The first Eagles fight song blared over the speakers outside Lincoln Financial Field at 8:42 a.m. Sunday.
Inside the stadium gates, hot dogs, and sausages were roasting on the grill. The Eagles cheerleaders were on a stage teaching a handful of children how to chant the team’s name. The drum line was banging out tunes near section 132.
The Eagles were practicing at 10 a.m., the first session of the year open to the public. So, naturally, in this football-crazed town starved for some sports success, about 23,000 fans flocked to the Linc to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of a stadium pulsing with carnival-like energy. That’s more than the 20,680 fans who paid to watch the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 2-1, across the street Sunday at Citizens Bank Park, where giddiness has been rare this season.
Eagles had a crowd of approx. 23,000 at Lincoln Financial Field today.— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) July 30, 2017
“I waited all damn off-season for this!” screamed a delighted Monty Gee, 48, of South Philadelphia, donning a shirt he had decorated for the occasion with neon colors and an homage to new players. On his head was his trademark hat featuring an eagle sitting on the brim flapping its wings.
“It’s beautiful,” said Theodore Soto, 35, of North Philadelphia, taking in the Linc for the first time with his sons, Joseph, 12, and Miguel, 10.
The practice, one of several free and open to all fans this year, was postponed because of weather concerns Saturday. But the conditions Sunday could not have been better — nothing but sun, with temperatures almost reminiscent of a Sunday in early fall.
Maybe that’s why such fans as Gee beamed with such optimism. He couldn’t sleep overnight, so he arrived at the stadium at 7 a.m. even though the gates did not open until 8:30.
By 9, he was dancing with the drummers, declaring — with complete certainty — that the Eagles would win the Super Bowl this year.
Curtis Mitchell, 54, of Frankford, didn’t set his hopes that high, but said he made his annual practice pilgrimage with more belief in the team than in years past.
“This is the most promising team we’ve had in a while,” he said, citing off-season additions Alshon Jeffery and LeGarrette Blount.
As for the spectacle around a Sunday morning practice in July, no one seemed surprised.
Gee, whooping up fans as they headed to their seats, said there’s nowhere else he’d rather be.
“What’s better than this?” he said.