Strangers hugged. Couples kissed. Eagles chants broke out every few feet as the fans marched toward Broad Street.
They darted across Pattison Avenue, jumping and screaming in disbelief. Their team — this team, of all teams — was headed to the Super Bowl.
“I can’t even process this right now,” said Josh Basak, 25, as he stood atop a four-foot-high planter on Broad Street and looked out on a sea of fans. “I don’t think anyone thought we would do what we just did.”
He added his voice to those across a region calling for the Eagles to perform one final task: bring home the ultimate championship.
And if the Eagles beat the New England Patriots in two weeks, Jason Isaacs, 42, of South Philadelphia, said, “They’ll have to call in the military.”
Throughout the city, fans filled the streets, ecstatic after the 38-7 Eagles win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Playoff games always push Eagles fans to the edge of insanity, but the atmosphere around this NFC championship game was particularly charged. It had been 10 years since the Eagles had played in a championship game, and 13 since their last Super Bowl appearance — which, in case you hadn’t heard, was only the second in franchise history, and was also against the Patriots.
At Frankford and Cottman Avenues, the intersection filled curb to curb with rowdy but orderly fans estimated to exceed 2,000. Many were dancing. The throng was happy, peaceful, and chanting “Super Bowl!” or mocking the Vikings’ Skip chant. They tossed a football around and broke into spontaneous dances. Their cheers mixed with fireworks’ crackle and helicopters buzzing overhead.
Police kept a good-natured watch on it all, confiscating beers from celebrators, few of whom seemed to mind. A trip to the Super Bowl seemed enough of a mood lifter. Sirens could be heard through the city long after the game ended, but late Sunday evening Philadelphia and SEPTA police reported no major disturbances.
The celebration moved across Pattison and up Broad Street, where fans ran in between cars in traffic and drivers honked in support. Residents left their homes and stood on sidewalks, banging pots and pans and cheering. Traffic snarled near Broad and Oregon Avenue, where fans swarmed the intersection and screamed: “Let’s go Eagles!”
Inevitably, a different chant broke out, a profanity directed at Tom Brady. The Patriots’ star quarterback will again be Public Enemy No. 1 in the city.
“All the Minnesota fans, go back to Minnesota!” Shaun Jones, of Germantown, yelled at Broad and Pattison, in between high fives from passing Eagles fans.
“This is way better” than any of the Eagles’ past championship game appearances, said Jones, 35, “because we weren’t even expected to be here. We weren’t expected to win.”
In Center City, police closed Broad Street to make space for the crowds from City Hall to Spruce Street, estimated to be 5,000 to 10,000 strong. The crowd chanted “Foles, Foles, Foles,” the unlikely hero quarterback who stepped up after Carson Wentz went down to injury in December.
Police officers with cans of shortening, dubbed “Crisco Cops,” started lathering up light poles in Center City and other areas in the morning to discourage fans from shimmying up them after the game earlier in the day. It didn’t dissuade people who still tried to mount the poles on Broad and Market Streets.
Fans stood atop poles, planters, and subway entrance roofs hugging, chanting, whistling, and pointing to the sky. People poured out of the Broad Street Line stop nearby roaring, “Su-per Bowl! Su-per Bowl!”
About four dozen police officers with shields and helmets staged at the Frank Rizzo statue in front of the city’s Municipal Services Building, but there was no sign of challenge or roughness from the hordes. People were excited, one officer said, but they were staying peaceful.
More officers assembled across the street at Broad Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard, and nearly two dozen on motorcycles roared into the intersection and parked.
Over in South Jersey, fireworks erupted.
“These fans are the most passionate fans in sports,” Jeffrey Lurie, the Eagles’ owner, said in a post-game interview as the stadium roared around him.
Earlier, with the game winding down, Eagles fans seemed uncharacteristically subdued as they began streaming out of Lincoln Financial Field in the final minutes of the NFC championship game. It might simply have been the soporific effect of the drubbing of the Minnesota Vikings.
“It’s almost morbidly quiet,” said Cindee Kennedy, 48, of Chester Springs. She and a friend started jumping and screaming with other fans.
“We’re going!” they yelled. “We’re going!”
Now it begins… pic.twitter.com/5LRyD1KECu
— David Gambacorta (@dgambacorta) January 22, 2018
Few people, even among the true die-hards, expected the Eagles to contend for the Super Bowl this year, just one season after they put together a middling 7-9 record under new head coach Doug Pederson.
Ah, but then Wentz went and had an MVP-caliber season, and the impossible suddenly seemed very possible — even after Wentz was sidelined by a season-ending knee injury.
“It would be cool if they went all the way,” said Dennis O’Donnell, who lives near Ambler and tailgated during the game with friends in his 42-foot-long RV. “They lost so many guys to injury, but they really stuck together as a team.”
In the hours leading up to the game there was some ugliness as a shirtless tailgater, his face dripping blood, was arrested by Philadelphia police breaking up a brawl.
Most fans seemed happy just to see their team on the brink of a Super Bowl berth. Pregame police activity was kept to a minimum and Eagles and Vikings fans managed to carve out a mostly peaceful co-existence.
As morning turned to afternoon, and the temperature climbed into the 50s, a few Vikings jerseys could be spotted throughout the city, including at the Art Museum, where Minnesota fans committed the ultimate offense: dressing the Rocky statue in their team’s colors.
Brian Gartley, 50, and four of his friends journeyed from Minnesota to catch the championship game. They were serenaded with booos and more than a few four-letter chants as they walked to the stadium late in the afternoon. “Philly’s been very welcoming,” he said, as he laughed off a “Vikings suck!” scream from an Eagles fan.
By midnight, the crowds throughout the city began to thin, though in Center City sizable groups remained and with Bacchanalian ebullience drank beer, smoked weed, and continued the hail of insults directed at Brady. It was hard to let go of the night, reveling in a victory like Philadelphia seldom sees.
“We just have to take in the sight right now,” said Dan Wilson, 20, of Lower Merion, one of two Temple University students who took the train into the city from the ‘burbs to join the party after the game. “It’s not very often this happens.”