Birds fans fill the stands for Super Bowl champion Eagles’ first open practice

More than 40,000 Eagles fans packed into Lincoln Financial Field Sunday, filling the first level and much of the second, just to catch a glimpse of their favorite players. It was the Birds’ first open practice since winning the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.

And this year, instead of debating whether their team could win their first championship since 1960, the conversation among fans swirled about whether they could do it again — and about the viability of the player they came to see: Carson Wentz.

After what started off looking like an MVP season, the Eagles franchise quarterback was injured in a game last November against the Los Angeles Rams. He hasn’t played since, and fans like Rob Conaway were cautious about rushing his return to the field when the Eagles kick off the season hosting the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 6.

“I actually hope he doesn’t come back in Week 1,” said Conaway, of Northeast Philadelphia. “I want to be 100 percent when he comes back.”

“I hope we would keep him out ‘til the break,” said Arian Blanchard, of Philadelphia, referencing Week 8 of the season, when the Eagles don’t play. “But I know a lot of people want him to play first week. I say keep him out ‘til the break.”

While no one debates Wentz’s skills, his backup has been more than competent. Nick Foles led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl LII victory in February, leaving some fans torn about who the team should tap to start the season.

“I’m a Carson fan,” said Sharon Miller, of West Philadelphia. “I’m also a Foles fan, but I think [Carson] looks good, I just don’t want him to overdo it. We need him to make it to the end of the season.”

Even though most fans were excited about the Eagles’ prospects for the season, most of them don’t necessarily expect the team to make a repeat performance.

“It’s going to be really hard to do,” said Dan White of Haddon Heights, New Jersey.

“I think we have some really good additions. I think we’re going to be right up at the top again,” said Mike Iannuzzi, of South Philadelphia. “Whether we can repeat, it’s a little rough to do that, but I think we can at least get there. I think we can make a good run in the playoffs.”

The open practice came the day after former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins gave a powerful, and tearful, speech at his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, in which he talked about his battle with depression and suicidal thoughts, and gave a passionate shout-out to the Philadelphia fans who drove all the way to Canton, Ohio for the ceremony. It made Blanchard emotional.

“It absolutely made me cry,” he said. “But I think it was a fitting end to a spectacular career. I love Brian Dawkins. He’s my spirit animal.”

Justin Tierney, of Drexel Hill, sported a Dawkins jersey as he looked back fondly on the former player’s time in the city.

“I love Dawkins. He deserves it. He’s for Philadelphia,” Tierney said. “He’s one of the greatest players that ever came to the city.”

And Thomas Timm, of Northeast Philadelphia, admitted to getting a bit weepy himself.

“When he left the first time, I cried like a little cry baby, but I’m glad that he is in the hall of fame,” said Timm.

The Eagles first preseason game is Thursday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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