In her 20 years creating exhibitions for Philadelphia International Airport, Leah Douglas has faced plenty of pressure from fans to curate an installation featuring the Philadelphia Eagles. Her answer was always the same: “They’ve got to win.”
As soon as the team defeated the New England Patriots on Feb. 4 to win Super Bowl LII — A franchise first — Douglas knew she had to deliver. She immediately abandoned her plan to feature the new LOVE Park in this year’s Wawa Welcome America exhibit.
“There was no way we could not focus on the Eagles,” said Douglas, the airport’s director of image and chief curator.
The free exhibit — spanning two walls in Terminal A-East past the security checkpoint — covers the franchise’s past and present. One wall highlights the 1948, 1949, and 1960 pre-Super Bowl championships as well as the NFC Championships of 1980 and 2004.
The other is dedicated to the 2018 NFC Championship and Super Bowl victories. A video showing the team’s journey to the title — which Douglas said the Eagles produced specifically for the exhibit — plays in a loop off to the side with “Fly Eagles Fly” written all around it.
It’s one of 20 rotating exhibition locations throughout the airport; other popular ones include Philadelphia street art photography by Conrad Benner and 3D painting by Philadelphia artist Claes Gabriel.
The Eagles exhibit, which will remain open through June 2019, is in a high-profile spot that is refreshed yearly to help open Wawa’s Welcome America celebrations. Jeff Guaracino, the Welcome America executive director, and Mayor Kenney are expected to join airport CEO Chellie Cameron at an opening ceremony Tuesday.
Besides the 50 photos that spotlight the six seasons in the exhibit, 44 more photos run along the top and bottom of the walls, depicting the Eagles Hall of Fame, which includes the ’48 and ’49 teams, individual players, and even former Eagles head athletic trainer Otho Davis and radio announcer Merrill Reese.
During the installation process, Douglas said, Eagles Hall of Fame member Bill Bradley — a safety and punter from 1969 to 1976 — stopped to take a photo of himself in uniform on the wall.
Douglas bought some of the 94 photos from sources such as the Associated Press, but the Eagles contributed most. The team was involved in every step of the curation process and is “really excited about it,” she said. Douglas wrote all the photo captions and panel content, and the franchise reviewed and approved everything from statistics to the colors used in the exhibit.
The first step in choosing which “highlights of history” to include in the display was identifying “key moments” during games, Douglas said. Most photos feature Eagles plays like the “Philly Special” touchdown pass to quarterback Nick Foles and tight end Zach Ertz’s dive into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
Another captures the exact moment when Patriots quarterback Tom Brady fumbled the ball in the Super Bowl’s final minutes.
“The more exciting, the better,” Douglas said of the visuals. “You want to depict [an event] in that second, so it’s choosing that exact photo.”
Ticketed travelers who stumble upon the exhibit stop to read the panels and photo captions. Some take selfies or videos. As Douglas was installing a floor element that displays the Eagles logo, she said, a group of Dallas Cowboys fans walked by and joked that they were happy to be stepping on it. Whether with fans or rivals, each interaction brings a smile to Douglas’s face.
“It’s really rewarding,” she said. “How many times in your job do you get, ‘Man, this is great.'”