Life lessons at the Linc

 

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The view from Section 211 in the south end zone at Lincoln Financial Field. (This photo is from a warm day in September, which last Sunday felt like.)

How much do we pay attention to what is around us? Are we ever really that alert for very long, or are we more or less always seeking distraction and comfort, always looking ahead or behind?

These are questions in my mind after what happened to Justin and me at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday afternoon. I can’t think of a more embarrassing incident I’ve been involved in at a pro stadium. Though I’m not one to seek out public embarrassment.

This was pretty humbling.

Justin and I sat down at the Linc at exactly 12:33 on Sunday — I know because I wrote down the time. It was maybe the perfect amount of time left to sit down before kickoff. We had almost a half-hour to relax and enjoy the view from the upper deck behind the south end zone.

We both note that there are a lot of new faces in our section. But this had been the case more or less all season — fans choose to sell the tickets through a broker or give them to family or friends or … who knows?

We also note that the usual usher, Jamal, was not there. He probably took a sick day or was in some kind of work rotation.

There’s typically a lot of chatter in the upper deck at the Linc, a characteristic descended from the crazies who populated the 700 Level at the Vet, and before that, Franklin Field.

In the first moments after Justin and I arrive at the seats, I hear a familiar voice immediately behind me. It’s the gravelly tone of a middle-aged man, the kind you get used to hearing at Eagles games.

At one point I look up over my right shoulder to try to catch a glimpse of anyone else I could recognize. I think maybe I see one or two people. But I learned this year that unless you tailgate, you really don’t meet any new people at Eagles games.

Win or lose (or even tie … looking at you, Donovan), these games are at the same time a highly social and yet a highly personal experience at the same time. If you’re lucky, you high-five and hug people you’ve never met and whose names you don’t know — and who you might never see again. That’s one of the great, unique things about going to games.

As kickoff nears, there seems to be an unusual amount of foot traffic in and out of our row. Justin and I in particular notice this because we have seats at the very end of the row.

Or perhaps it’s just the lack of courtesy as the strange faces shuffle by.

In typical form, two men walk up the steps to our left and peer around, alternating glances at their tickets with squinting to see the row numbers on the end seats. We see people like this every game — they don’t know whether they’re in the right section. I shake my head. How could people have so much trouble finding their seats every week? There are signs everywhere. It’s really not that difficult, right?

After a couple of moments, the men plod by in the opposite direction. They finally figured out that they’re not in the correct section, I think to myself. They will be lucky to find their seats by kickoff.

A couple more minutes of crowd-watching go by. Then it’s time for the teams to take the field. The Eagles players gallop through plumes of smoke as fireworks crack and sizzle in the summerlike air.

"Smoke bomb! Smoke bomb! Smoke bomb!"

“Smoke bomb! Smoke bomb! Smoke bomb!”

A lone man in a gray hooded sweatshirt appears from the stairwell to Justin’s left.

“You’re in our seats,” he gruffly declares.

It takes me a moment to realize he’s talking to us.

“You’re in our seats,” he repeats. No further explanation.

“These are our seats,” Justin says. “We’ve sat here all season.”

“No, they’re not,” Mr. Hoody replies.

Justin’s tapping on his cellphone. He brings up copies of the tickets; we don’t have paper stubs.

I decide to chime in: “These are our seats.”

“No, they aren’t,” the Hoody says.

“Yes, they are.”

I’m not sure why, but I’m getting irritated. Perhaps I’m hangry, since I haven’t eaten all day. There’s no doubt in my mind that this man’s mind is addled. I feel like I’m sitting in my living room and someone has knocked on the front door and told me to get out because it is not my house.

“No, they aren’t,” he says again. He’s repeating these words over and over.

“Yes, they are. Yes, they are. YES, THEY ARE!” I realize I’m yelling.

Justin holds up his phone to show the man our tickets. He looks down at the seat numbers and compares them to what’s on the screen.

Mr. Hoody points out that the seat numbers are off by one compared to where we’re sitting. Must be a glitch or or something. I’m not going anywhere.

“Look, there’s Jamal!” Justin nods toward the section to our right. “We’re in the wrong section.” Before I realize what’s happening, Justin gets up, says “we’re sorry” and slinks down the steps to the concourse.

We walk one section over. Jamal is standing there with a smile. The section is packed with faces we’ve seen before. The only empty seats are the two at the end of the second row.

As I sit down, I look out onto the field. The view from this seat, Section 211, is almost identical to the view from the seat I had been in a few minutes earlier, in Section 210.

Both even have a partial pane of glass almost directly in front of the first seat of the second row. The only difference is that in Section 211 the pane, which prevents onlookers in the first row from tumbling over the edge, is now slightly to the right in my field of view as I look onto the playing surface.

Perhaps if I’d been paying closer attention I would’ve noticed that the view from Section 210 was shifted ever so slightly, a difference cloaked by the fact that I was looking at familiar objects — the field, the scoreboard behind the north end zone, Pattison Avenue, etc. But since the view from the seat in Section 210 was slightly better than in Section 2011, I was willing to shrug it off and not consider the possibility that it meant I was in the wrong seat.

“Think we should buy that guy a beer?” Justin asks.

But kickoff is here, and I’m not sure I want to see him again on this day.

It’s a mortifying lesson, one I’ve been reminded of over and again in my life: It’s better to admit to yourself that you might be wrong or that you just don’t know — from the beginning, if the situation suggests that’s the case — than to insist that you are right and to come out looking like a fool.

 

******

 

It’s December 13 and at least 70 degrees in South Philadelphia. I can’t really feel good about that the way I would’ve maybe 15 or 20 years ago, when global warming seemed more a theory.

But I can’t let a little global crisis get in the way of watching the Iggles, who score first on a Darren Sproles 1-yard TD a little over five minutes into the game. Buffalo ties it four plays later on a long catch-and-run by Sammy Watkins.

Justin has the idea of the day: For the Sunday night game against Arizona next week we should go back to the other section and sit in those guys’ seats again. The notion still tempts me.

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Darren Sproles slips past the Bills’ Marcus Easley on a fourth-quarter punt return.

 

********

 

At halftime youth football teams from South Jersey scamper onto the field for a few minutes of competition as part of the league’s Play60 initiative.

It doesn’t take long for a kid to get wide open in the end zone on a deep route, but the throw is not good and he misses it. A few boos rise from the crowd. The man two seats over doesn’t like this. “Come on, these are kids! You can’t boo kids!” he pleads. He mentions one of the most notorious (and overblown) moments in Philadelphia sports history — when the crowd booed a rumpled, undersized teen posing as Santa during a game at Franklin Field in the early ’60s.

At what point is it OK to boo someone? If not kids, is it OK to boo middle schoolers? High schoolers?

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