O.C. Councilman Makes Pre-Super Bowl Pilgrimage to “Arrowhead East”

first_imgBy TIM KELLYAs a longtime Kansas City Chiefs fan hoping for his team’s first Super Bowl win in 50 years, Bob Barr knew all about Big Charlie’s Saloon in South Philadelphia.Barr, an Ocean City councilman representing the Fourth Ward, hadn’t personally visited the corner bar, which is nationally known as “Arrowhead East” in honor of the Chiefs stadium.All that changed Thursday night when Barr and Niners superfan Kelli Giblin of Upper Township made the 66-mile trek from the city of Manco and Manco to the city of soft pretzels and cheesesteaks to see the Big Charlie’s mystique first-hand.Along for the festivities was Bryan Leatherwood of Ocean City, Barr’s assistant and a friend of Bob and Kelli since childhood, who bravely showed up wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey.“It was better than I imagined,” Barr said of the visit. “You could feel the passion of the people there and how much everyone cares about the Chiefs. It reminded me of, well, me!”A reporter recently suggested Barr should head to Big Charlie’s after the Divisional round of the playoffs. Kansas City had beaten the Houston Texans following the Tennessee Titans’ stunning upset of the Baltimore Ravens, an outcome most observers felt cleared the Super Bowl LIV path for the Chiefs.“Not yet!” Barr said then, wanting to avoid jinxing anything by looking ahead. “Talk to me after the Conference championship game. If the Chiefs are going to the Super Bowl, then I’ll be interested.”Once the Chiefs punched their ticket to the big game and Frisco earned the NFC berth by dominating the Minnesota Vikings, Barr said he was ready.The walls of Big Charlie’s are filled with Kansas City Chiefs memorabilia. (Photo credit: Temple News)A Chiefs island in a sea of Eagles territory, Big Charlie’s Saloon resembles a typical neighborhood taproom at 11th and McKean in the heart of South Philly – except for the museum-quality Chiefs shrine inside and the port-a-johns set up on McKean to accommodate Sunday’s expected crush of fans and the local and national media.Barr wanted no part of that scene and laughingly said, “I might have to watch the game by myself” due to his emotional investment and desire not to be distracted. However, a pre-game trip was in order, he agreed.An OCNJDaily.com editor suggested a Niners fan should be invited as well, if Barr knew one.Did he ever. Giblin is an Eagles fan by birth and spent her first seven years growing up in Southwest Philly.She swapped out her fandom in 2017 when her brother, former Ocean City High School football player Joe Cosgrove, was hired as one of the Niners video operations assistants. In his role with the Niners, Cosgrove helps with all team video operations and game analysis, and manages the team’s partnerships with several outside video and software companies.The connection enabled Kelli to meet many of the Niners team members and coaches, and to attend a number of games. She and her boyfriend altered a long-planned trip to Disney World upon finding out Frisco would be headed to Miami for pro football’s biggest showcase.“We were booked to leave on February 4,” Giblin said. “As soon as we knew the 49ers made the Super Bowl, I changed my flight and now we’re looking at a Super Bowl weekend and then Disney. It will be a 12-day trip in all.”Then she tossed out a barb toward Barr: “When (49ers quarterback) Jimmy Garoppolo takes the MVP and says, ‘I’m going to Disney World,’ we’ll be there waiting for him.”“Did you get the spelling on her last name?” Barr shot back. “It’s Kelli Go-Chiefs.”Despite being in enemy territory, Niners fan Kelli Giblin of Upper Township enjoys visiting Big Charlie’s.Ironically, Barr’s origins as a Chiefs supporter began after years of cheering for, of all teams, the 49ers.“When I was a little kid, I liked to go against my Dad who was a big Eagles fan,” he recalled.After watching Niners legend Joe Montana carve up the Eagles in 1989 with five touchdown passes, he adopted San Francisco as his team. But when Montana was traded to the Chiefs in 1993, Barr traded his allegiance to Kansas City and stuck with them ever since.Barr and Giblin’s good-natured sparring continued for much of the drive, until wheel man Leatherwood came upon Big Charlie’s and amazingly grabbed a parking spot less than a block away.There, the group was met by Michael Puggi, a neighborhood resident and longtime friend and helper of Big Charlie’s owner Paul Staico. He noticed Barr’s red Chiefs sweatshirt.“Welcome to Big Cholly’s. Where yiz from?” a grinning Puggi said in true South Philly fashion.He immediately rolled out the red carpet and pointed out some of the more memorable pieces of Chiefs memorabilia. Then he saw Giblin’s knit 49ers hat.