Any good map can confirm that Mount Laurel, New Jersey is technically located in the Garden State, but make no mistake, the town's proximity to Philadelphia places it firmly in Eagles Country. So, it would make sense if you drove by the NFL Films headquarters there last offseason and saw an Eagles flag flying above the office complex, right?
What you may not know is that the only reason that flag was there was because the Eagles had just won the Super Bowl. If you were to visit NFL Films today, you'd see a Patriots flag flying overhead. Here's the backstory:
Before the 2011 season, NFL Films co-founder Steve Sabol decided he wanted three flagpoles outside the office. One would support the American flag, another the NFL Films flag, and the third – well, he opened it up to discussion among his staff. Someone suggested that it represent the reigning Super Bowl champion. Sabol loved the idea.
Had the Patriots defeated the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI later that season, New England would have been the first team to see its flag raised in what has become a tradition that remains somewhat obscure, even in NFL circles.
"The winning teams are usually surprised when they get the call from us," Films VP of Production Operations Jeremy Swarbrick explained. "But, of course, the Patriots know about it because this is the third time we've done it for them."
Initially, Swarbrick's predecessor was in charge of ordering the team flags and staging a ceremonial flag-raising, which, of course, the talented Films camera crews would document in their signature style. Before the Patriots faced the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, NFL Films decided to preorder both a Falcons flag and a Patriots flag, but the flag company mistakenly sent Films two Patriots flags.
"We figured we'd just save the second one," Swarbrick chuckled, "because we figured we'd have to use it again eventually."
Turns out, of course, he was right.
Nowadays, Swarbrick is the man responsible for spearheading the logistics of the tradition. The Monday following the Super Bowl, the first thing he does when he gets back into the office is place an order for the winning team's flag. A new one is always procured, even if there's a repeat champion, because the flags take such a beating from being exposed to the outdoor elements throughout the offseason.
Swarbrick then phones the champs to let them know about the flag-raising tradition so they can send representatives to film and photograph the event, typically held sometime in March. However, since he already had the extra Patriots flag on hand thanks to the mix-up two years ago, he instructed a maintenance worker at the office to raise the Patriots flag immediately after New England beat the Rams in Super Bowl LIII. Earlier this month, the Films crew re-staged the flag-raising ceremony to record the event for posterity.
"Hey, we figured, if [the U.S. Marines] could do it for Iwo Jima, we can, too," Swarbrick quipped.
Ideally, according to Swarbrick, a Films employee who's a fan of the winning team gets the honor of raising the team's 3' x 5' flag, which remains there until just moments before the next regular season kicks off. It is then placed in storage and replaced by a flag commemorating Sabol, who died in September 2012.
So, if you find yourself in the Philly vicinity between now and early September this year, take a detour to nearby Mount Laurel and check out the six-time Super Bowl Champion Patriots flag flying high above NFL Films. If you can't make it, we've included the ceremonial video here on this page.
"I wasn't involved in the initial decision-making process," remarked Swarbrick, "but I think it's a pretty cool tradition, and I hope it continues for years to come."