It was just another Sunday morning. The odds were that today was the Philadelphia Eagles 2008 season and home (and tailgating) finale. A pitiful week 16 loss to the Washington Redskins pretty much assured that. For the Eagles to make the playoffs, either the Bears or Vikings needed to lose PLUS the impossible needed to happen, the 4-11 Oakland Raiders needed to beat the 9-6 Buccaneers. Still, it was one more opportunity for one last tailgate and a chance to beat the Dallas Cowboys and knock them out of the playoffs.
The day started out slow, just like the tailgate scene. I’ll admit… I had to peel myself out of bed and force myself to roll out the door. I wasn’t feeling it today. With a later start, we didn’t get our normal parking spots. We were a bit further away today. No matter, we were here, there was beer to be consumed and raw meat to be grilled.
It was a pretty mellow scene once we arrived. Rain for the past few days and the lack of playoffs this season painted an air of gloom over Lincoln Financial field and the surrounding lots. There was also another element I did not expect… Dallas fans, and there were quite a few of them. They traveled in packs around the parking lots, relishing the chants of “asshole” as they walked down the aisles. Their goal was obvious: wait a few more hours, watch the Cowboys beat the Eagles, then rub it in the Philly fans’ faces after the game. How they got the tickets is even more disappointing. Fraud Eagles fans who gave up on the season weeks ago must have sold their tickets on one of the many ticket sales websites that have sprung up over the past few years. The success the Eagles had earlier this decade has created a group of fans who only want to watch the Eagles win, or not watch them at all. The joke would be on them before the day was over.
The influx of Dallas fans did give me an opportunity to hear the best answers I’ve heard to a question I have asked myself for years now. A father and son cut through our tailgate on their way to the game. The boy had to be no older than 6. He saw the groups of Dallas fans in our area and asked, “Daddy, why are they wearing Cowboys’ jerseys?” Without even hesitating for a second, and like it was the obvious answer, the dad responds: “Because their mommies don’t love them.” Everyone in our group looked at each other in shock, but then we started nodding our heads also knowing that is the best answer any of us had been given also.
The low-key festivities continued. Nothing new on the grill today, just the old favorites… the brat and egg sandwich, warm soft pretzels, some hot dogs and hot sausage, grilled pork loin, and kielbasa. The beers were simply leftovers from past tailgates this year. It seemed like a real throw-together for a meaningless game. The atmosphere in the lots picked up a bit as the Raiders took a 14-7 lead over the Buccaneers early in their game. Televisions and radios were all over the place and everyone was keeping tabs on that game as cheers rang out whenever Oakland did something positive. It mellowed out once again when Tampa tied the game in the third.
As we were breaking down the grill and our set-up, the score became 24-14 Tampa pretty quickly in the fourth quarter. The inevitable was happening to no one’s surprise. “Well, at least we can keep Dallas out” was becoming a popular phrase in the parking lot. With the cars packed up, we decided to take our unusually longer trip into the stadium. We didn’t get very far before cheers rang out in every direction. Oakland had scored, closing the gap to 24-21. We took a look at a nearby TV then kept on walking.
As we were about to leave the lot, the crowds started buzzing again. Oakland had gotten the ball back and was threatening to score. I had lost my group but found a nearby TV. TOUCHDOWN! A small mosh pit ensued and you would think the Eagles just won the Superbowl with the crowd reaction. Beer was being shaken up and sprayed all over. The Raiders were up 28-24 with seven minutes left in the game. Eight seconds later, Jeff Garcia was intercepted and the Raiders had the ball again.
By this time I was inside the stadium gates. The Eagles have their own tailgate setup within a plaza area… it was jam-packed with fans watching the Oakland game on TVs that were located in various tents. With each Oakland first down the place erupted in cheers. A six-minute drive, made up ENTIRELY of Michael Bush runs, put the Raiders in position for a 25-yard field goal. It was up and it was good and the place erupted yet again. By this time, Eagles and Cowboys players are taking the field and the National Anthem is about to be sung and most of the crowd is not in their seats and watching the various TVs around the stadium. And speaking of Cowboys… the fans all had disappeared suddenly. Either there was an unusual amount of Dallas fans in the lot we were in earlier, or they had all vanished at the first sign of things not going their way. Knowing the reputation of the Dallas fans from this area, not showing their faces when times are tough is pretty common.
