My earliest recollection of following professional sports was the 1959 World Series featuring the Los Angeles Dodgers vs the Chicago White Sox. I was eight years old at the time. More vivid memories play out in my mind, when I recall the !960 World Series in which Bill Mazeroski blasted his game winning home run in the ninth inning to defeat the New York Yankees. Since I grew up in southeastern Pennsylvania, I also have rich recollections of the 1960 NFL championship game at Franklin Field, when the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Green Bay Packers. At the impressionable age of nine I worshiped the Philadelphia heroes of that team including Norm Van Brocklin, Tommy McDonald, Pete Retzlaff, and Chuck Bednarik. This glimmer of success encouraged me to become a lifelong Eagles fan, and although they fielded some impressive teams under Buddy Ryan, Dick Vermeil, and Andy Reid; they never managed to win a Super Bowl. I anxiously followed the 2017 Eagles, as they built a huge lead in the NFC, but my heart sank when Carson Wentz left the game against the Los Angeles Rams with a torn ACL. I was hopeful, but I realistically expected another disappointment in the playoffs.
Monday, February 5 was scheduled to be another relatively long travel day, as our foursome drove north and west from Dunedin to Twizel, a town close to the center of the South Island of New Zealand. I hoped for an earlier departure, but we managed to climb in the IMAX and leave the Euro 315 by 10AM. Since Super Bowl 52 began at 4:30PM Mountain time on Sunday February 4, I did some quick calculations and determined that the game began at 12:30PM on Monday, February 5 in local time. Actually I made this determination prior to our departure for New Zealand, since I clung to the small hope that the Eagles could advance to the big game. I was not certain that I could find a television in New Zealand tuned to the NFL Super Bowl, and with a planned stop along the way, it was now obvious that we would not reach Twizel by 12:30.
Initially our route skirted the coast, and it was here that we stopped and completed a twenty minute round trip beach walk to inspect the Moeraki Boulders. We discovered a series of spherical rocks that were formed on the ocean floor a long time ago. For some reason the east coast of New Zealand contains around twenty-five of these globes, and many display fissures and cracks. We touched and leaned on several and snapped some photos, and then we settled back in the IMAX and continued on a northeastern path, until we veered to the northwest just before the town of Oamaru.
For the next several hours we followed the Waitaki River, until we turned right on route 8, and then found the Lakes Hotel in Twizel. As explained in the first paragraph, I possessed a strong interest in the Super Bowl, and I frantically attempted to follow the game via my ESPN app and gametracker. This ploy actually worked fairly well for a time, as the Eagles built a 15-3 lead in the first quarter and early going of the second. Unfortunately we then passed through several sections of rural country that generated the dreaded no service message on my mobile phone, but the Eagles amazingly survived my absence.
Once we arrived in Twizel, we stopped at the Lakes Hotel, but a sign announced that the receptionist would not return until 2PM, the prescribed check in time. Not wasting any time we found the Twizel town center, and a woman at the information center directed us to the Top Hut Sports bar. John or Brenda prefaced our question about the Super Bowl by asking if she was familiar with the American game. She was clearly a bit offended, as she replied, ” we do read and watch television here in New Zealand.”
Sure enough when we entered the Top Hut Sports Bar, we were surprised to see five screens carrying the big NFL contest. I intently watched the remainder of the second quarter, and then Jane and I took advantage of the Super Bowl special and ordered two “American hot dogs” for NZ $6 each plus two craft beers.
The Super Bowl developed into one of the best ever, and my beloved Eagles survived the Patriots’ second half surge to become the new NFL champions. I was quite surprised by the number of customers in the Top Hut on a Monday afternoon watching American football, but we later learned it was a holiday in New Zealand called Waitangi Day. After the post game trophy presentation and interviews, when I admittedly choked up while listening to the Nick Foles interview, we returned to the Lakes Hotel, where we discovered that a credit card snafu left the Prices without a room. The receptionist called the nearby Mackenzie Country Inn and secured a room there for our traveling companions.
Once Jane and I unloaded our suitcases, we completed a one hour hike on the Twizel Walkway. This elevated our hunger, so we returned to the town center where we visited the Ministry of Works (restaurant), Jasmine Thai, and Top Hut; but all were extremely busy and required excessive wait times. We toyed with buying something at the supermarket, but eventually we returned to a wood fired pizza oven food truck across from our accommodations. It proved to be a great move, and we finally satisfied our burgeoning appetites. Being able to watch the Philadelphia Eagles become world champions surpassed my wildest expectations for February 5.