No Saints Day: Inside my head as I watch my first Eagles win in person

The driver of the restaurant shuttle bus was gruffly eloquent, as so many Philly bus drivers are.

“You know what I always say about Philadelphia fans — my fans?” he said, a red Phillies cap plastered onto his head. “They want their teams — Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, Sixers — to do well, don’t get me wrong, but they’re also just waiting for them to fail so they can jump on them. They want them to be as miserable as they are.

“New York, Boston … those fans are just as miserable as we are, but there’s a difference: They’ve won shit.”

The driver, piloting the shuttle that runs between Chickie’s & Pete’s and the stadium complex in South Philadelphia, summed up the anxiety of Eagles fans going into Sunday afternoon’s game against the Saints.

After the gridlocked, bladder-nearly-detonating nightmare Justin and I endured on our way to find a parking spot before the home opener vs. Dallas, we decided to play it safe and use the valet at Chickie’s for $25, saving $15 off the price in the lots surrounding Lincoln Financial Field.

As we passed through a couple of tentative “E-A-G-L-E-S — Eagles!” chants on the escalator to the upper deck, we were grateful to be inside the stadium at 12:15, a full 45 minutes before the scheduled start of the game. It was nice to be able to relax, walk along the upper concourse and take in the view of the Girard Point Bridge, carrying I-95 over the Schuylkill River.

And there weren’t too many early birds. I don’t know how late Eagles fans typically arrive to games, but at 12:50 the stadium was still at least half-empty and there was a mass of people at the entrance on the northwest corner of the stadium.

Whether it was the Eagles’ 1-3 extremely disappointing record or fear of Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints offense — or above-average serotonin levels on a sunny, warm autumn afternoon — the crowd was subdued early. Maybe it was that the Eagles were starting the game on offense, I don’t know, but the onlookers seemed about as quiet as the 1,000 or so who watched a midweek afternoon Orioles-Blue Jays game in Baltimore during the final week of the baseball season.

And moments into Sunday’s game, the half-settled crowd has its first reason to groan, just as the bus driver said they would. On fourth-and-7 from the New Orleans 39, Chip Kelly decides to go for it, and even though the play is on the far side of the field, we can see that Sam Bradford’s heave toward Riley Cooper’s general direction in the back of the end zone has no chance.

The Eagles get the ball back, and after a first-down run by DeMarco Murray — and we have not seen many of those this season — Bradford throws an interception in the end zone. Riley Cooper was wide open.

“That’s horrible!” Even Justin is cursing under his breath. A bunch of fans stand and head to the aisle.

After a pass gives the Saints first-and-goal, a fan three rows behind me screams, “F— you, Bill Davis!”

As we’ve seen all season, DeMarco Murray is still being run on sweep-type plays, and it’s not working. Why is Ryan Mathews being used on lateral run plays suited to Murray’s style and vice versa? What am I –and the rest of us — missing?

The Eagles work their way to first-and-goal, and then … another interception in the end zone. Section 211 is getting restless. Two in our row get up — “I need a beer. God, they suck,” I hear.

New Orleans punts. A man next me claps quietly and in true Philly form halfheartedly remarks, “All right, let’s throw another interception.”

Sam Bradford throws a ball that wasn't picked off.

Every time Sam Bradford throws a ball that isn’t intercepted, it’s like winning.

Four plays later, two Saints defenders wipe each other out, freeing Josh Huff (one of six former Oregon Ducks on the Eagles roster) to take a 10-yard pass 41 yards to pay dirt. He does a forward flip into the end zone. The whole thing is more entertaining than the Eagles’ dance team.

The defense forces and three-and-out, and the Birds are moving. Fourth-and-9 from the Saints 35, and Kelly’s going for it again. It’s a vote of no-confidence in new kicker Caleb Sturgis, and when Bradford’s pass hits the ground, a voice behind me booms: “GO BACK TO COLLEGE IF YOU’RE GOING TO COACH LIKE THIS! What the hell am I paying you for?”