“You’re going to have to turn that hat around,” he said, making it a condition for her to stay.“I respect that,” she replied.Kelli Giblin, Bob Barr and Bryan Leatherwood make the trip from Ocean City to South Philly’s destination for Kansas City Chiefs fans.The walls of the place are virtually covered with Chiefs posters, team photos and artwork. There’s a cigar store Indian painted in Chiefs colors, and a game-worn helmet from the team’s 1960s origins in the old American Football League as the Dallas Texans.The bar’s back room contained, among other things, a signed plaque featuring the autographs of Super Bowl I starting quarterbacks Bart Starr (Packers) and the Chiefs Len Dawson, and a framed and autographed Mahomes rookie jersey.That was just for openers. Puggi handed Barr the actual Emmy Award statuette presented to NFL Films for its feature on Big Charlie’s, as well as a championship ring from Super Bowl IV. He proudly pointed out a neon sign designating the bar as Arrowhead East.Puggi explained how a former “shot and a beer” bar in South Philly evolved into the national go-to meeting place for Chiefs fans outside of Kansas City.In 1970, owner “Big Charlie” Staico was “a little bit of a (Chiefs) fan,” who made a rather large bet on Kansas City.“My Dad told me if he won the bet, there could be a new bike in it for me,” Paul Staico noted in the NFL Films video. “That’s the way it worked out and I got a new bike. Ever since then I’ve been loyal to the Chiefs and taken it to a new level.”Following Big Charlie’s passing, Paul took over the bar in 1983 and began decorating it with Chiefs memorabilia. Simultaneously, he installed satellite TV to allow patrons to watch the Kansas City games that weren’t nationally televised. A small cult following of neighborhood Chiefs fans developed and kept getting bigger and bigger.“It’s just a comfortable place where everyone is welcome, as long as you are a Chiefs fan,” said a patron who declined to give his full name. “We even let Eagles fans in the front room sometimes. Chiefs fans are only allowed in the back.”Michael Puggi displays the Emmy Award statuette NFL Films gave to the tavern owners for a documentary about Big Charlie’sOver the years, the bar has gained notoriety among Chiefs fans. On the night Barr visited, so did two Kansas City men who happened to be Philly on business.“We’re here and the Chiefs are in the Super Bowl. We had to come check it out,” one said. “This place is incredible.”Philadelphia and the Chiefs have long been associated in the football universe. Former Eagles head coach Andy Reid, who reached the 2004 Super Bowl but lost to the Patriots, will be trying to seal the deal with the Chiefs this time.He’s the second ex-Eagles boss to take the helm of Kansas City, following Dick Vermeil’s two-year run. Former Eagles executive Carl Peterson was a longtime Chiefs general manager, and current Kansas City all-pro tight end Travis Kelce is the sibling of all-pro Eagles center Jason Kelce.Puggi pointed out that Vermeil and his coaching staff once visited the bar, as did another former KC boss, Marty Schottenheimer. An autographed Chiefs helmet donated by Reid occupies a place of honor above the bar.A bar patron identified as “Bill” poses with one of the Indian statues adorning the interior of Big Charlie’s.Puggi said a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd is expected on Sunday, and that a small parking lot and a block outside will be temporarily transformed into an outdoor beer garden, where loyalists will ignore the February chill and bask in the warmth of their common bond as Chiefs fans.“We’re Philly all the way for the Phillies, Sixers and Flyers,” he said. “And we’re every bit as passionate as Eagles fans in the exact same way. It’s just that our passion is for the Chiefs.”The South Philly Chiefs fans’ thirst for a Lombardi trophy seems eerily similar to Eagles fans’ 57-year drought between NFL championships.“I really don’t know how I’ll feel when we finally win,” Puggi said, his eyes welling up. “A lot of our old-timers aren’t with us anymore.”Barr absorbed it all with wide-eyed amazement. Even Kelli conceded, “This place is really, really cool. I might be for the Niners, but I’m happy I came here.”After taking it all in, chatting up the regulars and fellow tourists and taking lots of pictures, it was time to head back to Ocean City.“I’ll come back here again sometime,” Barr promised.“It would be fun to come back after we win,” he added, smiling at Kelli. “Sometime after the parade.”The corner of 11th and McKean streets in South Philadelphia is ground zero for Philadelphia area and displaced Chiefs fans. (Photo courtesy of Twitter) Ocean City Councilman Bob Barr, right, enjoys the “Chiefs Kingdom” of Big Charlie’s Saloon along with Michael Puggi, a staff member of the tavern.last_img