Wildwood and North Wildwood.
Meanwhile, the “Straight Outta Philadelphia” shirt airbrushes out the Eagles logo on players helmets but still uses accurate likenesses of all the players. This bootleger is only worried about the NFL, not the NFLPA. The back of the shirt helpfully lists the roster, along with the players heights, weights and colleges. How will I remember where Halapoulivaati Vaitai went to school without a t-shirt?
Some bootlegers just don’t care. They will invite the wrath of both the NFL and the estate of W. Watts Biggers. Or they’ll piss off both the Eagles and MGM! I know you’re all thinking it: These are the best bootlegs.
Pat’s King of Steaks is the most famous cheesesteak spot. The store is so Eagles-mad it’s actually changed its name to Eagles King of Steaks for the Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, Quick Stop is a deli in Kensington that is my primary source of Arctic Splash. And speaking of helping out the public schools: The staff at the Quick Stop treat the kids at Kensington High School very well.
The Eagles go to the Super Bowl so infrequently, sometimes you just want a t-shirt that reminds you it actually happened this year. Go Birds.