By Tim Kelly
In Ocean City, a town loaded with Eagles fans — especially now, during this week before the Birds’ third ever Super Bowl appearance — Keith Hartzell stands out.
For openers, there is the building he owns in the heart of the Asbury Avenue business district. At street level, the property is the storefront of one of the 7th St. Surf Shop locations. But cast your eyes to the residence atop the store and you will see a large Eagles’ logo, along with those of the Phillies, Flyers, Sixers and Temple University, painted directly onto the masonry.
Then there is Hartzell’s attire. Unless he is on personal or Ocean City business, (and sometimes even when he is he is) Keith, a longtime Ocean City Councilman at Large and former Council President, is usually decked out in team gear.
If that doesn’t convince you this is one diehard sports guy, just ask him to weigh in on one of the sports issues of the day. You will hear a well thought out opinion delivered in an entertaining and rapid fire manner, and you might have to interrupt him to move on to the next topic.
“They are going to win,” he says. “The game will be won on the line. The Eagles eight-man rotation on the defensive line is going to provide fresh legs and by the fourth quarter, wear down New England’s offensive line. The defense is going to score a touchdown, (Eagles coach Doug) Pederson will have a balanced pass-run ratio and (quarterback Nick) Foles will do enough to win.”
If it all sounds as if you are speaking to a sports radio talk show host, that’s because you are. Or were, until last week when Keith, 62, stepped away from his show on WOND after announcing he will seek reelection to Council. He was then subject to equal time requirements on the radio for his opponents.
But that won’t stop him from calling in to the talk shows or engaging in impromptu discussions with fans wherever they may be. And nothing will stop him from being in the stands at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sunday as the Birds take on the New England Patriots for a shot at their fourth NFL title and first Vince Lombardi Trophy of the Super Bowl era.
“I was going to go to the Super Bowl anyway,” Hartzell said following the Birds 31-7 rout of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game. “and then I won the ticket lottery.”
Hartzell was one of the lucky few Eagles season ticketholders selected at random for the opportunity to buy a pair of Super Bowl LII tickets at face value. When he arrived at the Linc to claim the ducats, he was led into a private area and given a chance to pose for photos with the George Halas Trophy, emblematic of the NFC title.
It was a dream-come-true moment for Keith, a third-generation Eagles fan whose family originally hailed from the Frankford section of Philly.
“I don’t believe you can be made into an Eagles fan,” he said. “You have to be born one.”
Following the euphoria of winning the lottery and holding the precious tickets in hand, the logistical work of getting to the game began in earnest.
A regional sales manager for the von Drehle paper company, Hartzell is an experienced traveler. In addition to the eight regular season home games, he usually goes to two road games each year.
Rather than fight for flights, rental cars and housing in Minneapolis, he wisely and less expensively booked a round trip flight to Des Moines, Iowa. From there, he will be looking at a virtually all highway straight three hour shot to the Twin Cities in an already reserved rental car.
“Three hours in a car is nothing for me,” he said with a laugh.
Traveling with his girlfriend and another couple, Hartzell will stay at a friend’s home in St. Paul and then head to Minneapolis for the game.
“I’m really not that interested in the hype and all of the other activities leading up to it, I’m all about the game itself,” he said.
Thirteen years ago, Keith was among the legion of Eagles fans who invaded Jacksonville for the Super Bowl XXXIX matchup, also against New England. Unfortunately they witnessed a 24-21 defeat, one of the most disappointing moments in team history.
“Last time you heard that Eagles fans outnumbered Patriots fans (5-to-1) but I don’t think it was by that much. There were a lot of fans speaking with a Boston accent wearing plain clothes because they believed all that nonsense about the Eagles fans. I asked them why (they weren’t wearing Patriots gear) and they said ‘We heard you guys are crazy.’”
He expects Eagles fans to dominate the scene in Minnesota again and for them to come away happy this time around.
“We are just playing so well and with desire and focused on the goal at hand,” he said. “New England is a great team, but the Eagles have something going that just can’t be stopped.”