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How Special is A Philly Special Christmas Special?

The Citizen’s music reviewer (OK, social media manager), strongly dislikes Christmas music — yet strongly loves the Eagles. Here, she reviews Kelce and co.’s latest holiday album — all of it

How Special is A Philly Special Christmas Special?

The Citizen’s music reviewer (OK, social media manager), strongly dislikes Christmas music — yet strongly loves the Eagles. Here, she reviews Kelce and co.’s latest holiday album — all of it

Let’s get this out of the way. I hate Christmas music.

I won’t go as far as to call myself a full-blown Grinch. Perhaps “Grinch sympathizer” is a better moniker. Maybe those Whos were singing that “fah who foraze” nonsense after city ordinance quiet hours. I mean every Who down in Whoville? The tall and the small? That’s a lot of racket. I’d get irritated too.

But! One thing outweighs my distaste for these undesirable winter earworms: My unfettered love for the Philadelphia Eagles. For my beloved Birds, I would get carsick watching the game on my phone while traveling, I would freeze in subzero temperatures at a tailgate and yes, I would even listen to a Christmas album front to back.

Last year Jordan Mailata, Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson (alongside a host of other Eagles players as special guests) teamed up with The War on Drugs drummer Charlie Hall to create a seven-track Christmas album. It raised $1.25 million for local charities and sold out almost immediately.

The new album, A Philly Special Christmas Special.

The band name pays tribute to my (and your) personal favorite Eagles play, the Philly Special, run by my hero, our former backup quarterback Nick Foles in that unforgettable Super Bowl LII. (Other recent SBs, we can forget.) The first album landed at No. 80 on Billboard 200. We may have lost the Super Bowl last year but what other football team can claim that accomplishment?

The Philly Specials are back with their second album. Proceeds this year go to various Philadelphia charities including non-profit agencies specializing in behavioral health for kids, Children’s Crisis Treatment Center and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. 

So. Here we are. A Christmas tune rarely moves me — usually just the opposite. But I’m known to well up at a post-game press conference. This circumstance makes me uniquely qualified to review the three releases (so far) of Philly Special Christmas Special, the Birds’ latest holiday albums. 

To truly tell if the Eagles are enough to release me from my inner Scrooge, I’ll be using the Nick Sirianni Super Bowl Tears scale, with one tear being a subtle presence of moisture and five being open-mouth sobbing.

This Christmas featuring Patti LaBelle

I’ll admit, I listened to White Christmas off of The Philly Specials’ first album all last year. I just can’t get enough of Jordan Mailata’s impressive pipes. Seriously, I need a solo album from him, stat.

How many fanbases can say that their tackle can hold his own next to the iconic Patti freaking LaBelle? If I was not an Eagles fan and I heard this song blasting in a Macy’s I wouldn’t have the slightest inkling that the male voice is an NFL player, let alone a 6-foot, 8-inch, 366-pound offensive tackle. I would have assumed it was a classically trained tenor — or, at least, a little one, like Frankie Valli.

From left: Kelce, Patti LaBelle and Mailata.

Jordan Mailata has a fascinating backstory. Born and raised in Australia by parents of Samoan descent, Mailata had an up-and-down rugby career with his last stint only offering him a one-year, ​​$5,000 contract. Coaches didn’t have faith that Mailata could keep up the pace that professional rugby required. But the NFL had a hunch that this guy could be a star. He accepted an invitation to join their International Player Pathway Program, which led him straight to the Eagles, where he has now earned the nickname of Human Wrecking Ball.

In an Instagram behind-the-scenes video of the recording of This Christmas, Mailata can be seen clamming up from stage fright, clearly intimidated by having to sing alongside LaBelle. This is part of what I love about the Eagles. It’s so easy to see their human side.

Jordan, please release a solo album so I can stop listening to Christmas songs in August.

Nick Sirianni Super Bowl Tears:

Jordan Mailata’s story touches me to my core. To go from being a rugby player whom coaches doubted to being a Pro Bowl Alternate singing with the Godmother of Soul is a story I’d like to see on the silver screen. Listening to this song feels like sharing his joy. 

All I Want For Christmas Is You

In terms of Christmas songs that drive me up the wall, this is public enemy number one. There’s always someone blasting this song on November 1 — which is egregiously early to celebrate Christmas, by the way. It’s overplayed and much too peppy for my tastes.

