Eagles fans greet playoff day with tailgating gusto: 'It's so much bigger than the Eagles.'

Jim Miller, of Lebanon, left, and Eric Cassel, of Annville, join in tailgating festivities ahead of the Eagles-Falcons playoffs Saturday morning.

Kickoff is 4:35 p.m., but Eagles fans started pulling into FDR Park minutes after sunrise Saturday.

It’s the playoffs, OK? At least seven hours of quality South Philly tailgating is practically a necessity in these situations.

“We’re the worst around. For 1 p.m. games, we’re usually here by 7,” said Jeff Cucci, who rolled into the park on Pattison Avenue towing a 45-foot, custom-painted Eagles trailer with a fully stocked bar and kitchen that is expected to serve a crowd of more than 200.

“We slept in today,” said his friend Jim Staffieri.

Meaning, they arrived around 7:30 a.m. – then got stuck in the mud.

Cucci, of Glassboro, said this tailgating operation started 25 years ago with about eight high school friends.

“Over the years it grew and grew,” he said as he wrapped a chef’s apron around camouflage Eagles shorts despite the near-freezing temperature, which felt like 23 degrees thanks to some stiff winds.

Later, there will be a DJ. The menu includes sliced ribeye, hot and sweet sausage, roast pork, meatballs, and lots of onions and peppers.

“I’m sitting on about 50 dozen rolls. And there’s a full bar, obviously. If L&I ever came here …” Cucci laughed, before adding: “We don’t sell anything.”

 

Farther inside the park, John Grasillo was already hammering canopy spikes into the ground at 8:20 a.m. as his brother Anthony expounded on the benefits of prolonged tailgating. The tradition goes back to Veterans Stadium.

“It’s just the fun of hanging out and getting pumped,” Anthony Grasillo said. “And see how many times we can do shots and the Eagles chant. By the time we spell it wrong, it’s time to go in,” he joked.

Ever wonder why Eagles fans are so loud?

Nearby, Pete Gabriel was fending off the cold with a bottle of Victory’s Prima Pils and preparing to play some “beersbee,” which is kind of like horseshoes but with a Frisbee and empty bottles you try to knock off poles. (The wind wasn’t helping early on).

Their pregame Eagles ritual began about 20 years ago. No one at FDR at this hour is a tailgating rookie.

Gabriel isn’t worried about the Eagles being underdogs to the Falcons at home without Carson Wentz.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “It gives them something to fight for.”

His cousin, Joe, agreed, but it took him a few days to come around.

“I was a little nervous early, but as the week went on I got more confident,” Joe Gabriel said. “They’re going to have to ride the defense, but I think they can do it.”

READ MORE: Complete coverage previewing the Eagles-Falcons game.

The Gabriels are keeping the menu simple – fried chicken and mac and cheese – but they earn tailgating bonus points for bringing a generator, TV and, most impressively, an original Nintendo Entertainment System.

“Tecmo Bowl,” Joe Gabriel said. “Still works.”

The tailgating kicked off later in the morning outside Lincoln Financial Field, where Margie Blatnick was boldly predicting a 21-7 Eagles victory as her son and grandson grilled sausages.

“Absolutely. My Eagles? All the way,” said Blatnick, who has been setting up outside home games for 31 years.

READ MORE: Our staff writers make their predictions for the Eagles-Falcons game.

One lot over, Dave Johnson, aka “Hamburger Dave,” was holding down the fort at the Green Magic tailgate. Their bus features an eagle dangling an unhappy cowboy (Dallas Cowboys) and a Native American (Washington Redskins) from its talons and stomping on a giant (New York Giants).

Johnson was sporting a fur jacket with his tailgate name sewn into the lining. Although, to be honest, Blatnick’s velvet Eagles green pants were pretty sweet, too.

Camera icon DAVID SWANSON
Tailgating at the Linc featured plenty to drink. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

He showed up at 11 a.m. Saturday, much later than the old “wilder days” in Lot D, when they’d start partying before the lot attendants were even ready to collect the parking fee.

“I almost got divorced every Sunday,” he recalled.

Now, the tailgate is more family-friendly. But still includes beer pong.

“You can have fun here, but also bring your kids,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s awesome. It’s so much bigger than the Eagles.”

As for the name Hamburger Dave, Johnson said: “Two weeks in a row I happened to bring hamburgers. It just stuck.”

Don’t ask about Sausage Steve and Crazy Scott.

Then, there are those who really rough it.

And those who choose to remain outside to watch the game.

And those who have their own ways of keeping warm.

Camera icon TIM TAI
Mike Jones, left, and his friend John Beilhart, both of Shillington, Pa., take on each other in a round of Indian leg wrestling at their tailgate. TIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Outside Citizens Bank Park, Ed Schwartz and brother-in-law Steve Koch were drinking shots of 50-year-old whiskey from a one-gallon bottle of Seagram’s V.O. that was discovered in Schwartz’s father’s home when he passed away in 2014.

“Gotta keep warm,” Schwartz said as he sipped.

“Exceptionally smooth,” Koch concurred.

The P Lot tailgating crowd is especially tight, according to Schwartz.

“All these guys. It’s the same people. We’ve been seeing them for years,” he said, looking around the parking lot.

“It’s like a religion,” Koch added.

But Lou Vogel insists that his party in section P2 is “the best free tailgate in the parking lot.” Over the years, they’ve had Mummers perform, and a bagpiper, and a comedian, and an opera singer.

Camera icon DAVID SWANSON
Lou Vogel, center, and his crew are among the many revelers at the Linc awaiting kickoff. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

Most of the tailgaters don’t even go into the game, he said.

“We have probably 20 season ticket holders. The other 100 or so are just here to drink and have fun,” Vogel said, wearing a custom black Kangol hat with P2 on the back.

The group had 105 consecutive tailgates there until they broke the streak on New Year’s Eve, and that was only because Vogel’s DJ and sons were in the Mummer’s Parade.

“And it was [expletive] cold, too,” Vogel admitted. “The new streak begins today.”

Staff writer Amy Rosenberg contributed to this article.

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