This is the first article in a series detailing my experience as a fan when watching a wide range of sports. This article is all about my visit to the city of Philadelphia to watch the Eagles play their opening game of the season in 2016.
We arrived in Philadelphia on the 9th September 2016 on our honeymoon. This was going to be the first time that we had watched the Eagles live in person, and where better to do it than at their home stadium, Lincoln Financial Field.
We had never been to the city of Philadelphia before, and it was such a wonderful experience. As we walked around the city on our first night, we had so many great conversations with the locals! As soon as they see an Eagles jersey/shirt, they just want to talk about Football. As we had a full day in the city before the game, we made good use of the stadium tour on Saturday. If you ever get to visit a team you follow in America, I recommend going on a stadium tour the day before. It cost around $10-15, and you get to visit the locker rooms, sit in the press boxes and walk down on pitchside. We found that this somehow built the excitement levels even more as it really gives you a great insight into all the different departments needed to run an American sports Franchise.
I have been a fan of the Eagles since 2001 when I first visited America. They were the team being showing live in my bedroom and have been who I supported ever since. It had been a long 15-year wait to see them play a live game, and as some of you may know, quite a few painful years coming so close to a Super Bowl.
We wanted to turn up really early to the game to get the full experience, and we were not disappointed. Travel routes are so easy to the stadium, with Septa lines running from the city centre into the car park of the Philadelphia sports complex. It takes around 15-20 minutes to get into the complex from the city centre, and it did not feel cramped at all. It was a great experience travelling with a plethora of fans all donning their jerseys and having a social drink on the way to the stadium.
When you arrive in the parking lot, you are greeted by walls and walls of tail-gaiting fans. When we arrived, it was around 11 am before a 1 pm kickoff. We expected it to be pretty quiet, but it was full of cars and people waiting for the gates to open. I recommend turning up to the tail gaiting even if you do not have any plans there, even if you do not know anyone, there is so much to do.
As you walk around, there are so many cornhole games set up with large gatherings of families competing. There is also a lot of different BBQs with campervans and big cookout drums. As we got closer to the stadium, a family was roasting a pig….not just ribs… an ENTIRE pig just sitting on a roasting spit next to their pickup whilst they were throwing a football around, an actual dream Sunday.
This social aspect is such a fun experience, and people really are so friendly and will just let you join in with throwing their Football around or join them in drinking a beer.
As we walked closer to the stadium, there were large stalls and competition stands. As it was the opening day of the season, there was a buzz around the stadium, and finally, we were let in for the game.
We were sitting in the lower stand in the corner of the End Zone, which was so different to any NFL game I had been to before at the London Series. As the time got closer to kickoff, we used being right next to the refreshment area and loaded up on typical American snacks like pretzels. The seating was terrific in the Linc, very different to English football stadiums, the seating was pretty spacey, and each seat had its own cupholder, so none of that awkward shuffle as people try to get past to their seat and all of your things are on the floor.
It was the opening game of the season, but it was also a date that is incredibly memorable and important not just in America but all around the World. It was the 11th September. This took the atmosphere to the next level during the National Anthem as the aisles were filled with serving the Armed Forces members. The then-Vice President Joe Biden joined both teams on the field, holding the largest flag I have ever seen. Chants of ‘USA… USA’ followed as the troop’s salutes and the flyover happened, Philadelphia was ready for the start of their new season.
Along with the heightened emotions of such a tragic day, there was a sense of nervousness and excitement amongst the crowd. This was the first game for Head Coach Doug Pederson and new starting Quarterback Carson Wentz. If I were writing this a couple of years ago, I would have written about how hopefully this partnership could lead us for the next decade and bring a lot of success to the city….. but you may have seen in the past three weeks…. Both have parted from the team on pretty awful terms… but there was hope back to 2016.
The roar that went round the stadium at kickoff was deafening, and the new season was underway in the sunshine of Pennsylvania. The opposition in this 30-degree heat was the Cleveland Browns. The crowd were raucous from the first snap with Carson Wentz under centre, and just three plays into the game, a huge roar erupted as the Browns were drawn offside to convert the first 3rd down of the day. I remember turning to my wife and saying, ‘If that is how they cheer for a penalty, I can’t wait to hear what it is like for a Touchdown.’
It did not take that long for me to experience the full power of the Philly fans. Just nine plays into the game and Wentz’s career, he floated a pass out of the shotgun into the corner of the Endzone, my Endzone. I could not believe it. We could see the pass perfectly, Jordan Mathews was running towards us, and the ball just landed perfectly in his hands. The crowd went wild. The corner that we were in were high fiving and screaming ‘SUUUPERRBOOOWWL’. They had already started to believe something special was happening. This was the first moment we had seen what this Philly team could do, and it was safe to say the locals were excited. Little did they know, their screams of Superbowl were only one year early.
Of course, after each score is the traditional Eagles fight song. I had grown up watching legends like Brian Dawkins leading the fans in singing it loud and proud. This game did not disappoint with two touchdowns from Wentz and a 3rd on the Ground with Ryan Mathews. Fireworks were shooting out of the stadium, and every fan in unison was singing and waving their Eagles towels, ending with a chorus of ‘E-A-G-L-E-S .. EAGLES !!’.
The crowd were relentless throughout the rest of the game. They really embraced two English fans at their first Eagles game. Season ticket holders were walking up and down the aisles, starting conversations. The fans in front of us were intrigued by how two people from England had ended up at Opening day.
Philadelphia fans get a lot of bad press. Some of it is warranted but what you experience when you visit the Linc is pure passion. That is what the city of Philadelphia has in bucket loads when it comes to their sports teams. The bad press will come as drama sells, but I could not imagine a better place to watch sports than in the city of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.