In the half-frozen mud around Eakins Oval, at the points closest to the barricades erected in front of the Art Museum steps where the Eagles concluded their Super Bowl LII championship parade Thursday afternoon, fans staked out their positions long before the sun came up.
David Ngyuen, a pastor from Bucks County who was wearing a kelly green Randall Cunningham jersey, said he’d been there since midnight, among what he said were about 50 hardy souls who camped out in the cold.
“A few minutes,” Ngyuen said, when asked how much he’d slept.
A few yards away, David McNicholas of East Falls said he’d arrived with his 9-year-old son, Gus, around 3:30 am. They’d taped to the barricades a couple of posters, one bearing the iconic, grinning likeness of Chuck Bednarik in the postgame locker room after the Eagles’ most recent championship before Sunday’s triumph, the 1960 victory over Green Bay.
“That’s the Mona Lisa,” McNicholas explained.
“It’s been crazy,” said Eric Levai, a freshman guard and center at Ursinus, one of a half-dozen Bears football players who said they’d arrived at 4 a.m.. Levai, from Ocean City, N.J., wore the jersey of his idol, center Jason Kelce – who later would provide the most memorable speech of the day, an R-rated rant about a team and a city he felt were too readily dismissed.
Isaiah Benjamin of West Philadelphia said he had arrived around 5:30 a.m. with a group that included his son, 5-year old Nasir, swaddled in so many blankets and coats that only a tiny swath of his face was visible.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Isaiah Benjamin said.
But when their wait was over and their Eagles heroes spoke to them, the message the estimated 700,000 parade attendees received was exactly the opposite of once-in-a-lifetime: “We’re going to do this again. Get used to it.” It was a theme Eagles coach Doug Pederson sounded after Sunday’s game, and one nearly everyone from the team who spoke Thursday reiterated.
If another championship ensues, at a much closer interval than 57 years, will anybody want to camp in the mud, or stand more than eight hours in the cold, to see it celebrated?
If in the next few years, the midnight green double-decker buses again ply their way up Broad Street from South Philly to City Hall, and swing left down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to a rendezvous with the Rocky statue, that will be pretty amazing. But can it match what Thursday meant to so many fans who weren’t even alive when Bednarik, Norm VanBrocklin, and Tommy McDonald vanquished Vince Lombardi, whose name is on the shiny silver trophy Pederson brandished for the crowd?
“You have made our lives perfect now,” Mayor Kenney told the Eagles, eschewing understatement, “because the chip is off our shoulder, we are now world champions.”
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie – greeted with chants of Jeff-REY! Jeff-REY! – concluded his remarks by saying he had “one, final message: We are just beginning.”
Pederson referenced the team’s underdog persona; it was the first Super Bowl winner since the 2007 Giants to not be favored in any of its three postseason games. A fan’s voice carried across the oval: “We’re [expletive] TOP DOGS now!”
“Just like Mr. Lurie said, we are not done yet,” Pederson said. “This is our new norm, to be playing football in February.”
Executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman, the architect of the team, spoke very briefly, ending with: “Get used to it! Let’s go!”
After Roseman came Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, the backup quarterback who saved the season.
“I’ve never seen so many people in one spot, in unity, celebrating one thing,” Foles said.
Left tackle Jason Peters, felled by a knee injury seven games into the season, listed the key injury losses the Eagles overcame – himself, franchise quarterback Carson Wentz, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, running back and returner Darren Sproles, and special-teams captain Chris Maragos.
“These guys never batted an eye,” Peters said. “Y’all never stopped rooting for us. And in the end, we all believed in each other, and that’s why we’re the world champs.”
Tight end Brent Celek, the longest-tenured Eagle with 11 seasons here, spoke wearing a vintage Harold Carmichael jersey.
“When I was drafted here in 2007, there was one thing that all the fans said that they wanted,” he said. “And that was a world championship. We celebrate the fact that Philly has a world championship!”
Celek, who is from Cincinnati, seems likely to become part of our city’s fabric when he finishes playing.
“You all know that Philly is my home,” he said.
The guys who came up with the much-celebrated underdog masks at the start of the playoff run, right tackle Lane Johnson and defensive end Chris Long, shared the microphone, as fans barked in their honor.
“We are the center of the football universe!” Long said. “And they got to live with the underdogs, baby!”
Wentz waited to speak until a boisterous “MVP! MVP!” chant died down. Wentz said he’d seen “how crazy Eagles nation is,” but surveying the parade crowd, “I think ya’all are more than crazy.”
Wentz continued: “As soon as I got here, I knew this was a special place. A special locker room, special organization, special coaching, and some seriously special fans. And here we are today as world champions. … I hope y’all can get used to this.”