Early aughts teenybopper favorite Mariah Carey released the song in 1994. All I Want for Christmas is now the best-selling digital single of all time. The Library of Congress selected it for its National Recording Registry.

I have been known to walk out of a store if this is playing over the radio. 

But there’s Jordan Mailata and in the first three seconds, I find myself swooning once again. 

Mailata’s version seems much more swingy than the original. Less whiny too. It’s upbeat, and man, does it show off his impressive vocal range. His voice melts from my headphones straight into my ears and scratches my brain in all the right ways.

It’s settled: Mailata could sing any song I hate, and I’d fall in love with it. I was even bopping along to the beat. Bopping! I don’t bop to Christmas music!

Nick Sirianni Super Bowl Tears:

This song isn’t going to get many tears from me but it does remind me: All I want for Christmas is a Kelly Green Jalen Hurts jersey (an authentic one, please) and an Eagles Super Bowl win.

Fairytale Of Philadelphia featuring Travis Kelce

Did we really think after a highly publicized brother vs. brother Super Bowl, that we wouldn’t get a visit from Jason Kelce’s little bro on this year’s album? Seconds into this song, the thought occurs to me: Could it be that Jason Kelce’s raspy graspy husky vibrato resembles … the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera? Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but it’s clear our favorite center has been exercising his vocal chords in the off-season.

Travis Kelce — who, let’s be clear, recorded long before he’d paired up with Taylor — surprises too. His voice is much more boyish than his older brother’s, but soft and pleasant.

This is a genuinely enjoyable song to listen to, Christmas or not. This song is a play on The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York and captures the same plucky Irish pizazz. While the original focuses on an inebriated disaster of a couple down on their luck, the Kelce brothers’ fresh take somehow translates perfectly. Their love has not grown sour; it’s just made complicated by being on competing teams. But the love and admiration is still there.

The Kelce brothers, as singing stop-motion animation characters.

Fairytale is an ode to the Birds’ Super Bowl LVII loss — and you can’t tell me otherwise. The brothers sling insults at each other — “You dirtbag. You phony. You lousy jabroni”  — in a way so reminiscent of siblings (albeit South Philly siblings) engaged in loving rivalry. But underneath the nastiness is a message that tugs on your heartstrings. Jason and Travis may have to fight on the battlefield football field, but deep down, they are just like so many siblings: An older one bitter about being overshadowed by the younger one, who just wants to remind him that he’d be nowhere without him. It’s the two Kelce brothers’ emotional hug after the Super Bowl, wrapped up nicely in a Christmas song.

Favorite Line: “You took my dreams from me when Mom first had you (Jason), I kept them with me, Jas’ I put them with my own, Can’t make it all alone (Travis). I built my dreams around you (Both).”

Nick Sirianni Super Bowl Tears:

I’ll admit, this one got me. It makes me want to call my big sister and apologize for being such a brat. As soon as it came out, Fairytale landed at No. 1 on iTunes, which I choose to believe has absolutely nothing to do with Travis’ girlfriend with a massive cult following, but instead, because it’s a slam dunk of a song. But I know I’m living in a fairytale world with that theory.

The Christmas Song, featuring Amos Lee

I will not dance to a Christmas song for my first dance at my wedding. I repeat I will not dance to a Christmas song that isn’t even a romantic Christmas song at my wedding. Even though I may be considering walking down the aisle to the Eagles fight song, I can not allow my love of the Eagles to cloud my better judgment and dance to a Christmas song at a September wedding.

Phew, I just needed to talk myself off of that ledge. Can you blame me? This song does feel romantic despite its generic lyrics about Jack Frost nipping at your nose, reindeer, tiny tots and whatnot. Its jazzy smooth instrumental melody leaves me feeling swept up in the feelings of love like a cheesy Hallmark Christmas movie. The buttery harmonies bring to life the nostalgic lyrics.

Nat King Cole first debuted this song in 1946, and it has since been covered by countless other musical acts. If you ask me, it’s hard to do any Nat King Cole song justice, let alone one of his most iconic. But the trio teams up with Kensington’s Amos Lee, a Grammy award-winning folk artist, to deliver a nearly perfectly executed cover.

Nick Sirianni Super Bowl Tears:

Listening to this song feels like being wrapped up in a warm blanket with a cup of hot chocolate — and my sweetie.

