Many of us were watching live when the Philadelphia Eagles broke their franchise curse and beat the heavily-favored Patriots in the Super Bowl back in 2018. So when Kyle Thrash’s new documentary, Maybe Next Year (available for purchase on VOD this week), began with portraits of hard-luck Eagles fans and their decades of misery, I figured I already knew the story.
Yet I watched the next 82 minutes, riveted. Pennsylvania, as this past week’s election madness made clear (who could forget John Fetterman?), is just a special place. The rabid Eagles fans depicted in Maybe Next Year are a breed apart, fascinating to watch even when you already know, to some extent, their future. As it turns out, what actually happened in the big game is only a small fraction of the story. The real drama played out on talk radio, where “Eagles Shirley” shrieked herself hoarse, and between the walls of 72-year-old Barry’s 1,600 square foot man cave.
Philadelphians, who famously pelted Santa Claus with snowballs and have a jail beneath their stadium, are simply built differently. They’re scruffier, rowdier, more vocal, and Philly-born Kyle Thrash is brilliant at finding the most compelling characters among them. Think about it: 2018 is probably the only time ever that the Super Bowl victory celebrations were more entertaining than the game itself, and the 2018 Super Bowl was one of the greatest Super Bowls of all time.
Every character in Maybe Next Year is even more of a lovable underdog than the Eagles themselves. My favorites might be the two stoner/urchins who come through the parking lot after tailgates scavenging anything of value and collecting undrunk beers. Maybe Next Year is like if Roger & Me was a sports movie, and had a happy ending. It’s more evidence that Philly has more characters per capita than anywhere else. I spoke to director Kyle Thrash this week about how he chose the best.
So, I went into this figuring that I already knew the ending and thinking I wasn’t going to be into it, and then I ended up riveted for the whole thing. What do you think it is about Philadelphia that produces such compelling characters?
I think it’s because there’s so much history. I think it’s because South Philly has a lot of great character and there’s a blue collar work ethic and grit. I think a lot of people have chips on their shoulders and I think that breeds people that want to express themselves in different ways. Obviously, Philly has amazing musicians and artists and… I mean, you just saw it with the election. I saw people dressed as dancing mailboxes. It’s an amazing group of people and they love their sports and they care about their sports and they know their history and they know their players. They just care more, really.
Why do you think that is?
I feel like if I had to put an exact finger on it, I would say that I guess it’s because we don’t have as much as other cities. We’re not the capital of the country, we’re not New York, with the theater and the banking. I think we use our teams as a representation for the city and for ourselves. I think a lot of people see themselves out on that field.
I assume you grew up there yourself.
Yeah. I was born in Philly and then raised in the Lehigh Valley.
Can you tell me about your principal characters in this one?
There are four characters that represent different sides of fandom. You have Shirley, who is a lady who calls into this Philly sports-talk radio station, usually on Mondays, screaming, going nuts… She’s kind of the mouthpiece for fans. I feel like she represents passion. Then you have Bryant, who I feel like represents anger, who makes these insane YouTube rant videos. You have someone like Barry, who I feel represents obsession. Instead of retiring down in Florida, at the age of 72, he decided to build the number-one-voted-mancave in America on the side of his house. 1600 square feet, 35-foot bar… it’s gigantic. And then, you have someone like Jesse, who represents legacy, which is really big in sports. His dad passed on his love for football. There’s a scene in the movie where Jesse says, “I used to think football was called ‘Get that motherf*cker’ because that’s all I heard my dad yell at the screen. ‘Get that motherf*cker, get that motherf*cker’.” So, he represents legacy and passing on his love for sport to his son who has special needs.
Who all comes to Barry’s mancave every week?
It’s a mix of people from the community. It’s invite-only but there are people who come each week that people don’t know. So, it’s kind of like people invite other people and you ask Barry. It’s like, “Hey, I’m going to bring these people.” So, you get a pass, it’s like a locker room pass. And usually people bring food and he provides the drinks. So, it’s a huge community filled with a lot of love, come game day. He lives in Redding, Pennsylvania, which is about 45 minutes outside the city.
Do they still gather on on Eagles bye weeks?
I don’t think they gather on bye weeks, I think that’s the one week out of the season where Barry gets to sleep in and his wife gets a little bit of break from having to put up with Barry putting on shoulder pads at five-in-the-morning. Unfortunately, because of COVID this year, and his age and his health issues which you see in the film, he’s taking the season off this year and just watching the games alone in the locker room.
With the election coming down to Pennsylvania, did that feel like really good timing for the movie?
Ah man, I felt it was a better time for the country. I don’t think I’m narcissistic enough to be even thinking about the movie at that point. I was just thinking about everything… there’s a million reasons why I was happy. But I was happy to see Philadelphia show its true colors and come together in that moment and help push the count over where it needed to be. So yeah, I was very proud to be from the city on that day.
How early on did you decide you wanted to focus on these people specifically? Were there other people in the running that you had to lose?
