Fans of the Philadelphia Eagles gather outside The Philly Underground during an Eagles game last month. The new bar opened in early September in Portland. Pat McDonald/Journal Tribune

There’s no doubt about it, this is Patriots Country.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t pockets of other fan bases living in Maine — and I just happen to be one of those fans living behind enemy lines.
Those of you who read my Nosebleed Section column regularly will know that I have been a fan of all Philadelphia sports teams since I was a young kid growing up in northern Pennsylvania and that includes the Eagles.
In the years that I’ve lived in southern Maine it has certainly been a challenge to find a good place to watch the Birds — but that all changed this season.
A few weeks ago I headed to Portland to cover a Thornton Academy football game and had some time beforehand to try out The 5 Spot, which is a Philly cheesesteak place just around the corner from Fitzpatrick Stadium.
As someone who has enjoyed a lot of cheesesteaks in Philly, I knew it was going to be a “real cheesesteak” when I saw the menu had cheese whiz. I was definitely not disappointed … it was like being in South Philly.
I ended up talking to the owners — Keith Costello and his wife Rosetta Iannaccone — and learned they would be opening The Philly Underground bar in the basement of the building.
A couple weeks later I was back in Portland to check out The Philly Underground and I was greeted by a crowd of probably 40 Eagles fans.
I was back again the very next Sunday for the Eagles game and this time I brought my camera and tape recorder.
“The idea was Philadelphians are a different breed of people. Philadelphia, South Jersey people are completely different and there’s nothing like being surrounded by people that you can totally relate to. Who know how to take you and your humor. I’m almost crying now because it’s true,” said Keith Costello, who moved to Maine 13 years ago.
Philadelphia native Jimmy DiEmedio wasn’t sure what to expect when he saw a local TV station do a story on The 5 Spot opening — until he heard Costello’s accent.
“I heard about it on the news and didn’t believe it (was a real Philly cheesesteak place) until I heard Keith’s voice and then I said ‘man, this has got to be the real deal.’ I came in here and just fell in love with it,” said DiEmedio.
The South Portland resident didn’t know how many people would head to The Philly Underground when it opened on Sept. 6 — but it turned out he wasn’t the only Philly fan looking for a home in Maine.
“I didn’t know how many people would come out for it, but I was blown away the first night with how many people were here and it seems like every week more and more people come. It’s awesome,” DiEmedio added.
It’s not just Philly natives who are taking advantage of having an Eagles bar in Maine.
“I heard about it and I was like we’re going there Sunday,” said Heath Beardsley, who was born and raised in southern Maine but has been an Eagles fan his entire life. “It’s awesome. I love it. You don’t see a lot of Eagles things going on, especially in this neck of the woods.”
Another visitor to The Philly Underground on this day (which was Week 3 of the NFL season) was Carolyn Collova — a Philly native, who now lives in Pembroke, New Hampshire and was visiting southern Maine on vacation.
“A friend of mine found it on Facebook and knew I was from Philly and said ‘you’ve got to check it out,’” said Collova. “It’s amazing … it’s amazing just to be able to watch a game with some Philly fans.”
Collova’s not your normal Eagles fan as her family is part of the franchise’s history. Carolyn’s dad, Joseph “Stumpy” Collova, was the team’s dry cleaner and eventually earned a job on the sidelines.
“(He) started out taking care of uniforms and then carried (the headset cords) for Buddy Ryan,” Carolyn explained. “He was known as Buddy’s buddy. He went to the Super Bowl with them in 1980.”
I’m not a Philly native — my hometown of Athens is on the PA-New York border — but I did spend a lot of time in the 700 level of The Vet growing up as my dad, Fast Eddie McDonald, and his best friend Art Johnson had seats in the nosebleeds of the Eagles’ former stadium.
So what has made my time at The Philly Underground special is getting to talk with people like Keith, Jimmy, Heath and Carolyn. The Sundays we spend in the small basement bar on Congress Street have given us the chance to share great stories of how we all fell in love with the Eagles — and of course it gives us crazy Philly fans a place to, well, be our normal, crazy, scream at the TV selves.
“I’ve heard more than once it’s like sitting in your buddy’s basement back in Philly watching an Eagles games,” Costello said.
“It’s like being home at any corner bar (back in Philly),” added DiEmedio.
— Sports Editor Pat McDonald can be reached at [email protected] or at 780-9017. Follow the Journal Tribune Sports Department on Twitter @JournalTsports.

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