Dallas Mourning News, or: Nearly Bursting My Bladder and Other Tales From My First Eagles Home Game
After going to my first Eagles game against the Cowboys, I can say for sure that I learned one thing: Watching an Eagles home loss on TV and sitting through one in person are two very different kinds of misery. I traveled to Philadelphia on Sunday with 25 years of experience absorbing games at Veterans Stadium, and then Lincoln Financial Field, through the TV camera lens. I left with a better understanding of the twisted psychology required to be a modern sports fan.
After an uncomfortable wait behind people who didn’t read the repeated warnings about what cannot be brought through the security check, my friend Justin and I stepped into the concrete-steel colossus and heard and saw what it really means to be a fan: the raw, unfiltered emotions of nearly 70,000 people.
When you are a fan who has only watched games on TV (as I was until last year) you cannot fully appreciate the sport: Everything is fully processed and packaged for public consumption. But once you set foot into the stands, it’s like looking into a mirror. You see the beast you have invested your time, money and emotions into. It was quite a wake-up call for me, especially as the fans in our upper-level section launched meritless complaints about penalties and then began to launch a steady stream of F-bombs. It was the vitriol I’d heard and read about in the media while growing up in South Jersey.
I don’t want to write about this game. But I have to because maybe it’ll help make the headache go away.
The day begins with a trip to South Philly landmark Tony Luke’s for sandwiches. We don’t know it at the time, but that is the highlight of the afternoon. After we leave, around 2:30 p.m., we figure we could get a parking spot much closer to the stadium. Like many of Sam Bradford’s decisions a couple of hours later, it turns out to be a horrible idea.
As I wrote while we sat in the car: “I knew getting parking before the game would be a challenge, but this has not gone well. We’ve been driving around the industrial area near the South Philly stadium complex for about an hour, it seems. It’s almost total gridlock. Hundreds if not thousands of fans park along the warehouses. Is it legal? We don’t know. Is it safe? We don’t know. My car was broken into during a Phillies playoff game four years ago, so I don’t want to take needless chances. So here we are, sitting behind a caravan of cars at the same intersection where we’ve been for the last 10 minutes.
“I’m doubting whether we’re going to be in our seats for the opening kickoff.
Did I mention I’ve had to pee since before we got into the city? This is a rough way to begin.”
We do find a parking spot, but by then it is almost 4 p.m. and my bladder has gone numb. (Can a bladder go numb?) As we enter the lot, I spot a port-a-potty along the curb. As we get closer, I see a sign on the door: “EMPLOYEES ONLY.”
“I’ve had to pee for an hour — can I use that?” I ask the employee as I hand over $40 in cash.
“No, I’m sorry — I think it’s locked,” she replies.
“Do you know where the nearest one is?” I ask.
Her expression makes it clear she doesn’t. She turns to her co-worker.
“They all around here,” she says. I’m sure she thinks she’s being helpful.
And that’s interesting because I don’t see any other portable toilets. But I don’t have time for conversation. I’m ready to pull a Lloyd Christmas and relieve myself into a bottle.
Thankfully, we find a parking spot moments later that’s a hundred yards from a set of port-a-potties — and no line. I haven’t had to go that bad since I gulped down a super-sized soda in the early moments of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in an AMC. That movie just wouldn’t end.
We join the procession of fans walking past Citizens Bank Park and toward the Linc. Since I haven’t eaten all day, I rip open the cheesesteak (with onions and American) and devour it. Because it’s not in a clear plastic bag, the Eagles won’t let me bring it into the stadium. And you’d better believe I’m not letting a Tony Luke’s go into the trash can.
As we walk on the upper-level concourse to find our seats, the PA announcer informs us that the Eagles are burning a timeout on 3rd-and-1, not even three minutes into the game. My thoughts turn to Andy Reid for the first time. It’s too early for that.
The late Chuck Bednarik’s family is on hand — they get a standing ovation. Ironic, I guess. I remember “Concrete Charlie” would rip modern players whenever The Morning Call would phone him for an article. He hated that the NFL has become a cash cow and thought the players were soft.
The first quarter flies by as the Cowboys take a 3-0 lead and the Eagles offense is going nowhere. Bradford overthrows Zach Ertz downfield on 3rd-and-8. The degree of difficulty was extremely high. I hear a voice behind me: “It’ll be a long season.”
