- Ashley Fox
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Say what you will about Philadelphia fans, but the Eagles had zero trouble selling out their playoff game against New Orleans, unlike the other three teams hosting games on wild-card weekend.
There was never a concern the game would be blacked out locally. The Eagles didn't need the NFL to extend the deadline so that they could have their corporate partners jump in and save the day at the last minute.
Nope. Eagles fans bought tickets. All of them. Quickly.
Green Bay, Cincinnati and Indianapolis sold all of their tickets, too. It just took awhile. And it took help.
Ninety-two percent of Eagles season-ticket holders agreed to buy playoff tickets last Friday, before the Eagles had won the NFC East to qualify for the postseason. On Monday, after Philadelphia beat Dallas to win the division and make the playoffs for the first time since 2010, that number jumped to 96 percent. On Tuesday, the team made the 5,000 remaining tickets available for purchase, half at 10 a.m., the other half at noon. The first 2,500 were gone by 10:05 a.m. and the second batch was gone by 12:05 p.m.
"It's overwhelming," Eagles president Don Smolenski said. "I think it speaks to the fan base and it speaks to the sports city that is Philadelphia. Philadelphia and the people of Philadelphia, whether it's the Flyers, the Phillies, the Sixers, the Eagles, they're there, and they've been there through the good times and through the not-so-good times. All the teams know that. They appreciate it. They respect it. They're grateful for it. It makes you feel proud."
The convenient narrative outside of the Delaware Valley is that Eagles fans threw snowballs at Santa Claus and cheered Michael Irvin's career-ending injury at Veterans Stadium. Philly fans will never escape those moments, no matter how classy of an ovation they gave Andy Reid or Donovan McNabb or Brian Dawkins when each came back wearing another team's colors.
Yes, the fans are loud. Yes, they can be nasty. Yes, it is unwise to wear another team's jersey -- particularly the Cowboys' -- to Eagles home games. Yes, there is what Smolenski called a "police reception center" in the bowels of the stadium that gets used with regularity. Fifteen fans were arrested at the last home game in Week 16 against Chicago; 68 were ejected.
But Eagles fans show up. Every home game has been sold out since the second game of the 1999 season. There are 40,000 people on the waiting list for season tickets. Nearly 70,000 people were in attendance for the Snow Bowl game in Week 14 against the Lions, when 8 inches of snow fell throughout the game and the wind chill was 20 degrees.
Just about everybody stayed.
The weather forecast for Saturday night isn't as bad as it is for Green Bay, Wis., on Sunday, but it is going to be frigid. The region got blanketed with yet another snowstorm that began Thursday and rolled into Friday morning. The conditions at the Linc will be far from ideal.
And yet the place will be packed.
Philly fans want to see a winner, sure, but they want to see a team that is reflective of them. They want players to work hard, to care, to maximize their potential, whatever that potential is. Philadelphia is a blue-collar city that is proud of and passionate about its professional sports teams. Fans there want nothing more than for the Eagles to have a parade down Broad Street.
One former team employee used to joke during the Reid era that if the Eagles won the Super Bowl, they would have to remain in the Super Bowl city for at least a couple of days because Philadelphia would be on fire. And he was probably right.
First-year coach Chip Kelly has seen it in the short time he has been in Philadelphia.
"Just the memories that you kind of think back and listen to them, the 'We want Dallas' chants in the Chicago game or just how loud they were in the Detroit game in the snow," Kelly said earlier this week. "And there were a couple times that I don't think we could see the crowd because of how hard it was snowing down there.
"But they have been unbelievable, and I think it's the fact that we got a chance to win the division and get to come and play a game back at home is huge for us, and we are excited about playing at the Linc. We know it's going to be rocking on Saturday."
Against a team like the Saints, playing at home is a huge advantage. After enduring a 10-game home losing streak that stretched back to last season, the Eagles have won four straight at home. New Orleans was undefeated at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome but was just 3-5 away from it and the team was vastly different on the road.
So home field in this one should matter.
If the Eagles win, it will be their first home playoff victory since the 2006 season, when they beat the Giants at home in a wild-card game before losing at New Orleans in the divisional round. Seven years isn't an eternity -- ask Cincinnati, which hasn't won a playoff game since the 1990 season -- but for Eagles fans, it is.
All they want is a ring. Philadelphia has played in two Super Bowls, but lost them both. That lack of a Lombardi trophy is part of what fuels the fans' desperation. It is the one professional sports void in a city rich with tradition.
Philly fans are tough. Philly fans can be unruly. But there was never a doubt that Philly fans would show up Saturday night. That's what they do. I know. For the past 14 years, I've lived here.
3dEric D. Williams
2dMel Kiper Jr.