PHILADELPHIA — As unexplainable phenomena go, Big Charlie’s Saloon in the heart of South Philly seems as bewildering as it gets.
By VAHE GREGORIAN
The Kansas City Star
This is “Arrowhead East” to its patrons and patron saint, Paul Stacio, who became enchanted with the Chiefs after his father, Big Charlie himself, won a bet on “the red team” in the 1970 Super Bowl that led to Paul getting a new bike.
And from that there is all this:
An Arrowhead tattooed on Sacio’s arm and another of a Chief in a headdress on his left bicep, a lifelong love of the Chiefs that friends found infectious and now a sanctuary for Chiefs fans in the most improbable of places, accentuated by the fact they are playing at Philadelphia tonight.
“It’s just a regular game to us: We’re Chiefs fans, that’s the bottom line,” said Michael Puggi, who works at the bar. “We love the Phillies, we love the Sixers, we love the Flyers. Just when it comes to football, we bleed red.
“Eagles fans bleed green, and we bleed red. In Philadelphia. South Philadelphia.”
That might have accounted for the Philly cop out front of the bar with the Chiefs flag at 11th and McKean on Wednesday evening.
But as it happened, it was just in preparation for the block to be cordoned off today as the site of the NFL Network’s pre-game show.
They’ll get razzed by Eagles fans, Puggi said, but they’ve never had any trouble.
Just the same, they were asked if they might want extra police protection.
“We’re fine,” he said, smiling and adding, “We’re our own protection.”
And they have plenty to protect: Within is a treasure trove of Chiefs paraphernalia, much of it custom-made, including the “Arrowhead East” sign that highlights a back room that is a virtual Chiefs museum and where the admission for game is granted only for the purely ardent Chiefs fan … and even then it’s not guaranteed.
“I’m a `mush;’ I’m a bad-luck guy: They threw me out,” Puggi said. “They revoked my ticket.”
Said Stacio, who once expelled Puggi for playing music when the Chiefs had a big lead: “No doubt he’s a black cloud. He gets moved around a lot.”
That kind of spirit is contagious.
Nancy Morley, a retired Philadelphia police detective who lives nearby, said she would come to the bar to decompress after a work shift and “that was it for me.” Forget the Eagles, she’s a Chiefs fan now.
“They embraced me here; it was like a Venus flytrap,” she said, noting she wants to make the pilgrimage to Arrowhead one day. “I’ve got to go there; I’m going to go there.”
For today, though, they are focused on the opposite journey: Andy Reid’s return to Philadelphia.
“I hope he gets a good reception,” Morley said.
Said Stacio’s sister, Linda: “He needed a fresh start.”
The bar, once the subject of an NFL Films profile that won an Emmy, is well-known to the Chiefs organization. President Mark Donovan, formerly with the Eagles, was among a group to visit Wednesday night, and he hardly was the first.
“I would have never thought that Chiefs fans are there,” Dick Vermeil, who like Reid coached in Philly before KC, once told the Star’s Randy Covitz. “It only took a few seconds to realize how much those people care about the Chiefs. It was an experience you’ll never forget, because the people are so sincere and so real, real down home.”
Former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli was among numerous people in the organization to have been here over the years, and Puggi marveled that Pioli once visited Stacio’s mother in the hospital and sent flowers when she died.
Yes, Pioli is revered here … just another twist at Arrowhead East.
Reach Vahe Gregorian at firstname.lastname@example.org