In Philadelphia, rabidly following the Eagles is a rite of passage. Watch one game and you’re hooked. Like many lifelong fans, that’s what happened with Phil Basser.
So to lump Basser in with the rest of the lifelong fans wouldn’t be right; he was actually born 15 years before the Eagles first took the field for their inaugural season in 1933.
By now you’ve probably heard of Basser. How could you not have? He’s appeared in Sports Illustrated, made appearances on the local news and has become a Twitter sensation — all in the last week. He’s had a busier week than the team he roots for.
That busy week will culminate with suite tickets provided by the Eagles for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. Eighty-two years after Basser attended his first game in 1936, he’ll attend his first playoff game and his first game in “many years.”
If you caught last Sunday’s Vikings-Saints game, you surely caught Millie Wall’s story; a 99-year-old fan attending her first playoff game. A constant camera fixture — she even got to meet Commissioner Roger Goodell — she became a social media star within minutes.
A tweet by SNF on NBC of Wall was quickly passed around Twitter, where Josh Potter, the grandson of Basser, first saw it. Potter replied to the tweet, making his grandpa an instant internet sensation. See, social media isn’t all terrible.
My 99yr old grandpa Phil (turning 100 in march) has lived in Philadelphia since 1918 and has never seen an Eagles Super Bowl. Looks like we got a battle of the centenarians! pic.twitter.com/yEvyd37W9n— Josh (@_jbpotter7_) January 15, 2018
This week, Wall's Vikings and Basser's Eagles will battle for a trip to the Super Bowl. But don't expect Basser to talk any trash.
"To Millie, I would say, 'I will be sure to toast to your 100th on July 4th,'” Basser said in an email correspondence with NBC Sports Philadelphia.
For “a simple guy who likes to live under the radar” like Basser, his meteoric rise to fame “is all a bit overwhelming.”
“The upside is getting calls and emails from the children of my old friends who have long since passed,” Basser said. “When you get to be 99, you don’t have a lot of childhood friends around. It’s been nice to reminisce about my youth.”
Basser — born March 6, 1918, in Philadelphia — has overcome a lot in his 99 years. His mother passed away when he was just four years old. His father, unable to provide for him and his sister, was forced to place his children in a Germantown foster home. Still, his father would come and visit on weekends. Years later, his sister Rose passed away at just 8 years old.
So Philadelphia, the city and the Eagles — Basser estimates he’s attended “about 25 games” in his lifetime, many of them in those early days in the 1930s — have a deeper meaning than most to Basser.
Then World War ll broke out. Basser originally trained to be a pilot but was rerouted to ground warfare after the Allied invasion at Normandy, where he eventually served as a second lieutenant in the Philippines.
“After World War II, I never thought there would be another war,” Basser said. “I thought, ‘Hey, I could use the extra income,’ so I enrolled in the army reserves. I was shocked when the Korean War broke out.”
“I was all set to get shipped to Korea and was actually being examined in the Schuylkill Arsenal in Philadelphia when my lifelong best friend, Louis Wexler, ran in and said he had bad news. I was pulled out of line and he told that my dad had had a sudden heart attack and passed away. I was given a 90-day compassionate leave. After the 90 days passed, my orders were changed to ship off to Germany because of heightened tensions with the Soviets.”
Much like the 2017 Eagles, Basser has overcome a great deal in his lifetime. And still, he remains positive. The Eagles’ and Basser’s stories of perseverance collided on Dec. 10 when Basser experienced his worst moment as an Eagles fan, “watching my hero Carson Wentz get carried off the field” with a torn ACL.
But it hasn't been all bad. Unlike younger Eagles fans, Basser has seen the team reach the pinnacle of the sport.
“Seeing them slog in the snow and blustery wind during the 1960 championship game at Franklin Field,” replied when asked about his favorite Eagles’ memory. “They had to be true soldiers to do that and I was so impressed and inspired by them, and best of all, they won!”
He saw their last championship, and this year, Basser is confident he'll see another.
“There is an old saying, ‘Always a bridesmaid but never a bride,’” Basser said. “Well this year, I can’t wait to walk you down that 100-yard aisle to Super Bowl victory!”
So you like the Eagles to beat the Vikings this weekend?
“A hard fought battle but the Eagles will soar to VICTORY!”
The positive man that he is, Basser offered some condolences for the Vikings.
“To the Vikings, I would say, ‘Keep plugging. You’ll get to the big time one year. Just not this year!’”