- Maya A. Jones is a writer and reporter. She joined ESPN in 2012 as a part-time researcher before moving on to cover a variety of topics within the NFL, NBA and NASCAR. She is a proud New Orleanian and HBCU graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana.
Quinta Brunson is extremely superstitious when it comes to her Philadelphia Eagles. If the creator and star of “Abbott Elementary” can’t catch an Eagles game from start to finish, she refuses to watch. Her theory is battle tested; if she tunes in late, she’s jinxing her squad.
Brunson, a West Philly native, grew up a die-hard local sports fan, and on Jan. 29, she was hesitant to test fate. She was on a flight back to Philly when the Eagles kicked off against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. So, when she landed, she ignored all the TV screens playing the game at Philadelphia International Airport.
She did the same when she arrived at her parents’ house, rushing past the living room where her dad watched the Eagles crush the Niners: “I’m not watching — I’m not!” Instead, she watched the ’70s sitcom “The Love Boat” with her mom, but her dad didn’t want her to miss out. “Quinta, if the 49ers came back at this point, Jesus would be coming back to Earth. You need to come in here and watch this game,” she remembers him saying.
Brunson, 33, eventually gave in and sat down to watch the game with her father. By then, the Eagles were up 31-7 late in the fourth quarter, but a fight broke out. Players pushed and wrestled each other to the ground as referees blew whistles and threw yellow flags on the field. “They still won, but I felt that my watching caused that immediately,” she says. “I believe very deeply that my interference will cause a problem.”
Thankfully for Brunson, and her Eagles, she’ll be in attendance at Super Bowl LVII to cheer on Philly as it takes on the Kansas City Chiefs: “I’m not doing a prediction or anything,” she says. “I’m going to mind my business. Just watch the game.”
ESPN recently sat down with the Emmy Award-winner to discuss her love of Philly sports, why she dressed up like Allen Iverson as a teen and why her hometown means so much to her.
ESPN: Congratulations. Your Philadelphia Eagles will be in the Super Bowl.
QB: I love getting congratulated for the Eagles going to the Super Bowl. That’s such a cool feeling. I’m excited. I think it’s hard because I think it’s been a really interesting year for football. I think as we all know, there are controversial aspects to the current NFL and what’s being done. I think I probably share the same sentiment as a lot of football fans, as we love the sport, we hope to see certain changes made, but in the meantime, when your team is going to the Super Bowl, it’s hard to not be excited that that’s happening.
Every city loves [its] team, but I do think the love Philadelphia has for the Eagles, it’s something special. It’s very, very unique. You come out the womb getting told that you love the Eagles and you hate the Cowboys, and you carry that with you for a long time.
This is the first year that we’re seeing two Black quarterbacks in the Super Bowl. What do you think that means for the league and fans?
QB: It is huge. It’s all relative. I think both of those quarterbacks are some of the best quarterbacks in the league. It’s exciting. These are two hardworking athletes who have clearly been able to help take their teams all the way to the Super Bowl. I’m just happy to see it. I can’t wait to see them play each other.
It seems like everyone loves Jalen Hurts. What do you love about the Eagles’ quarterback?
QB: One, he’s just a plain old good quarterback. That’ll always make me appreciate an athlete — them being good at their job. From what I see, he seems like a wonderful guy. Everyone just is drawn to him; his magnetism, and I think he has a love for the city that we really appreciate. Even when they won the [NFC] Championship, it was really great to hear him talk about the city and how it’s a special place.
That’s something that I believe deeply. As people can see with [Abbott Elementary], I think the city is more than just its faults. It has so many winning traits and we care about each other so much. Sports is one of the key places where we show it. We all get together to support the Eagles or the Phillies or the Sixers. I’ve been told from multiple sources that [Hurts] loves Abbott, so I love that. I love that he loves my show. I think that that’s really wonderful. That’s another plus.
There are a lot of sports references in “Abbott Elementary.” Why did you feel it was so important to incorporate Philly sports fandom into the show?
QB: I thought it was so important because Philadelphia is such a huge sports town. We love our teams down. It’s how we relate to each other. It’s how we communicate with one another. Philly is a small city, but it’s really diverse, [with] different pockets of the city that contain different people.
I’ll never forget being in line for opening day of the Eagles season. I can’t remember what year it was, but it’s such a wild story. I was in line. We’re waiting for the gates to open, and it was me and my friend, and then it was two white guys in front of us and then two queer people behind us. The people in front of us and the people behind us wound up getting in a fight. I was like, “Oh, this is about to turn real bad. I’m real afraid of what kind of slurs could be thrown around in this moment.”
That gate opened — it was like all of that went away. This group of people very happily went into the stadium with each other. These people were just arguing, and it was just like, the Eagles solved all the problems. I guess that’s what’s so cool about sports.
You’ve had some Philly sports legends show up: Gritty, Andre Iguodala. In Season 3, will we be seeing more Philly legends pop up?
QB: Absolutely. We have kind of just started kicking the tires on Season 3. We are fortunate in that a lot of athletes enjoy the show, and we enjoy them back. It feels like we’ll always have an open door for any athletes who want to be a part of the show. Now, first and foremost, our show is about this school, this public school. We never wanted to come outside of what’s possible in this world.
For instance, Andre, I remembered when he was playing for the Sixers, he just became a big part of the city. Still to this day, he has a great relationship with Philadelphia and has roots there and friends from there. I always want it to be someone like that who has a deep connection to the city.
I noticed there were also a lot of Allen Iverson references. I don’t know if you can see behind me, but Iverson and Maya Angelou are top-tier in my household.
