Pala: A win for ‘Pop’ is a win for Jersey

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Isiah "Pop" Pacheco runs the ball during a game when he played for Rutgers University. - Photo / Rutgers Athletics

A couple of minutes after Rihanna shut down the internet on one of the biggest annual stages in American television, a pretty impactful moment occurred in New Jersey history. After a pretty typical, but ferocious, one-yard touchdown run from a Kansas City Chiefs running back came an odd, celebratory dance routine that is familiar and synonymous with one state. The celebrator was New Jersey native Isiah ‘Pop’ Pacheco, and the stage was Super Bowl LVII.

The dance routine in question after the score was a nod to New Jersey club music culture, a style often borrowed and mimicked, but only mastered in Jersey. In a state that is so often swallowed by two major neighboring markets, New York and Philadelphia, with our beloved sports teams dividing the state in half, there are few moments that created more unity than seeing Pacheco ‘rock his hips’ in the endzone of the Super Bowl.

Pacheco finished the game with an impressive 76 yards and a rushing touchdown, pushing the Kansas City Chiefs to another championship triumph in his first NFL season.

As a Rowan University student hailing from the northern half of the state, I can honestly say that Pop represents the state in its entirety through his play, his story and his dance moves. The Kansas City Chiefs running back played his college football in North Jersey, representing Rutgers University over a four-year tenure by way of Vineland High School, one of the southernmost towns in the state. A long road from loss to triumph saw him star on the game’s biggest stage.

In watching Pacheco play throughout the playoffs, I saw the identity of our state in every single run. Standing at five-foot-eleven, some may regard Pop as an undersized back, but the speed and power behind every one of his carries tend to tell a different story, much like the state that stands as the fourth smallest in the country by size, but the most densely populated. The open space flair and finesse of his play mirrors that of a typical youthful New Jersey persona. The icing on the cake was the energy in the dance moves he put into play so often through post-game celebrations, and even on his victory tour down to Union Station, Kansas City in a full Rutgers sweatsuit.

“Pop is a dog! He’s been through so much to get here and you can see it in the way he runs,” said Vineland resident Chanel Lawson in conversation about the Super Bowl matchup that proved to be victorious for Pacheco and the Chiefs. “I know how huge it would be to the city and all my people back home if Pop takes this one home, they’re gonna go crazy.”

While the game proved to be tantalizing for fans of the Eagles and somewhat prosperous for opposing fan onlookers, it is heartwarming to see a guy that was born and raised in his home state take a victory lap in the most Jersey way possible.

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