The year was 2012. The New York Giants had won the Super Bowl; the Queen of England was celebrating her diamond jubilee. President Obama was soon to be elected to a second term, and Felix Baumgartner had just become the first person to break the sound barrier without machine assistance by plunging 24 miles from above the earth to Roswell, New Mexico.
The city of Philadelphia, too, was being recognized that year for a major achievement: In a survey of 209 market areas, Philly became the no. 1 purchaser of sweatpants per capita. For the second year in a row.
You need not know much about Philadelphia to know that, in just about every area except sweatpants-wearing, winning is not our thing. We have fewer than 10 championship titles in the four major-market sports combined, and not a Super Bowl ring to our name. (A miserable Philadelphian myself, I am not hopeful for our chances Sunday, either.) We lay claim to being the only city with not one but two sports fans who have punched police horses. Even the slightest whiff of potential success is followed by disappointment. We are remembered for accomplishments that we’d rather the world forget.
But sweatpants domination was not Philadelphia’s only achievement in 2012. That same year — seven years since the Philadelphia Eagles last blew their chance at winning a Super Bowl against the New England Patriots — Hollywood big-shot actor and Philadelphia native Bradley “The Coop” Cooper starred in a movie called Silver Linings Playbook. On the cusp of high-profile stardom, Cooper was an actor with a ridiculously pretty face, a beatific smile, and a strange, big-budget-then-flop yo-yoing résumé (who could forget 2008’s The Midnight Meat Train or 2009’s All About Steve?). Playing rabid Eagles fan Pat Solitano, a former teacher with bipolar disorder, Cooper got an Oscar nomination and cemented his spot on the A-list, and the Eagles and Philadelphians got a much-needed cultural palate cleanser for 2006’s extremely vincible Invincible. (Isn’t there some law that prevents Boston actors from playing characters from Philadelphia?) Whether Philly thought the movie was good is beside the point; it’s nice to get a little positive national attention once in a while.
A lot has happened since then: Partially thanks to Pennsylvania, Donald Trump became president; seemingly all of the Kardashian-Jenners are pregnant; and the Philadelphia Eagles have — unbelievably — made it to the Super Bowl again, with Bradley Cooper carrying the ceremonial celebrity fan torch. He’s showed up at playoff games, done voice-overs for Eagles hype videos, worn Eagles gear on all possible occasions. The whole thing may have kicked off in 2012, but it wasn’t just Cooper’s appearance in Playbook that paved the way for his status as this season’s celebrity icon for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Really, it was The Hat.
Bradley “The Brad” Cooper was born January 5, 1975, and raised in Rydal and Jenkintown — or Jenkintah-en, if you’re familiar with the accent. In an interview with Details, Cooper explained that when he was growing up, he believed that he would move to Japan and train to become a ninja, which makes perfect sense if you’ve spent as much time thinking about what goes on in Bradley Cooper’s head as I have. Instead, the young Coop attended high school at Germantown Academy, studied at Villanova for one year, and transferred to Georgetown to study English, where Allen Iverson, the biggest Philadelphia legend of all time, happened to be attending as well. Coincidence? Who can say …
During Cooper’s youth, his father was the one who turned him on to sports, he said, and the pair were brought together by the Eagles. When Philly beat the Cowboys in the 1980 NFC championship game (sending the Eagles to the Super Bowl, which they lost), Cooper watched the game with his father in their kitchen so they wouldn’t miss anything during mealtime.
But as Cooper’s celebrity grew, from a starring role in the show Alias to an eerily perfect bro in Wedding Crashers and the three Hangover movies, his public allegiance to Philly diminished. Was it a conscious decision by his agents and managers and publicists? “Hey, Bradley,” they might’ve said before film premieres or his weekly appearance on Ellen, “we know you’re proud of where you’re from, but maybe let’s leave that detail out for now, until you’ve got an Oscar nom.” Cooper’s profile might not have survived the connection to a city where adult men vomit on 11-year-old girls at Phillies games and where, yes, fans throw snowballs at Santa. (It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Really!)
Little details revealed themselves over the years, though: In 2007, the Philadelphia Daily News reported that Cooper had attended an Eagles-Giants game with his then-girlfriend, Cameron Diaz. In 2010, he was photographed on the set of Limitless, a movie about a man with a big brain, in a faux-vintage Phillies T-shirt. But it was in 2011, right as the pieces were coming together for Silver Linings Playbook, when Cooper began to shed his apparent fear of being known as a Philadelphian. At a Lakers game with Jason Bateman on April 20, 2010, Cooper sported a gray hoodie with elbow patches emblazoned with an enormous green eagle. Coincidence?
Shortly thereafter, the era of The Hat began.
One thing you surely know about Cooper is that he’s a hat guy. He loves hats, and has loved hats his whole adult life. While there are no definitive Bradley Cooper BrainyQuotes about hats — “Hats: I’m wild about them” — there are hundreds of instances of Cooper wearing some sort of hat out in the streets on a near-daily basis. The only times he doesn’t wear a hat is when he’s on the red carpet. But I bet he’s considered it, being a dedicated hat man, after all.
