Being a sports fan is a case of agony and ecstasy. Agony when your team falls in defeat. Ecstasy when victory is at hand. Some teams experience the former far more than the latter. In the case of the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s a weird limbo, where they’d often be good, but never good enough to win the Super Bowl and be champions of the National Football League. The new documentary Maybe Next Year doesn’t just chronicle a year where the Eagles were one of the hottest teams in the NFL, but looks at the rapturous fandom that roots for the franchise. In doing so, the doc sets itself apart and becomes something more than what you’d see on ESPN or the NFL Network.
Maybe Next Year works whether you care about sports or not, largely because it’s about fans and fandom. What drives someone to go all in on grown men playing a children’s game? Why do these men and women obsess over something so seemingly meaningless? For them, it’s about connections, which the film leans heavily into. The ability to show how sports brings people together, how the Eagles make a community into one, shines through here.
Personally, I know the suffering of the fans in this doc all too well. I’m not an Eagles fan, but my teams across the sports leagues are the New York Jets, the New York Mets, the Brooklyn Nets, and the New Jersey Devils. Outside of the Devils, I’ve never seen a team I root for win a championship. In fact, I’ve never even seen the Jets play in a Super Bowl. So, suffice to say, I can relate to some of these Eagles fans in a big way, even if they’ve been luckier than I.
Following the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles season, as seen through the eyes of various hardcore fans, this is a look at what rooting for a team is like. There’s a Youtuber who takes every loss as hard as can be. There’s a retired man who opened an Eagles back in his home, plus many more. They’re hardcore fans, living and dying with every snap. This season wasn’t thought to be a special one, but as their young Quarterback Carson Wentz plays at a championship level, playoff and Super Bowl dreams begin to rear their heads.
As the Eagles succeed, hope begins to spring up for the lot. Then, a devastating injury to Wentz puts the season in jeopardy, with Quarterback Nick Foles taking over. The fans are none too pleased. History tells us what happens, but watching these individuals experience it is truly something to behold.
Watching these fans live and die by the Eagles is incredibly compelling. Whether they’re living satisfying lives or not, during the NFL season, Sunday brings a chance for happiness. While the cast of characters here never quite bridges over into caricature, they’re certainly more extreme figures. That’s part of what makes the film so easy to watch. They’re hardcore fans, not just fans. the deeper meaning of fandom is explored a bit, too, though it’s arguable that the movie could have looked more at that. While it’s a focused documentary, it wouldn’t have suffered by widening the scope a tad.
Filmmaker Kyle Thrash wisely puts the focus on the fans, as opposed to the players and the team. It’s easy to see how the Eagles did in 2017. Watching how fans across the city reacted to it, however, has a lot of appeal. Thrash doesn’t bring a lot of style to the flick, but he makes the doc an easy one to watch, including enough light moments to balance out the occasional heavier ones. No one will confuse this with an Oscar contender, but it’s a very solid watch.
Maybe Next Year will be massively enjoyable to anyone who roots hard for a team (unless you hate the Eagles), but even though indifferent to sports will find this to be an appealing character study. Give the documentary a look and you’ll see why.