QB: I love that. There exists inside of us two wolves, Allen Iverson and Maya Angelou.
I was named after Maya and Allen Iverson is my hero.
QB: I love that. I feel like you and I would be good friends based off of that fact. That’s beautiful.
Speaking of Iverson references, what does he mean to you and the city of Philadelphia?
QB: I was just a teen in the Iverson era. To be a Philadelphian teen, I had my hair braided like his. I walked around in a Sixers jersey in a headband. You just wanted to be Allen Iverson. It didn’t matter who you were, you wanted to dress like him. I remember my mom just being so concerned: “What is my child going through? What’s happening?”
It’s how I imagined Chicagoans felt about Michael Jordan. The whole world felt that way about Michael Jordan. I think Allen Iverson felt so uniquely ours. I think that people from other cities felt that way about him too. He was the underdogs’ Michael Jordan. It wasn’t just him, it was that team. Andre Iguodala, who came out of nowhere at that time. I still remember a game where this guy, Raja Bell came out of nowhere. Everyone was like, “Who is this kid?” Eric Snow and Dikembe Mutombo, that team still represents greatness to me and [Iverson] was the leader of it all. I’m nostalgic about the era. It still motivates me to this day. I love teams because of that. I think that period taught me how much I love teamwork.
If you had to describe your city to someone who has never been there, who knows nothing about it, how would you do that?
QB: Tough, but full of love. I think it is one of the toughest cities in the country, but there’s so much love to be found in it, and so much culture and acceptance, really. Growing up in Philly, like I said, it’s a very diverse city, but I didn’t realize how diverse until I left Philadelphia. I was constantly surrounded by people of every race, creed and religion.
I hope people never throw it away and just think it’s not worth loving or saving because it’s a wonderful city that produces some wonderful people.
I know we’re keeping the show on education, but are there any celebrities or athletes on your wish list that you hope to appear in seasons to come?
QB: I think we’ll probably get one of them. We have this wonderful relationship with athletes. One of the craziest moments to me was going to the ESPYs [in July 2022]. That’s where I first met Andre in person, even though we have friends in common in the world. I went to the ESPYs, and I looked over, and the entire Golden State Warriors team was waving at me. I looked behind me. I was like, “I know they ain’t waving at me.” My husband was like, “They’re waving at you.”
This team of incredible athletes is watching Abbott, and that makes me so, so happy. I love that they watch it in their downtime when they need a break and can watch it with their families. I think that we have this great relationship with the athletic community, where hopefully, we can have a revolving door of amazing athletes who are just incredible.
On my wish list, I don’t know how we’re ever going to get her on the show in a realistic way, but Lisa Leslie. She loved the show. I rarely freak out, but I was just like, “Lisa Leslie?” She’s kind of like a dream guest. She’s just incredible … I keep thinking lately about, I want people who are still here and still with us and still active, I want to be able to work with them and everything.
Do you have any favorite appearances thus far?
QB: Gritty was just a dream come true. What people don’t know was Gritty was down from the pilot. The show hadn’t even come out yet. I’d written a Gritty appearance into the pilot and it was like, “Let’s just see if we can get him.” We couldn’t because of Gritty’s schedule. Contrary to popular belief, there is only one Gritty. He couldn’t come, but I remember the Flyers and their team sent this wonderful email being like, “We can’t make it, but this is so cool, and we’d love to be a part of it someday.” I’m really always moved by people who make an effort and keep their word in that way.
He’s such a good representation of Philly. I think going back to your previous question [about Philly], he’s kind of my answer. That’s why I love Gritty. He’s ugly but lovable — I think that’s Philadelphia. I think he’s such a good rep.
People look at him and go, “What the hell is this? What is this?” When I first showed Gritty to people who didn’t know him, they were like, “What is he, though?” I’m like, “You can’t put him in a box, but before you know it, you’re in love with this thing and you don’t know why.” I think that’s how Philadelphia feels to me.
Did you play any sports in high school?
QB: No, man. I maintain that if I were taller, I’d be good at basketball. In theory, I’m pretty good at basketball. Ask anyone. I can get the ball in the hoop. No, I didn’t play any sports. I love sports. I love teamwork and action like that. Abbott for instance, is a big team effort, from the crew to the cast, to the editing team. I love watching teams play. I think besides the Sixers, the Golden State Warriors are one of my favorite teams because I think they just are so good at being a team, knowing their roles, knowing how to support each other.
I just love team sports so much because it’s how I feel like I operate in my life. I’m just not tall enough to play a sport. I think I could have done baseball, shortstop or something, but [I’m] not the biggest baseball girl.
What was your earliest memory of sports that made you feel like, I am going to watch this and love this?
QB: For me, a lot of my earliest memories were really movies more than sports themselves. I remember going to see “Space Jam,” and Space Jam kind of being the thing that really got me into basketball. I remember going, seeing movies like “The Big Green,” “The Sandlot.” I think there were so many sports movies when I was younger. [The] biggest ones that have made me a fan of hockey were the “Mighty Ducks” movies. I don’t think I would’ve cared about hockey if it weren’t for the Mighty Ducks.
Then I would say besides that, my dad used to get free tickets through his job to games at this place that’s not around anymore. I would go to games with him. Those are really special times.
Where will you be watching the game?
QB: I’m going to go to the Super Bowl. I’m excited. I [have] never been to the Super Bowl. [ I’m] also a little anxious. It’s the Eagles, and [my Abbott co-star] Sheryl Lee Ralph is singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” It’s going to be a cool time.
Abbott Elementary airs Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC.
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