Grandpa Phil: A True Underdog

It only took 99 years for Phil Basser to become an overnight sensation.

It started with a tweet sent out last Sunday evening by his grandson, Josh Potter, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.

Potter simply noted that the 99-year-old Basser, better known as Grandpa Phil, has never witnessed his Eagles win a Super Bowl. The post was accompanied by a photo of Grandpa Phil cheering on the Eagles in his Carson Wentz jersey.

After hitting the send button, Potter put his phone down to charge it. He was surprised when he checked it a short time later. It has been retweeted almost 600 times and liked by another 2,000 users.

"I didn't think it was going to blow up, but I think people are going to see he's cute and how could they not retweet it," Potter says. "It went way further than I ever expected it to go, but it's awesome. Although he doesn't love the attention, it's well deserved and it's awesome to share with the rest of the world.

"He's so special because he's an inspiration and such a role model. He's lived such an amazing life, but he's just so real. He never does anything for attention. He never does anything for any other motive than it's the right thing. He's just an incredible example for our entire family. He's a true underdog story. It's hard for us to get down about anything when we've seen what he's gone through and how strong he is. He really just sets the standard for how to live life."

Grandpa Phil was born on March 6, 1918 in Philadelphia. His mother, Fannie, passed away when he was young and his father, Harry, struggled to make ends meet so during the week he lived at the Jewish Foster Home in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Harry would pick up Phil on weekends and Phil vividly recalls that his father would have chocolate waiting for him every time.

The Jewish Foster Home provided everything that Basser needed from education to friendships to cultural opportunities. He was also a member of Boy Scout Troop 139 where he learned to live by the oath - "to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight. The one thing that his life in Philadelphia could not prepare him for was war.

Grandpa Phil was drafted into the service in 1941. He did his basic training in the Army Corps of Engineers and wanted to become a pilot in the Air Corps. The problem is that with World War II raging on boots were needed on the ground. Basser completed officer training before being sent to the Pacific. Grandpa Phil survived horrific living conditions as well as a bout of malaria that he contracted while in the Philippines.

Grandpa Phil also served in the Korean War before returning to Philadelphia to start a new life with his wife, Pearl. He started the renowned agency, Philip B. Basser Advertising, Incorporated. He and Pearl worked tirelessly to make sure that their family had everything they needed. He relied on lessons learned from his upbringing.

"Philadelphia is filled with people who are gritty and strong who are fighters," says Grandpa Phil, who has done numerous media interview this week as a result of his brush with fame. "They meet problems head-on."

Grandpa Phil and Pearl raised four children - a son, Stephen; and three daughters, Shari, Mindy, and Faith. There's now 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren as well.

"The successes of all of my children and their spouses make me feel like I'm living in a dreamland," he says. "I can't explain it. It's heaven on earth."

That isn't to say there's been heartache along the way. In addition to his mother passing away at a young age, he lost his sister, Rose, when she was just 8 years old. One of his daughters, Faith, succumbed to a battle with cancer at the age of 44. Last April, Pearl also died as a result of cancer. They were married for 65 years. He now lives with family in New York.

"He is the most incredible man," his daughter Mindy Gray says. "He's an inspiration to all of us. He goes to the doctor's office and everyone falls in love with him. They can't wait for him to come back. He is a hero to all of us."

It's only fitting that a man who has overcome so many obstacles in his life will be a witness Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field for the NFC Championship Game to watch this group of underdogs battle the Vikings. His family is taking him there as an early birthday gift.

"My feeling is that it makes me want to root harder for the Eagles on Sunday because I'm always for the underdog," he says.

Grandpa Phil has fond memories of watching the Eagles' 1960 NFL Championship win over Green Bay. His favorite Eagle of all time brought two titles to Philadelphia - Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Steve Van Buren.

"He was a competitor and he gave all that he had to the game," says Grandpa Phil, whose memory of the past is still vibrant at 99 years young. "I respect him."

If the Eagles beat Minnesota, Grandpa Phil's family will take him to Minneapolis for the Super Bowl. A Lombardi Trophy would indeed be "the best present I could receive," he says.

He'll be one of the nearly 70,000 fans cheering on the Eagles on Sunday, but there will be plenty of supporters pulling for Grandpa Phil - a charming man who perfectly epitomizes everything that is special about this city.

Design by Loraine Griffiths. Story by Chris McPherson. Photos courtesy of the Basser Family

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