The Year in Gritty

How the mascot’s singular appeal captivated us all in 2018

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Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

After Nick Foles and the Eagles beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, Philadelphia found itself in an unfamiliar position atop the sports world. While the Eagles themselves have spent the year in an expected hangover—Nick Foles is now back in the picture, though! —the City of Brotherly Love's personality has spread into the national discourse at a level like never before, thanks to the help of one... thing.


Like many great things, the provenance of Gritty came quietly and unexpectedly, at least at the national level. Sports franchises reveal new mascots all the time; after all, Philly had only unwrapped the Sixers' new mascot, the underwhelming Franklin, in 2015. (I guess the verdict is still out on "democracy," but it does not work for mascots.) The fact that Gritty appeared to be a backward-engineered version of the Philly Phanatic—but modded with Flyers colors and a more hockey-oriented, bearded look—didn't give away much at first. It was weird, patently what Franklin wasn't—the product of a committee settling on a safe idea. Reactions were mixed. I seem to remember that the advent of Gritty led to a wide mocking of Gritty, which is something that feels insane to consider now.

But mere hours later, as social media had given Gritty a little wash-and-rinse, he became something much more than a mascot. He became an avatar, a hero we could project our feelings onto when we needed it most. In his first game, he became a walking reaction GIF that contained all the truths of human existence at once: sometimes we glide, as if gifted with wings, and other times we fuck up the shooting mechanism on a t-shirt gun and shoot a dude square in the back, point blank. Building an emotional connection to Gritty wasn't something that required any kind of work; it just kind of happened instantaneously. The real Gritty was inside of us, this entire time.

As the weeks went by, Gritty became a lot of things to a lot of people. He was an icon of the resistance. He was the owner of the most pure-feeling social media accounts in existence, despite the fact that he has threatened to kill Pittsburgh's penguin mascot. He became an important figure in the art industry. While calling him a popular "meme" doesn't feel inaccurate, per se, that only really covers one aspect of the experience. He became a walking representation of 2018's emotional journey in general, where so many people seemed to express their own weirdness more comfortably. Some of us may have resisted at first, but Gritty has displayed a rare staying power for a thing that looks like a reject Muppet but 41% more frightening.

We connected to Gritty because Gritty is us. We are all Gritty.

I can't wait to see where we go next year.

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