The other two games that needed to go the Eagles’ way… Minnesota or Chicago losses, were heading that way as well. The Houston Texans had rung up a 31-17 lead over the Chicago Bears so nobody had cared that the Minnesota game was so close. With the Chicago loss inevitable, all focus was back on the Raiders and Bucs and the Oakland 7-point lead with 1:09 left to play. Now I’m in the concourse in front of one of the monitors with several other hundred fans, watching Tampa’s final drive. I don’t know if it was the Eagles game starting or a reaction to the other game, but as soon as time ran out on the Bucs, fireworks erupted over the stadium and the atmosphere of the crowd reached new heights. None of us really expected it when we left our houses this morning, but we were attending a playoff game… one against the Eagles’ most hated rival, with the winner moving on and the loser starting vacation.
The crowd had tasted blood and officially turned rabid. I have been to all of the Eagles recent playoff games, and this was as electric a crowd as any one of them. The slow build-up to this point brought everything to a head. The pre-game montage of movie clips and Eagles highlights set to the Rocky theme didn’t help either. This shit was on.
The first couple of series played out the way a December division game should have… but then the floodgates opened. A 3-3 tie after the first quarter turned quickly into 10-3 in the second. In the final three minutes of the first half, the Eagles scored 17 more points, including a last-second field goal after a stupid kick return fumble that basically ended the game for the Cowboys. This game, this playoff game, was over at the half. The Cowboys were not prepared to play, and it was apparent by now that they didn’t want to either.
With a 27-3 score at the half, the atmosphere was more celebratory in nature than “wait and see what happens in the second half.” I stood the entire halftime. Everyone around me stood as well… beebopping to the music playing. Discussions of next week’s game with the Vikings began to start. A 27-3 lead was not insurmountable, but with the way the Cowboys were playing, the game was in the bag. It was even more apparent early in the third quarter as Dallas was putting together a decent drive, but it was abruptly ended with a Tony Romo fumble and a 73-yard TD return. The place erupted in cheers again… but this time followed by laughter. Three minutes later, another deep Dallas drive was stopped by another fumble and a 96 yard return for touchdown. The laughter got louder. The team everyone loves to hate in Philly was the punchline of a very funny joke. “T.O.” chants and the rabid sounds of “Dallas Sucks” rang through the crowds for the remainder of the game.
The party continued as the Eagles proceeded to run out the clock. Mid-way through the fourth quarter, with the score 44-3, Dallas set-up for a field goal (seriously, they did). Once it was good and they tightened the score to 44-6, the Philly crowd gave the Cowboys a standing ovation for finally scoring again. Another standing ovation came in my section when a fan with a Raiders jersey on walked up the stairs to his seat. What a fun game!
When the game ended, the party atmosphere rolled out into the concourses, down the ramps and steps, and into the parking lots. Fans were jumping around, dancing and partying in the lots where the craziness started with a Raiders touchdown over four hours earlier. The area and cars that had all the Dallas fans before the game were empty and they were no where to be found. The day was ours! The potentially meaningless game for the Eagles turned into a playoff contest, then into a trip to the playoffs. As we break out the grill again and turn on the radio, we learn that not only are the Eagles in the playoffs, but opening up as a 3-point favorite in Minnesota. Could the tide have turned to a greater degree from a week ago? From when I woke up this morning even? I think not.
It’s now the day after and, yes, the Eagles are still going to the playoffs. The word that is that, with the exception of the Miami game, none of the NFL playoff game tickets were selling. The Philadelphia media heard that over 20,000 tickets were still available in Minnesota and instantly started campaigning for Eagles fans to buy tickets and plan road trips out there. It sounds like that is happening based on reports from travel agents. A playoff city takeover? I don’t understand the concept since Eagles’ playoff tickets sell out in 30 seconds. I have been part of an Eagles fan takeover of a city before… it will not be pretty. It will be fun though. I even saw a news story on people buying up tickets to the Divisional round against the Giants already. I think we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves now. Stay tuned for the purple-and-green crowd next Sunday afternoon. So much for home field advantage.
Well, I certainly didn’t expect this last tailgate blog to be like this. The Eagles season ended three times in the past few months, and as recently as week 16. Unfortunately, the local tailgating season is over since there is absolutely no shot for the Eagles to get a home playoff game.
I’ll take what I can get.