IT MAY HAVE felt like a jazz funeral as the New Orleans Saints came marching in and out of Lincoln Financial Field in a rout of the Eagles yesterday - but outdoors, the rollicking party in the parking lot wasn't quite so downbeat.
"I was working in Atlantic City until 4 a.m. this morning," said 24-year old Ryan Hannon, a Jersey resident who arrived at the Linc with three friends, a flat- screen-furnished trailer and enough hot dishes of jambalaya to last through Mardi Gras.
"I needed to stay up 48 hours straight to get to this game, and I did." added Hannon, who passed up a stadium ticket this year to enjoy the tailgater's street-level atmospherics.
"I'm tired, but tailgating is the best."
It was the Eagles' home opener - and that meant the team's seasoned tailgaters have been in training for this day for months.
A winning spectacle in the parking lot could almost surpass what happened on the other side of the stadium gate.
Among fans was Joe Hassinger with his newly shaped 1973 Volkswagen Beetle, reframed into the shape of an Eagles helmet and decked out with two beer taps and a swing-out grill, bringing Eagles fandom to a new level.
"This is the first year this car's out here," said Hassinger, a native of Drexel Hill.
"We got the idea when my daughter and I went camping one day and a VW drove by. Next thing I knew, she said, "Hey dad, we ought to go out and make an Eagles helmet out of a VW bug.'
"Then a light in my head went on."
Elsewhere in the parking lots, other signs of fan hysteria were abundant: An intimidating 30-foot trailer warned Saints fans that 'There is no brotherly love on Game Day."
Vince Pacifico from Reading, the CEO of a 50-person tailgating club, boasted that he's been a fan "since I've been old enough to know better," never missing a game in 20 years.
Katie Humbert, 24, of Marlton, South Jersey, rallied with her entourage of friends:
"We are here every home game with about 50 people, and we always stay in the same spot - E4. We got here at 8 a.m. and have been playing beer pong and flip-cup since."
Still, there was a palpable letdown about 3 p.m. when Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb threw an interception in the third quarter and the team found itself down 34-20.
Spectators started to ooze out of the stadium. Even some fans with good seats gave up hope and headed out to the SEPTA stop.
"The team is in disarray if you ask me," said Kwame Hadi, a trumpeter stationed just outside the ticket office to play "Fly Eagles Fly" when fans started trickling out.
"I just rock-and-roll with it and try to give it as strong as I can," said Hadi between renditions of "Fly."
And like hard-core fans he held out hope for the future, noting that he'd be around for the home games to come.
"It's a good day to feel good. You just have to stick with the team and show a little character."