Yeah, there were a couple of characters… everyone that donated their time and their energy, and told their stories to us, all could’ve been in this movie. Unfortunately, some characters didn’t make it. We chose the four, like I said, because I felt like they represented different sides of fandom. Some of the characters just had some overlap, no matter how good they were. There’s a character like Tatman, who has the most tattoos in the NFL. He has the most Eagles tattoos, and the most NFL tattoos of anyone. He was an amazing character, and his name’s Chuck and I love him and I love his family, and he was nice enough to let us into his house, but he just wasn’t able to make it in the film.
How did the radio station discover Shirley? She just started calling in and they eventually made her a regular?
Yeah. I think one of her friends was like, “You should call a radio, you have so much passion.” And she’d call in and, of course, the radio station was smart enough to realize how talented and charismatic and fun she is to be on the radio. She was on the radio this morning, on WIP. She’s a great person and filled with so much energy.
Does she get paid for it at all?
No, no, she just calls in and it’s… none of these people got paid for anything. You know? If anything, they’re giving their own money and time. I mean, you look at Barry’s mancave, he has the most memorabilia I’ve ever seen of any NFL, or really any sports fan. To dedicate all of your own personal money, your hard-earned savings, into something that, I think it shows that these people don’t need any sort of financial motivation to do what they’re doing.
Bryant, the guy who does the YouTube videos, he has over 100,000 subscribers or something, didn’t he?
He’s got a lot more than that. I think he’s over a million. He might be over two million at this point. He’s big.
He hasn’t monetized his channel? Is he making anything off that?
Well, he keeps getting banned. Sponsors don’t want to have someone that’s going to be speaking… freely the way that he speaks. But again, he’s been doing that for ten years. For him, it’s like a diary. That’s what I tried to show is it’s a person that was working at Walmart and his first video was talking about how he got fired from Walmart. Then he just was videotaping himself watching a game and he’s just ranting about how the team should be doing better and it gets shared, and then… He’s been on Tosh.0, he’s been on other media outlets-type stuff, I think he’s been on Jimmy Kimmel. But I always look at it as like, he would be doing it if no one was watching. He doesn’t have a huge social life, as I also try to explore in the movie, so for him it is an outlet to get his feelings out there.
So what are the historical events that cemented Philadelphia’s reputation as having the meanest sports fans?
People want to point at the throwing the snowballs at Santa Claus, some people mention batteries at players, some people talking about booing one player when they were hurt. And then, a lot of people will bring up the jail. For me, I think booing and all that stuff, Santa Claus… I don’t find it as interesting as I find the fact that they had to put a jail in The Vet, the only jail ever in a stadium with a judge. And we spoke to the judge, Seamus McCaffrey, who had insane stories of people bringing kegs into the games — literally ropes. Their buddies outside the stadium, tying a rope around the keg and pulling it up [to the balcony] so they could all drink at the 700 level… stealing toilet seats, blaming their kids for things…. I mean, the day that they decided to put a jail in there, after the game people lit off flares, like flare guns, inside the stadium. There were so many fights, there were so many disorderly conducts… that’s why they put in the jail. I feel like that’s probably something that I feel a lot of Philadelphia fans are probably proud of, whether that’s a good thing or not.
There’s that shot of Barry when he’s installing a light bulb on a ladder and then… was he installing the light bulb and then he took the ladder off and it knocked the light bulb out right at the very end?
Yeah. I mean, you spend time enough time with Barry and things like that happen, and we were just lucky to be rolling at that moment. He’s kind of a klutz. And again, what I was trying to show is that this 72-year-old man is taking care of this gigantic mancave, doing all the lawn work and doing all those things, despite him having a heart attack, despite his doctor saying, “You need to be careful with your heart,” he’s running around, he’s up on ladders. He would rather have the perfect viewing experience for his community even if he’s taking the chance of getting hurt.
I mean that was like a silent movie bit that he just did accidentally.
How are these people doing now that The Eagles are not doing so great this year?
Not great. You know? We are in first place but I think no one’s happy with it. I think we’re happy, despite everything, to have football right now, given the current state of the country. I think we’ll take what we can get. But also, to be honest, they’ve been so excited about this movie coming out.
Did you guys get to have a premiere or do anything where you could actually see it together?
We had a premiere at The Philadelphia Film Festival last year. And we got to walk the red carpet and take photos and watch the movie together and have a Q & A. And then, a big after-party that Wavelength Productions threw for us. That was a lot of fun. You asked me before about people that didn’t make it [into the movie]… To have everyone in the same room and watch the movie together, to say that that premiere was a rowdy bunch and extremely loud would be an understatement. I mean, people were talking the whole time, people were yelling — it was just an insane environment to watch a movie in, to say the least.
I forgot to bring up the two guys who were like… tailgate scavengers. Who were those guys? What was their story?
Yeah, we call them The Vultures. The one guy works at the stadium, so he’s always down there. And then he calls his other buddy and they basically go around and pick up the leftover beer, leftover food, leftover lawn chairs, and they just gather all this stuff and put it in their car. You can tell they’re two party-type dudes. They just drive around and picking up more beer so they can take it back to their place to continue drinking.
They reminded me of Mad Max or Waterworld or something, where there’s a whole scavenger economy.
It’s like Mad Max but also like Bill & Ted at the same time. A little stoner dude’s like, “Oh shit, there’s free beer down at the lake? Let’s go.”
‘Maybe Next Year’ is available now on various platforms. Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.