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As Christian McBride's Eagles face off against Bobby Watson's Chiefs, a friendly rivalry swings into gear

Bobby Watson and Christian McBride
courtesy of the artists
Bobby Watson, left, is a hardcore fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, while Christian McBride, right, is ride-or-die for the Philadelphia Eagles. The two musicians have fond history together — and ahead of Super Bowl LVII, they also had some words.

Christian McBride was 17, just beginning his classical bass studies at Juilliard, when he landed his first New York gig — at Birdland, with alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, in 1989. It was an auspicious, head-turning debut, and a testament to the value of good scouting. “I always knew he was going to be very important to this music,” Watson tells WRTI. “I just didn’t know how big it was gonna go.”

But it was a different sort of message that Watson had for McBride, speaking recently by phone from Kansas City. “I would tell him that this week, going into Sunday, I hate you,” he laughs. “We’re friends — but this week, you’re my enemy, man. It’s like what Travis Kelce’s brother tweeted the other day.”

Watson’s words were relayed in turn to McBride. “Well, I have no response,” he chuckled. “Other than to say that I love him no matter how bad the Chiefs’ butt-whooping will be.”

McBride, 50, is the jazz world’s most vocal and visible fan of the Philadelphia Eagles — a pithy, perceptive commentator on social media, doling out tough love as well as trenchant analysis. Watson, 69, is no less committed to the Kansas City Chiefs, extending the same hometown pride that he showcased on an album released last year.

Christian McBride with Chiefs and Eagles helmets
courtesy of the artist
In Sept. of 2013, Christian McBride was on set at the Eagles pregame television network, for Andy Reid's first game back in Philadelphia as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Heading into Super Bowl LVII, their version of trash talk is tempered considerably by personal history. “If you could put my career in football terms, Bobby Watson kicked it off,” McBride says. “He was the opening kickoff for my life in New York.”

For his part, Watson has a fondness not only for McBride but also the city that made him. “There was a period in my life after I left Art Blakey, I was playing in Philly so much that people thought I lived there,” he says. “I really have a strong love for Philadelphia.”

Watson rattles off some names — like Stephen Baylock, Bootsie Barnes, Trudy Pitts and Mr. C. “I used to come down every other Sunday and play with them,” he says. “I have a big-time connection with Philadelphia, and a lot of underground figures who put their money where their mouth was, and sponsored appearances on my behalf.”

That era, the end of the 1980s, saw Watson recording for Blue Note Records. “Bobby had one of the hottest bands in all of jazz, his group Horizon,” McBride recalls. “He came to Philly to play the Painted Bride, and Roy Hargrove was playing with him. I already knew Roy, and I actually knew Bobby as well, because Bobby was in Philly all the time; he’s always had a penchant for Philly guys. There was one point in Horizon where the entire band was from Philly: he had Terell Stafford on trumpet and Willie Williams on tenor briefly, in a three-horn front line with Ed Simon on piano and Craig McIver filling in for Victor Lewis on drums. I vividly remember being onstage, like: Man, I thought I left Philly! Here we are all together in New York.”

But make no mistake: Watson is not the least bit conflicted about his allegiances come Sunday. “I believe of course the Chiefs are gonna win, and this is why,” he says, swagger rising in his tone. “We had one of the hardest schedules in the NFL, and I think the Eagles, their record doesn’t reflect their toughness. They had a really soft ride to the Super Bowl. And I believe they’re gonna run into a buzzsaw. I love Jalen Hurts, but our quarterback is already a Hall of Famer. It’s gonna be a nail-biter, though. I got an extra bottle of Tums handy.”

McBride can relate to the anxiety, having embarked on a life of hardcore Eagles fandom during the 1980 NFL season — their first trip to the Super Bowl, and we can leave it at that. Young Christian was eight at the time. “So I’ve learned to temper my excitement,” he says. “But deep down inside, it’s hard holding it in.”

And what would he say to Watson headed into this Super Bowl Sunday? “Well, I love my Uncle Bobby so much that my message to him would be no different than if the Chiefs and the Eagles were home watching it on TV like we were — that I love him, and I hope we get to play together again soon.”

Nate Chinen has been writing about music for more than 25 years. He spent a dozen of them working as a critic for The New York Times, and helmed a long-running column for JazzTimes.