Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Go to the White House: An Open Letter to Chris Long, Torrey Smith, and Malcolm Jenkins

Malcolm, Chris, and Torrey,
First of all, as a native Philadelphian and lifelong Eagles fan, CONGRATULATIONS! And thank you! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for enduring the difficulties and heartbreaks this season threw at you, and still emerging as the best team in football!
We’ve been waiting an awfully long time for this, and we’ve endured the butt end of a lifetime of cruel jokes about never winning the big game. All that ended on Sunday, and I thank you.
I want to tell you a little about myself and why this win meant so much to me.
I am 54. I was born in Philly, and grew up about 20 minutes away. My family still lives in the area, some of them still in the city, and some in the nearby suburbs. We’re Philadelphians. We’re cheese steaks and hoagies and Mummers. We’re the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Liberty Bell. We’re Rocky and we’re Vince Papale. More than anything…we’re proud to be from Philly.
20 years ago, I moved away. I had legitimate reasons at the time, but I’ve regretted it pretty much every day since. I don’t get homesick…I’ve been homesick for 20 years now. I remain so. Every great memory, every great moment in my life, except my daughter being born, happened on the sacred ground of my hometown and the Delaware Valley.
I’ve not had it easy. In 2008, when the economy collapsed, I lost my job, as did a lot of folks. Then I lost my home. I had been divorced for a number of years and my ex-wife had remarried several years prior. We have a daughter together and so at least my little girl had a place to live. But her home life was a nightmare. Her mom’s second husband was an abusive monster. I’ll spare the details but it was bad enough that I chose to stay in Nashville instead of leaving to find some place where I could work. I lived in my car for almost six years. I was hired three times and all three of those companies went under eventually.
There were days when I made meals out of the samples they were giving away at kiosks in the grocery store.
There were days when I survived on the free cookies they laid out for paying customers in the grocery store near where I parked my car.
There were nights when I shivered until sunrise. Nights when I sweltered in the heat. I showered at the county rec center. I did odd jobs and worked every menial task anyone offered, just to survive.
It was hell. It was demeaning and painful and embarrassing. But my daughter needed her daddy, and I needed to remain in her world. I saw her almost every day. I never missed a birthday or a recital or her eighth-grade graduation. I put my finger in the chest of her mom’s husband more than once because he was hurting my daughter. I stayed, because I was the “thin red line” that kept him from harming her more than he did. I did what a dad does for his child.
It was the longest, darkest time of my life. It came close to breaking me on many occasions. There were three things that kept me going during this nightmare…and that’s why I wrote this.
Three things literally kept me alive while my world was spinning out of control and pieces kept flying off.
My Faith. My love for my daughter.
And Philadelphia sports.
My faith defines me. My faith is who and what I am. My prayers were ragged, and weary and sometimes angry…but they kept me connected to the very Source of Life and the strength I needed for the journey. If not for my Faith in Jesus Christ, I would be dead.
My love for my daughter drove me to not give up. She needed me, and in truth, I needed her just as much. She is my only child. She’s all I have from a three-year marriage that broke my heart when it ended. My fatherhood is the single most important thing I’ll ever have and I refused to surrender it even though it required me to be homeless for six long years.
The other thing that kept me going, was Philly sports. 
On October 29, 2008, I had been homeless for six months. It was freezing cold in Nashville that night. It was raining. I was scared, wondering how long my life was going to look like this. I thought my life was over. I was sleeping in a Volvo 850. I would drive it behind a church in Nashville and hide it in some tall weeds, out of sight from the world. That’s where I was on that night. Zipped into two sleeping bags, broken, tired, hopeless and hurting.
That was the night the Phillies won the World Series.
I listened on my car radio and actually heard Harry Kalas (Our legendary announcer, who died the next year) and for a few minutes…I wasn’t homeless. I was home.
I was a kid again, listening to the ball game with my grandad on the front porch of his house by the Philly airport. I was playing Little League with my friends. I was celebrating in the streets with my neighbors.
I wasn’t 850 miles away.
I wasn’t homesick.
I wasn’t homeless.
I was home.
I’m getting tears in my eyes writing this right now, at 6 AM. Because I’ll never ever forget that night. I’ll never forget how much I needed that win, and how it made me feel like I was home, if only for a few moments.
You see…I can’t go home as often as I’d like. I live in Virginia now, with my daughter. We’ve bounced back and we’re rebuilding. I have a good job, she is in college and we’re trying to buy a house.
My first real home in ten years.
I still miss home. I still miss Philly. So, when I watch you guys on Sundays, I can feel –if only for a few hours—like I’m there again. I can wear an Eagles jersey, and get a knowing smile from others in the area. 
This past Sunday night and Monday, I was receiving texts and emails and phone calls congratulating me…because I’m from Philly. And my team won.
For you it’s a job and it’s even a passion. But for me, when you wear the uniform of my hometown…you’re me out there. You’re carrying the dreams and pride and passion of an entire city. You did the hard work for us, because we can’t.
Which brings me to my main point…
I know you have already said you won’t go to the White House when the team is invited.
I understand your position. I disagree with it entirely, but I understand it.
I will be very honest here and tell you that I despised Barack Obama as a president. I can’t think of one policy that made us better as a nation, or as people. In fact, I could tell you of some of his policies that specifically hurt me and my family and literally kept me homeless for at least 3 of the six years I suffered. But I respected his office. 
But I will also tell you that if he were president right now, dislike him as I do, I would want you to go, even if you disagreed with him as much as you do president Trump.
Because it’s the office…not the man, who is inviting you. The president is inviting the Eagles to the White House to honor them…not for them to honor him.
I’m asking you to go. Go for me, because I can’t go. I wasn’t invited. I’m not a football player who won the Super Bowl. But make no mistake…I was on that field in Minnesota last Sunday. I -like every Philadelphia Eagles fan-- was woven into the fiber of that green Eagles jersey you wore with pride and distinction. My voice echoed throughout US Bank stadium. You couldn’t distinguish it from the others…but it was there.
It’s there every Sunday, no matter where you play. You play for me. You play for my town…for my home. When the crowd roars and inspires you to push just a little harder, to go just one more snap…my voice is in that sound. It was when I was homeless and had nothing else in this world to cheer for or be happy about but the games you play and the uniform you wear. Nothing.
I have a dear friend who grew up in the area but now lives in Nebraska. He’s faced a lot of difficulties in life. Philly sports keeps him going too. The same for every former Philadelphian who is scattered across the country. Or the men and women serving in the military overseas.
Every one of us will be there at the White House on that day. You won’t see us, but we’ll be there. Because we are Philadelphia. And you are us when you’re out there. When we’re little kids we dream of being you. Not being merely a football player…we dream of being an Eagle. Of winning the Super Bowl. Of getting invited to the White House…regardless of who the president is.
I’m asking you to go.
I’m asking you to go and meet this man you dislike so much. Use that afternoon to have a conversation –if only for a few moments—and try to convince him of your position. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. But I know that by not going, you’ll have no impact on him whatsoever. Go for me…because I can’t go. Go for my dad and my uncles and cousins who have waited for this all their lives. Literally.
Go for the man who sat shivering in his car on a cold, rainy October night when he was 850 miles from home and had lost everything he’d worked for and had nothing left…
…except the pride of his hometown winning a world championship.
Go for that guy. Because he’d love nothing more than the chance to go himself.
Thank you for a miracle season, and for granting the wish of an entire city.
Craig Daliessio,
Believer, Dad, and proud Philadelphian.

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