When the Smalls were planning the house they were building in Atlantic City nine years ago, they struck a deal. La'Quetta Small, wife and mom, would control the decor of 3,200 of the home's 4,000 square feet. The vision for the remaining 800 square feet would be left to her husband, Marty.
That meant Marty could have his Eagles fan cave.
La'Quetta wanted a clean, contemporary aesthetic for the place. When she saw that Marty had picked a solid black hue for the cave's ceiling, she had issues. But Marty reminded her: In his zone, this was his call.
What he came up with is a mosaic fashioned from team flags, players decals, Eagles Country signs, commemorative newspapers. After the Super Bowl, he added plaques, footballs, a custom wrestling belt, his underdog mask, a Super Bowl ring (he totally ordered one), and even a limited-edition championship bottling of Double Cross vodka for the bar.
He says of his midnight green and black shrine, "It's my escape."
With the NFL season upon us, the Inquirer and Daily News invited readers to share details about their Eagles fan caves, and tell us what post Super Bowl-upgrades they've made. Among the responses came stories of family bonding, memories of past successes, of course, some jaw-dropping collections of merch.
Denny Dougherty, 75, grew up in Upper Darby and left the area for work in 1971. In Maryland, where he's lived ever since, he recreated his fan cave.
"It's really to honor my father," Dougherty said. "My father never saw another Eagles championship after 1960."
Dougherty, 75, still has his ticket to that game. He remembers it cost $8. His Eagles room in Walkersville was decked out before, but he found many more cherished images worth framing and hanging: There was the Philly Special, and the parade and Inquirer front page. "After the Super Bowl," he acknowledges, "I just went ballistic."
The Small family fan cave in Atlantic City is nothing short of epic. There's an LED ticker, delivering up-to-the-minutes scores, by the three big-screen TVs (one 80 inches, two 60 inches), sparkling green LED lights that glow behind wood-carved eagles, and theater-style rows with plush, jumbo-size seating.
Despite her initial reservations, La'Quetta, 41, a school principal, has come around. Marty, 44, who is Atlantic City's City Council president, estimates that he's purchased about 50 new items for the cave since the Eagles won the Super Bowl. He has a silvery floating football (Dougherty bought one, too), and an array of championship rugs and banners. While Eagles dominate the theme, other Philly teams represent. On the back wall, banners honor Flyers Stanley Cups, Phillies World Series triumphs, and Sixers NBA titles.
"When I first moved here, I had an NFC championship banner up. I said, 'Nah, you know what? I'm going to just take that down and wait until we win one,'" Marty recalled. The space stayed blank for years, in a room covered floor to ceiling in vinyl decals and framed photographs. "Super Bowl Champions" hangs there now.
Marty is a season-ticket holder who makes the family cave his arena during away games. That's how Beth and Ron Clearfield of Richboro, Pa., treat theirs. They share the family's two seats at the Linc with their three children. They've got a rotation.
"Even if I'm not in the stadium, I'm in this Philadelphia love room," said Beth, 53, who works part time in child care. "It's good mojo."
Roughly a decade ago, they hired an interior designer to turn their admittedly scattered room into something more stylized. Now they have shining cabinets, custom-made furniture, and an Eagles banner running along the top of the walls. The Clearfields' "football room" has a collection of NFL helmets and rugs that show love to the Phillies, Flyers and Sixers. A laundry room sports a hand-painted soaring Eagle. An entrance to the house is adorned with an Eagles stained-glass window.
Bob Virga, of Wallingford, started his fan cave in 1977 when he moved into his home.
"I had some Eagles paraphernalia down there, and you add to it, little by little," the 69-year-old retired IT analyst said.
Over the decades, his keepsakes have grown and his fan cave has become more elaborate. He figures that he's invested maybe $10,000. He celebrates touchdowns by tapping his collection of animatronics. One is a dog that sings "Who Let the Dogs Out." Another is a hamster that sings "We Are the Champions." A third is an Eagles fan who launches into various chants. Virga, who goes by Eagle Bob, hung up a huge collage with newspaper headlines after the Birds finally did it.
Back in 2000, Virga had a seizure outside his home while getting ready for a game against the Tennessee Titans. He remembers collapsing while wearing a foam hand. A neighbor called for help. When he came to, he didn't know who he was, and he couldn't recognize his wife. But he did remember the game, and begged in a daze for people to take him to the stadium.
At the hospital later, things started to make more sense.
"So finally, I'm starting to realize who I am, and I say, 'Well, you got to get a TV in here,'" Virga said.
His reaction was another confirmation, he reflected, of how much he loves the team. His fan cave is a way of seeing the love all around him.
"I did something good for [the Eagles,]" Virga explained of the tributes on his walls. "They've done a lot of good for me."
During the big game against the Patriots, the Clearfields video-chatted with a son who was away in Ohio so he could watch with the family. They shouted and hugged in disbelief at the result. Beth rushed outside and honked the horn of her car for a bit. That was her Northeast Philly roots shining through, she explained.
Since the Eagles won the Lombardi trophy, Beth and Ron have been cautious about upgrades.
"Too many years of no quarterbacks who could play the game. Now we have two quarterbacks who can play at a high level," observed Ron, 60, who is a lawyer. Beth is confident that more trophies are on the way: "It's going to be a dynasty."
Which means one thing to Ron: They're going to need a bigger fan cave.