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‘This is just what we do’: Eagles fans return to the Linc

Paul and Sandy Edwards of Quakertown (foreground) and their friends (from left) John Fullerton, Jeff Morris, Tom Cooley, and Mark Lubenetski, arrive at the Linc to watch the first Eagles game of the season that is open to live fans

Paul and Sandy Edwards of Quakertown (foreground) and their friends (from left) John Fullerton, Jeff Morris, Tom Cooley, and Mark Lubenetski, arrive at the Linc to watch the first Eagles game of the season that is open to live fans. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Updated: 4 p.m.

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Birds fans, albeit far fewer of them than usual, flocked to Lincoln Financial Field Sunday for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“This is just what we do,” said Paul Edwards, of Quakertown. “It’s Sunday. This is the Eagles.”

Edwards had dyed the tips of his grey hair green so he could be literally head-to-toe in Eagles green. Before this season, he had not missed a home game since 2003.

Even with about 90% fewer fans in the seats, mandatory facemasks and no tailgating allowed, he said he wouldn’t miss the chance to see his team. Edwards rolled in with his wife and four friends about an hour before kickoff Sunday afternoon.

“It’s not normal,” said Edwards. “We would have been here at 6 a.m. for a 1 p.m. game, cooking breakfast and lunch over in C lot, but this is what we do today.”

The Eagles told fans they could buy tickets just five days before the game, after the city announced outdoor gatherings could resume at 15% capacity, up to 7,500. With players, coaches and game-day staff, that means between 5,500 and 6,000 fans could attend Sunday’s matchup against the Baltimore Ravens. Lincoln Financial Field seats almost 68,000 people.

The game came a day after the state’s health secretary declared a “fall resurgence” of COVID-19. On Saturday, Pennsylvania recorded the most new infections since the initial surge of the virus in April.

While it was a welcome return to their Sunday ritual, football fans came to the game under a list of restrictions to curb the spread of the virus: Tickets had to be bought in clusters of two to six seats, or “pods” that were spaced at least six feet from other pods. Upon entry, everyone had to be wearing a proper facemask (bandanas don’t count). All concession sales within the stadium are cashless.

Chris Romanelli and his wife Jennifer prepare to enter Eagles stadium
Chris Romanelli and his wife Jennifer are all smiles as they prepare to enter the Eagles’ stadium for the first time this season. Chris hasn’t missed a home game since 1993. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

For decades, Chris Romanelli has started every Eagles Sunday’s in FDR park, across from the stadium, tailgating with his football friends before the game. He hasn’t missed a home game since 1993, and wasn’t going to start now.

“It’s not my typical routine,” he said, strolling into the stadium with his wife Jennifer an hour and a half in advance. “It’s important for me to be here, even though it’s weird. I’ve given up a whole bunch during this pandemic. For my mental sanity, I needed to be here.”

The parking lots around the Linc were eerily quiet as people parked in every other space, as mandated, and made their way to the entrances. There was little else to do.

“It’s strange. Usually when we come, you hear the music, everybody’s dancing, people grilling food, like, ‘Come over here and have a drink,’” said Norman “Stormin” Oliver, a former Wilmington city councilman and Eagles season ticketholder. “None of that is happening.”

College buddies James Griffin of Philadelphia and Norman Oliver of Wilmington get together at Lincoln Financial Field to watch the Eagles play
College buddies James Griffin of Philadelphia and Norman Oliver of Wilmington get together at Lincoln Financial Field to watch the Eagles play the Ravens in the first home game open to live fans. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

But fans still managed to find some signs of pre-pandemic life.

When the game started with the national anthem and fireworks, the roar of the crowd belied the fact that the stadium was at less than 10% capacity. The sound proved that many people did not just come out for a mental health day: They came to cheer the Birds on to a victory.

“Hopefully they put on a good game and win and we don’t have to boo them,” said Dawn Johnson of Sicklerville, New Jersey. “I don’t want to boo my team. I mean, I boo them at home sometimes.”

One thing fans get at the Linc that they can’t get from watching the game at home is rivalry. Many Ravens fans drove up from Baltimore to see their team for the first time, too. Pockets of purple could be seen in an otherwise sea of green.

Eagles fan Mike Harbeson stops to take a selfie with elaborately costumed Ravens fan Ken Mioduski
Eagles fan Mike Harbeson stops to take a selfie with elaborately costumed Ravens fan Ken Mioduski of Baltimore, also known as Purple Haze. The two were attending the first Eagles home game open to live fans since the coronavirus pandemic began. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Similar to Philadelphia, Baltimore has so far not allowed fans inside its M&T Bank Stadium.

Finally together again at the Linc, Eagles and Ravens fans could engage in a time-honored football tradition: talking trash.

“A lot of people back home said, ‘Don’t wear your colors.’ I was, like, that’s insane,” said Tony Christianson of Baltimore, dressed in Ravens purple along with his two teenaged sons. “We’re gonna come and deal with it, the same way if they were coming to us. That’s what it’s all about.”

Ken Miodursky came in full “purple haze” regalia: a wig of purple curly hair with an outfit of purple sequins draped in layers of purple bead necklaces. He was both taunted by Eagles fans and embraced by them for a quick selfie, often at the same time.

“It’s all fun,” said Miodursky.

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