Sturgis makes up for it a bit later, kicking a 39-yarder with a few seconds left in the first half, making it 10-7 Birds. A man wearing a black Eagles hat in the row in front of me — one of the few people I recognize from the Cowboys game — sums up the atmosphere as heads to the concourse for halftime: “Hey, we’re winning.” He flashes a quick grin.

A cartoon caricature of radio play-by-play man Merrill Reese comes onto the video board urging fans to report foul language, excessive drinking and smoking. You know, folks — things that are going on all over the stadium right now.

Am I the only person in the place who hasn’t zoned out the PSA? A man behind me yells, “What is this, church?” OK, that answers that.

Moments later, fans to the back right of my seat start jawing at each other face-to-face. There’s no attendant in sight; Justin heads to flag one down. Then, on the next play, Mathews runs off right tackle and sticks the nose of the football over the goal line. Tempers seem to cool. Being on the winning side can do that.

Caleb Sturgis looks like he knows what he's doing.

Caleb Sturgis looks like he knows what he’s doing.

********

One of the surprising lessons I’ve learned about attending NFL games is that just because people care enough to spend their day at the stadium doesn’t mean they know football.

Take, for instance, the play after Mathews’ TD. A woman behind me screamed “Take his head off!” as the Eagles kicked off … and as the ball floated to an obvious touchback into the back of the end zone.

Another lesson: Win, lose or tie, many people are here to get drunk. She seems to be one of them.

Moments later, Fletcher Cox gets a strip-sack, a wide-open Brent Celek catches a TD pass and the place is really alive. Two TDs in 13 seconds and suddenly it’s 23-10. The rout is on, and soon people are making a beeline to the exits. Apparently they think they can beat the traffic. I guess they have something better to do than to enjoy the rest of a game they paid a ransom for the privilege of watching.

As for Justin and me, we’re staying until the final whistle. I’ve never been one to leave a sporting event early, and you’d better believe that I’m not cutting out on the first Eagles win I’ve ever experienced in person.

The Eagles are going to be 2-3. The Giants are coming to town next.

The season is very much alive.

The lonely kicker

A fan has wandered onto the field … oh, wait, it’s just Caleb Sturgis.

********

I look over at the woman next to me and she’s scrolling through her Facebook feed on her phone. Is the game too boring for her, I wonder. But she’s far from alone. I glance around, and at any given moment it seems a third of the stadium, at least, is peering at their phones. Next time you’re watching a game on TV, look for the people who are on their devices — you’ll see them.

Are we so comfortably numb, or bored, in the 21st century that we need a diversion from our diversions? I think the answer is obvious — after all, I’m one of those people you could see in the crowd, looking for reporters’ updates on Twitter or checking the scores from the around the league.

********

I figured I’d see some disturbing things inside the Linc this season. But one of the most disturbing things I’ve witnessed has been outside the stadium. And today we got an up-close look at it — the mess of garbage left in the parking lots, most of which comes from tailgaters: bags of trash, unused Sterno cans, the wheels broken off a grill, a tray of half-eaten sub rolls and, of course, piles of bottles and cans.

I was taught as a kid that you should always clean up your mess. It’s one of those life lessons you learn in kindergarten. Did these people not go to kindergarten?

Seriously, I can understand going to a game and leaving behind a bottle or wrapper under your seats. But this is not that. This is the equivalent of turning parking lots into public dumping grounds. Shameful, really. You wouldn’t go to a state or federal park and leave crap everywhere for someone else to pick up, so why would you think that’s it’s OK to go to a stadium and do that?

After the Cowboys game we could see, in the twilight, the mountains of trash in the stadium lots — they were visible from I-95. After Sunday’s game we walked, literally, through them.

********

It was typical postgame gridlock on the streets of South Philadelphia, so we trekked back to Chickie’s and Pete’s to get a bite to eat with a group of others and wait out the traffic, knowing that we’d get there more quickly than waiting for the shuttle.

Too bad, too, I thought, because I wondered what the bus driver would say.

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