Local Rooting

A s the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs prepare to battle for Super Bowl rings this Sunday, you might think New Haven doesn’t have a team to root for.

Let’s game it out.

The Case for Philadelphia
With a hooked beak, scruffy white dome and brow furrowed by American-style grit, the bird on Philadelphia’s helmets is clearly a bald eagle, our national emblem, which happens to be Connecticut’s indigenous eagle. The Connecticut Audubon Society suggests New Haven’s West River and Milford’s Silver Sands, among farther-flung locales, as plausible places to spot one.

In his trusty Birds of Connecticut field guide, Stan Tekiela tells us the birds boast NFL-ready seven-foot wingspans and build “massive” nests weighing up to 1,000 pounds—more than three times the weight of the league’s average offensive lineman. To fill those nests, they mate in midair, where “one bird flips upside down, locking talons with another,” which sounds more athletically impressive than even the most spectacular hookups between quarterbacks and receivers.

The bald eagle isn’t the state’s only bird fighting for Philadelphia. One Eagle, Jack Driscoll, grew up in Madison and played for Daniel Hand High School, where he was reportedly team MVP his senior year. (He’s also, as far as I can tell, the only player in the Super Bowl who played college ball in New England, having begun his career at UMass.) A ripe 6’5” and 313 pounds at the relatively fledgling age of 25 years, he’s listed on Philadelphia’s website as a second-string right tackle, but he’s seen action in all of the team’s 21 games this season.

There’s also Josh Jobe, a defensive back who reportedly played part of his high school career for Cheshire Academy. Jobe has appeared in 14 games for the Eagles this season, mostly on defensive special teams.

But the strongest local connection to Philadelphia may be the fact that Philadelphia was New Haven, at least by a certain accounting. New Haven colony leaders in 1640 had formed The Delaware Company, a venture aiming to purchase, settle and profit from lands along the Delaware River. Promising to respect preexisting Dutch and Swedish claims in the area, Nathaniel Turner, the leader of the company’s initial expedition, instead “paid little heed to boundaries,” according to Charles H. Levermore’s The Republic of New Haven (1886), and “bought of the Indians nearly the whole southwestern coast of New Jersey, and also a tract of land at Passayunk, on the present site of Philadelphia, and opposite the Dutch fort Nassau.”

In 1642, a party of 50 New Haven families began to settle the purchased land, including by building a “fortified trading-house” at Passayunk. This wasn’t the first provocation in the eyes of the better-established Dutch and Swedes, and, banding together, they waged war on the upstarts. By the end of 1643, the New Haveners’ “trade was destroyed, their block-houses burned [along] with their arms and stores, their vessels hindered from sailing,” Levermore writes. Ravished also by disease, some of the New Haven colonists were imprisoned, among them their leader, George Lamberton, whose subsequent trial by the Dutch and Swedish rather conveniently concluded that a Swedish representative had completed a purchase of the very same territory from the very same chief just three days before Turner did, thus invalidating New Haven’s claims to any of the land.

You know what? This last part might be an argument against supporting the Eagles.

The Case for Kansas City
When it comes to the Chiefs, history, at least, offers clearer cause for allegiance.

Kansas City’s name is, of course, an homage to Native American power. But not directly. The team’s namesake is H. Roe Bartle, the mayor of Kansas City who in 1963 lured the team then known as the Dallas Texans into the heartland—and who went by the nickname “The Chief.” In New Haven, it was an American congressman, not a city mayor—though his local impact was similarly enormous—with such a nickname: James Hillhouse, a.k.a. “The Sachem.”

An Algonquian word meaning “chief” or “great chief,” “sachem” is the title Momauguin and Montowese held when, in 1638, they and other Quinnipiac leaders traded to English settlers the land that would become New Haven. And aside from that fundamental contribution, the subsequent goods, services and skills the Quinnipiac people imparted to the English likely explain why the colony survived at all. “During the early years of New Haven,” writes the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Connecticut, “the Quinnipiacs traded deer meat to the colonists, who were unskilled in hunting. In imitation of the Indians, the English built weirs (dams) to catch fish. The Quinnipiacs served as guides, messengers, traded canoes, killed wolves that preyed on livestock, and taught the whites how to fish and clam.”

They also taught the settlers how to cultivate certain crops and what wild roots, fruits, nuts and berries to forage. Additionally, according to educational material prepared by the New Haven Museum, the Quinnipiacs “deliver[ed] goods and messages for the English, construct[ed] buildings, act[ed] as guides, and even [caught] runaways and criminals for them,” while also producing wampum, a currency that facilitated useful trade for English and Quinnipiac alike.

So New Haven clearly owes a lot to local chiefs of yore. How about local Chiefs today? The closest candidate, to the considerable extent I’ve looked, is Lucas Niang, an offensive tackle who played for New Canaan High School, which makes him the only Chief with a confirmed Connecticut connection. Coming off a long injury, he hasn’t played much this season, averaging a handful of snaps per game since returning to the active list in November.

In other words, the Chiefs roster doesn’t offer much of a hook to hang our helmets on.

The Verdict
In the end, it just feels harder to directly connect New Haven to either Kansas City or its team. From a localist standpoint, then, I have to conclude the Eagles are the better choice.

Unless, of course, you’re a Giants fan.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims. Image 1 features detail of an eagle sculpture, part of the Cornelius Scranton Bushnell Memorial in Monitor Square. Image 2 features the Quinnipiac Indian Memorial Monument in Fort Wooster Park.

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Dan has worked for a couple of major media companies, but he likes Daily Nutmeg best. As DN’s editor, he writes, photographs, edits and otherwise shepherds ideas into fully realized feature stories.

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