If you base your opinion on out-of-city coverage, Philly sports fans have quite the bad rep. Eagles fans, in particular.
There are only so many times one can read about throwing snowballs at Santa Claus. It was 50 years ago, people. Time to move on.
But to find the real story of friendliness and camaraderie, head to the parking lots of Lincoln Financial Field before the start of an Eagles game.
For these Birds fans, there’s nothing but love in those tailgate lots, especially during an unexpectedly knockout year for the Eagles.
“If somebody needed help, they forgot a barbecue lighter or something, people are so willing to help each other out,” noted Andrea Heymann.
Heymann and a group of friends have spent the season keeping watch at the Linc, as well as traveling to away games and cheering on their team. She’s gone to Maryland’s FedEx Field the past few years to root for the Eagles in face-offs against the Washington Redskins — this year, she even got to witness a win.
They also headed to Charlotte, N.C., to watch the Eagles beat the Carolina Panthers, while at home she saw them clobber the Denver Broncos.
Packing up their cars and heading to away tailgates is almost like a holiday ritual, she said.
“It’s worth getting up super early on a Sunday morning to be able to look forward to my friends making breakfast sandwiches and not feeling guilty drinking a beer at 9 a.m.,” she laughed.
Tailgating for Eagles games in particular brings a unique sense of togetherness, as there are fewer opportunities to do it than, say, for a Phillies or Flyers game.
She likened it to the giddy anticipation of being a kid on the first night of Chanukah when you know you’re getting “the big, ultimate gift.”
“It’s the sense of camaraderie and everyone’s so excited and it’s just the feeling of unity that football really generates,” said Heymann, whose tailgates include staples like wings and Doritos. “The football season is so much shorter than a hockey season or a baseball season, so it’s like every game is precious kind of a mentality, and every game is important.”
Though she had some cautious reservations about the continued success the team saw so far this season — until Carson Wentz’s fateful injury — she appreciated being on the other side of negative headlines for once. (See: snowballs at Santa.)
“It was almost like a reward for putting up with so much turmoil for a couple of years just to see people excited and the Eagles were getting the national recognition they deserved,” she said.
While she isn’t going to the divisional playoffs this weekend, she’s hoping the Eagles pull through to make it to the NFC Championships, for which she plans to buy tickets.
“It’s very important that … they have their fans, that they’re on their own turf and I hope they come out stomping,” she said.
Rachel Horn grew up a Philly sports fan in her native Lancaster and now lives in Wilmington, Del.
For the past few years, she’s been tailgating at Eagles games with her fiance, Matt Dreyfuss, who is a season ticket holder.
“I’m not a huge sports fan generally, but there’s something about the way that the stadiums are set up in Philadelphia that just makes you one,” she laughed, “and there’s something especially about the Eagles tailgates. There’s so much spirit at the game and so many die-hard fans around you.”
She also felt a special connection with Wentz and his tear-inducing support for 10-year-old Eaglers superfan Lukas Kusters in Wilmington, who died in June from cancer. Horn and her fiance began wearing “Dutch Destroyer” bracelets, which Wentz also sported all season, after Lukas’ nickname.
“It makes you feel like even more a part of the community,” said Horn, who is involved with the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Federation of Delaware.
For her, tailgating is a way to bring people together and just have a good time. They pack up their car and get to Lot E at about 9 a.m. where they are joined by camp friends, siblings and whoever else can come.
“It’s usually pretty simple — hamburgers, hot dogs, chips and salsa, and a bunch of beer,” she said. “We like bringing people together and creating a fun atmosphere and just having a good time.”
Wayne Goldenberg and his group have made Wells Fargo Center Lot H2 their HQ for tailgating for more than 10 years.
He and his group — friends from high school, college, his Lower Merion neighborhood and surrounding areas, kids and their friends — bring together as few as 40 people and as many as maybe 80 people.
Sixers center Joel Embiid even showed up once.
What sets an Eagles tailgate apart is the sense of history and tradition, said Goldenberg, who belongs to Har Zion Temple.
“We are probably the most loyal fans — when I say we, I’m talking about Eagles fans in general — and like many Eagles fans, it doesn’t matter what the weather is, we are out there,” he said.
At his tailgate, you can expect the barbecues or grills to be fired up or go the Philly way and enjoy some hoagies. But there is always a toast. Or two. Or three.
“What makes it really neat is when you look out, because that’s when everybody is gathered around, and … you see our kids and their friends and everybody’s holding up a Solo cup or a shot glass to toast the Eagles’ success, it’s a special feeling,” he said.
He’s been a season ticket holder since the Eagles played at Veterans Stadium. Even before that, he remembers going to a game at Franklin Field with his father.
He’ll be there to watch the winged showdown between the Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons — and if the Birds go all the way to Minneapolis for the Super Bowl, he’s already made flight and hotel arrangements, just in case.
“I may be in the minority, but I’m still optimistic about next weekend,” he said. “I don’t know about our long-term chances of winning a Super Bowl, but I still believe we can get there.”
A Life of Suffering — and Optimism — for Longtime Eagles Fan
“We bleed Eagles in my family,” enthused Daniel Belsky, whose father bought seven season tickets starting in 1937.
Belsky has watched the Birds play through every stadium, from Shibe Park to the Linc, though he said Franklin Field was the best place to watch the game.
The tickets were at about the 50-yard line, he recalled, and his row was joined by dignitaries and even former Eagles player and NFL Commissioner Bert Bell and 6ABC anchor Jim Gardner.
Though he no longer goes to games, Belsky has kept the tradition alive in his family by passing the tickets down to his children, one of whom bought a commemorative plaque on the Walk of Fame to honor the family’s tradition.
And he still watches the games and cheers on his team — even though it’s hard sometimes.
“We’ve been suffering for years for a Super Bowl,” he lamented. “Maybe this is our year, maybe it’s not. But without Carson Wentz, it’s gonna be a little tough. But if you’re a Philadelphian, you’re born to suffer.”