Dominick the Donkey, with #62

Up until recently, this song just felt like a cruel prank, or worse, an affront to the art form of music itself. A song about a donkey delivering gifts to Children because the reindeer were too lazy to get up Italian hills that includes nails on chalkboard-esque impressions of a donkey hee-hawing? No, thank you.

Then I heard a story that puts why this whole album is special into perspective. I have a dear friend I watch games with from time to time. There are two big characteristics you’ll glean from chatting with him. One: He wholeheartedly loves his late father. Two: One of his most prized memories is getting to watch the Eagles win the Super Bowl with his dad before he passed.

Recently, this friend shared his elation that Dominick the Donkey would be featured on this album. It was his father’s favorite Christmas song, sung by his favorite Eagles player, Jason Kelce. This track is a gift my friend will no doubt cherish for invoking loving memories of his father, also conveniently named Dominic.

There isn’t much to say about this song but there is a lot to be said about how the Eagles — especially Jason Kelce — brings communities together. Sharing joy about the Eagles is a love language. For diehard fans, it’s a shared joy we can fondly recall when we think of our loved ones.

Nick Sirianni Super Bowl Tears:

I won’t be able to ever listen to this song again without thinking about the joy my friend gets to feel from it.

Santa’s Night, written and performed by Jason Kelce

Super Bowl champion. Six-time Pro Bowler. Singer-songwriter Jason Kelce. Let that sink in. 

This track, which Kelce actually wrote, starts moody with Westerny slow strums on an electric guitar. Kelce sings from the perspective of a woeful Santa — fitting, considering I wouldn’t be surprised if 30 years from now Kelce makes celebrity appearances as the (not woeful) Kringle of the King of Prussia Mall.

On this one, Kelce has managed to write a sad Christmas song, one where Santa seems worn out from the job he’s been so dedicated to for so many years. The cold air is harsh on his skin. He’s been at it for miles. Maybe it’s time for Santa to let someone else take over?

Now I’m crying. What if this isn’t really about Santa? What if Kelce is giving us a little insight into how it feels to be inching closer toward retirement each day?

Talks about retirement have surrounded Kelce for the last few years. That’s the basis of the  well-regarded Amazon Prime documentary Kelce (co-produced by The Citizen’s Larry Platt), which largely follows the veteran center over the course of last season as he grapples with whether or not to hang up his uniform for good. Spoiler alert, as if you needed one: He does not. But is he trying to tell us something here?

In the last few lines of Santa’s Delight Kelce reminds us, “As the wrappings rip open, I am healed with delight.” Dear Jason, if this is your last year as a pro football player, I hope you are having the time of your life and cherishing every moment of it.

Nick Sirianni Super Bowl Tears:

Honestly, this song breaks the scale. Jason, thank you — for this song and for everything you have given the City of Brotherly love during your career.

Pretty Paper, featuring Lane Johnson with Katie Crutchfield and Waxahatchee

Finally it’s Lane Johnson’s moment to shine. From last year’s album, we already know Johnson’s vocals have a rich, almost Elvis-like Southern twang, and in Pretty Paper, that’s on full display. Johnson fits right in with fellow Texan singer-songwriter Roy Orbison’s original tune. If you’re a country fan, this one’s for you.

Johnson has been with the Eagles since 2013 when he was selected as a first-round draft pick. In the Eagles’ 2016 playoff run, he and former Eagle defensive end Chris Long went viral for wearing German shepherd masks as a tongue-in-cheek reference to being underdogs. Like more than one of the Eagles’ current players, Johnson has seen his fair share of Pro Bowls: four.

Johnson is fast. So fast that he is often accused of false starting. This is why it is refreshing to hear him slow down for some good old-fashioned country Christmas fun.

This track features harmonizing vocals from Alabamian-turned-Philadelphian indie folk star  Katie Crutchfield and her band Waxahatchee. It’s an odd juxtaposition. An Eagles offensive tackle singing with an alternative musician who used to play basement shows. Somehow, this makes even less sense than the Patti LaBelle collab, but it works nonetheless.

Nick Sirianni Super Bowl Tears:

I’ll admit, Lane Johnson doesn’t bring up any strong feelings than my strong feelings about his strong play. On the other hand, he’s got a great set of pipes and could easily provide vocals for an animated biopic about Elvis.