Cooper’s allegiance to hats is so intense, in fact, that he’s often used them as a platform to promote the films he is working on. Much like those not-at-all embarrassing signs that Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield carried to redirect paparazzi photos into a call for donations to several organizations, throughout the years, Cooper has worn hats that say H2 (for The Hangover 2) or A-Team, or camouflage military hats to vaguely promote American Sniper. This tactic also came into play with Silver Linings Playbook, when, on July 28, 2011, Cooper began wearing a white, fitted baseball cap with an Eagles logo in public. A genius of native advertising, for sure.
During the year leading up to Playbook’s release, Cooper was seen wearing the Eagles hat on dozens of occasions: leaving the gym, going to the gym, arriving at LAX, leaving from LAX, perhaps as an attempt at Method acting. But in contrast with his other native hat-advertising campaigns, once the movie came out, the hat never came off.
Silver Linings Playbook was released on Christmas Day in 2012. From my count since then, Cooper has worn some variation of a white, fitted Eagles cap on over 80 percent of occasions that he’s been photographed: on vacation while wearing ghastly orange swim trunks, dad-grooving to Fatboy Slim at Glastonbury, while strolling the streets of New York with Burnt costar Sienna Miller. (Keep in mind, this is only when Bradley was seen.) The hat has been present through relationships with Renée Zellweger, Suki Waterhouse, and his current girlfriend, Irina Shayk. I would not put it past Cooper to have worn the hat, or several hats, like the protagonist of children’s classic Caps for Sale, during sex.
Every so often, “Just Call Me Bradley” Cooper would sub in an Eagles visor for the white hat or an Eagles beanie when the weather was cold, but the Philly hat in all its forms became such a fixture that Coopheads began to forget what his hair even looked like. In August 2017, after the birth of his daughter, Lea de Seine — special shout-out to tiny baby Lea de Seine — Cooper was photographed sans hat and plus shaggy half-bun. Alarming! It’s as if Bradley Cooper is doing sponcon for hair gummies but instead of hair gummies, it’s the no–Super Bowl–winning, perennially disappointing, horse-punching Philadelphia Eagles.
Even when the most loyal of Eagles fans were ready to abandon their team, the Hat Era did not recede. No, the Hat Era soldiered on for Cooper — all the way through Chip Kelly’s tenure and out the other side.
To be sure, Cooper is not the only A-list celebrity to publicly support a local sports team or enjoy wearing a hat. Look at Leonardo DiCaprio — that guy has more sports hats than relationships he’s had with 22-year-olds. And Philly has a long list of celebrities who have allied themselves with the City of Brotherly Love at some point in their careers: Will Smith, Kevin Hart, Seth Green, Eve, Tina Fey, Ryan Phillippe, M. Night Shyamalan. And even non-Philadelphian public figures have gotten into the Eagles, most importantly, Princess Diana. Yes, that’s correct. Princess Diana once wore a custom-tailored Eagles jacket, therefore confirming with unimpeachable certainty that she was an Eagles fan. You can’t take that away from us now.
But after getting comfortable with the Hollywood life, these celebrities always end up disappointing fans. They are seen sitting courtside at Lakers games with upsetting enthusiasm; they wear Yankees caps; they meet Tom Brady. For a Philadelphian, learning your favorite star, or anyone you know, has defected from Eagles fandom to some other more winning team is akin to learning that Santa isn’t real (and look how that turned out for us). Celebrities love to be bland and non-regional, and what’s more bland and non-regional than the Yankees and the Lakers?
Cooper, on the other hand, hasn’t wavered. He’s even upped his public fandom. He’s contributed his voice to Eagles commercials, he’s dressed up as Swoop, he’s been at a handful of games this season, most recently the NFC championship matchup. He even played the role of the snowball who hit Santa in a promo for the Christmas Day game against the Raiders. Cooper was named People’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2011, an honor that has somehow continued to elude Mark Wahlberg. By the transitive property, this means that the sexiest man alive is an Eagles fan.
We Philadelphians don’t have much, but what we do have, we love with the fire of a thousand stovetops (reference to 2015’s Burnt). But we are also suspicious of anyone who claims to love us back. An out-of-towner who is too loudly an Eagles fan is obnoxious; a fair-weather fan is a sinner. Cooper has politely fallen in among the local ranks with the rest of us, a subtle hometown boy with a Hollywood face wearing his Philly pride on a hat. Cooper’s older sister, Holly, is the admin of his unofficial Facebook page (where she also takes the opportunity to sell her own artwork to his 80,000-plus fans), and if there’s anything more Philly than that, I have not yet seen it.
If this is all a well-placed, highly paid sponcon campaign for the Eagles and the city of Philadelphia with an extremely long tail, please, no one tell us. Cooper — and his dumb handsome face and dumb inescapable charm and dumb cute laugh and dumb perfect French accent — is a nice distraction from what the rest of the media wants you to think about Philly: that we’re uncultured, we’re assholes, we wear sweatpants to weddings. Just look at Bradley instead. He’ll make you an Eagles fan yet.
Dayna Evans is a writer in New York.