As Dallas methodically works its way downfield in the final minutes of the first half, the groaning becomes yelling. Some conceal their anger with smiles and beer. An unnecessary roughness call on Vinny Curry gives the Cowboys 15 yards. “Good luck sleeping tonight, ref!” someone behind me yells. His heart didn’t seem to be in that remark; coulda done better. The drive features four penalties against the Eagles. The guy directly in front of me is not a shouter. He has other ways to express himself. When the referee announces a false start — against Dallas — with 11 seconds on the clock, he flashes his middle finger.
As time expires, a Cowboys field goal zips through. A slew of F-bombs rains down while fans herd toward the concessions and bathrooms. No children in sight. This is definitely not a family event, at least not in Section 211.
The Eagles receive the ball to begin the third quarter and pick up 12 yards on their first play. Then Chip Kelly calls two straight sweep-type handoffs to DeMarco Murray, who loses a total of 11 yards. “He’s not a lateral runner — he’s gotta run north-south,” I say to no one in particular. Two plays later, the Cowboys block a punt and return it for a touchdown. 13-0. A man five rows behind me and to the right yells, “You gotta be f*cking kidding me!!”
I text my friend Brandon: “I’d bench Bradford. He’s got nothing.”
Tony Romo is sacked and fumbles. Members of the Dallas medical staff huddle around him before he’s taken off the field. “Are people cheering Romo’s injury?” Brandon texts me. That’s the kind of thing Eagles fans have to worry about — the Santa Claus and Michael Irvin incidents have been blown out of proportion over time (as Irvin himself has said) and we don’t want to have to deal with another one.
The Eagles move the ball from their 39 to the Dallas 3, looking by far the best they have all day. “Run the ball!” someone screams. They don’t. On 2nd-and-goal, Bradford stares at Ertz before trying to force a pass to him. Dallas LB Sean Lee steps in front of Ertz for the interception.
A man stands up and yells to his companion: “GIVE ME THE KEYS! I’M LEAVING!” There are still 5-and-a-half minutes left in the third quarter.
A field goal in the first minute of the fourth puts the Eagles on the board. The Cowboys, with journeyman (and that’s being kind) Brandon Weeden — Brandon Weeden! — under center, respond with a drive of nearly seven minutes. Lines of fans shuffle toward the exits.
But most remain, including a man behind me who is blowing on a kazoo at the top of his lungs every play. “That’s getting annoying,” the guy next to me mutters.
And then comes one last hope. Malcolm Jenkins picks up a fumble at the Philadelphia 36 and takes off for the end zone. For a split second, it appears he’ll be able to tightrope the sideline and go all the way. But his pursuers have the angle, and he’s knocked out of bounds at the Dallas 30.
There’s 7:15 left — time enough for Kelly’s genius to come up with something magical.
That feeling lasts for all of about 40 seconds. On the next play, the snap comes too early and doinks off Bradford before a Dallas player falls on it. Is there any mistake that makes a QB look dumber than a mistimed snap? (Turns out it was center Jason Kelce’s fault.)
“We waited all summer for this?? Are you sh*tting me??” a voice behind me screams as most of the section gets up to leave. Justin and I stay, mostly (I think) because he bought 50-50 raffle tickets and wants to hear whether the winner is announced. But when Weeden throws a TD pass, it’s too much to sit through. We walk out onto the concourse, the voice of Eagles radio announcer Merrill Reese echoing off the concrete around us.
We take the escalator down to the ground level. As we are about to exit the stadium, two Eagles fans brawl just a couple of feet from us. Several bystanders jump in to try to stop them, but these guys are big. Justin and I turn to catch a glimpse, then keep going. A security guard brushes past me and runs toward the fight.
Being an Eagles fan requires a special type of cognitive dissonance. It means outwardly expecting the worst while, at the same time, inwardly anticipating the best. In a twisted way, I’m relieved they are 0-2. If they were 2-0, the fans would be waiting for the other cleat to drop, whether it be an injury or fluky cold streak or anything else that can cause things to go wrong. But now they appear to be as bad a team as they could possibly be. There is no pressure and expectation anymore, at least not among the fans. There is just bubbling bitterness.
The streets around us are rivers of red tail lights. It’s going to be a long ride home. While the Eagles stormed through the preseason, fans and analysts started talking about the team as a pick for the NFC championship. Now, two games into the real thing, 8-8 looks optimistic.