Christmas Time is Here, featuring The Philly Special Children’s Choir

I may not love Christmas music, but I’m a sucker for a classic Christmas movie. Go figure. So when I saw the sweeping waltz, originally by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, from an all-time classic A Charlie Brown Christmas, my interest piqued. 

The trio lets The Philly Special Children’s Choir take the reins here, opting instead to sit on the sidelines. It’s fitting, considering the album’s proceeds will support local children. This song doesn’t deviate from the original too much, but it’s nice to know local kids got to participate in this project.

It’s a short, sweet song that closes out Side A of the album.

Nick Sirianni Super Bowl Tears:

This track didn’t stir up too many emotions for me, but it is a sweet tribute to a worthy cause.

The Dreidel Song with General Manager Howie Roseman

The Philly Specials practice some inclusivity by featuring a track for their fans who celebrate Hanukkah and they invite legendary Eagles GM Howie Roseman to join them. Roseman, who is Jewish, can be heard prominently throughout the track. Is it a showstopping performance exhibiting pristine vocals? Not so much. Is it fun? Absolutely.

The Philly Specials make this song much more upbeat and less sing-songy than what I remember it to be. It features a snappy harmonica solo and bustling percussion. Like they used to say on Bandstand, it’s a song you can dance to. Maybe it’ll even become a hype song for a competitive game of dreidel.

Roseman started with the Eagles in 2000 — as an intern. He worked his way up to become director of football administration, to various V.P. positions. Then, in his first season as general manager, the Eagles became NFC East Divisional Champs. He’s been through the McNabb years, the dark days of Chip Kelly, Doug Pederson’s Super Bowl run, and now the Hurts era.

Roseman also got a special shout-out during Jason Kelce’s famous Super Bowl parade speech. If you’re a fan of our current team, you have Howie to thank.

Nick Sirianni Super Bowl Tears:

In Howie Roseman we trust. Enough said.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, featuring Jordan Davis

Now second-year Defensive Tackle Jordan Davis can sing, too? These Eagles are unstoppable both on and off the field.

It’s touching to see the older generation of Eagles players inviting the newest generation into the mix. Davis was part of the Eagles 2022 “Great Georgia Bulldog” draft, when the team got five players from Georgia University’s 2022 and 2023 College Football Playoff National Championship-winning teams. Davis also contributed to last year’s Christmas album.

With his sweet falsetto, Davis even sounds younger than the band’s three husky frontmen. The song ends with the trio and Davis all singing the touching memorable outro.

Through the years, we all will be together
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

When you watch an Eagles game, you can just tell these boys have a deep kinship. The fun they have on the field together is as palpable through the television screen as it is on this track. It’s seen in their post-touchdown celebrations, their playful post-game ribbing of each other, and the behind-the-scenes videos of them recording this album — and, dare we hope, when they go on to have a “merry little Super Bowl win.”

Nick Sirianni Super Bowl Tears:

Togetherness is part of what makes the Eagles, and Philadelphia sports in general, so special. Nothing brings us together quite like our love for our teams. Including this song and having it sung in unison is a nod to that. 

Auld Lang Syne, featuring Landon Dickerson, Cam Jurgens, Nakobe Dean and #55, Brandon Graham

With that, the Eagles send us out with a New Year’s Eve classic. It starts no different than any other rendition of this romantic adieu to the year.

But it’s The Philly Specials, so of course they put their own spin on it, when the tune becomes less a Christmas song — and more of an acceptance speech. Here again, the Eagles are having fun with each other. But this time, it’s more sentimental. 

Fellow players like Landon Dickerson, Brandon Graham, Nakobe Dean, and Cam Jurgens stop by to give their remarks and it is nothing short of a phenomenal tribute to all the people who make the Eagles the powerhouse that they are. 

Nick Sirianni Super Bowl Tears:  

Scale officially broken. They are thankful for each other, their trainers, the Eagles staff, their cafeteria crew  — but most strikingly, they are thankful for us.

That settles it. I am officially hooked on Christmas music, provided that Christmas music is exclusively sung by players on my favorite football team. Luckily, I now have two whole albums to get me through the holiday season — and maybe even a song for my first dance. 

The whole A Philly Special Christmas Special is now available and can be streamed on your music platform of choice. Copies of the deluxe album (including last year’s album) are still available online for $125.


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