As Jeffrey Clayton Riegel was nearing death, among the Eagles fan’s last wishes was to have eight team members serve as his pallbearers.
“So the Eagles can let him down one last time,” according to an obituary in the Atlantic City Press.
Riegel, 56, of Port Republic, N.J., was a funny guy. So his wife of 29 years, Donna Lee Riegel, and her sister, Dee Kaufman, penned a tribute that reflected the personality of a man who loved life and the Eagles, his wife said Wednesday.
It was not always an easy team to love, his wife said, adding that she suggested he pay allegiance to a different team.
“I just can’t,” he would say.
In the obit published Sunday, Riegel, an electrician, was described as a “wonderful husband, uncle, brother, and son” who was quick with kind words for others.
Not always, however, for his beloved Eagles, who clearly disappointed him at times. Or that may have been his sense of humor, considering he told his oncologist, “Just call me ‘Lucky,'” as he was nearing death.
As cancer was getting the best of him, Riegel watched his Birds beat the Buffalo Bills, 20-16, last Thursday in their second preseason game.
Riegel, a 1978 graduate of Mainland High School and longtime member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 351, died early the next day, his wife said.
“He got to see them go out on a win,” his wife said, suggesting that may have been what he needed to make peace with death. He enjoyed the team in many ways, including having his picture taken with two cheerleaders — with Riegel smiling wide beneath the brim of his tan cap.
One friend posted a tribute online that read, “With Jeff, the glass was always half full. He had a gift how to make light of any situation and keeping people calm.”
A spokesperson for the Eagles declined to comment about Riegel’s last wishes. It is unlikely any of the Eagles will participate in Riegel’s services, given that their third preseason game, against the Miami Dolphins, takes place just hours after his burial. Donna Riegel believes another win would be appropriate, because “of course” that’s what he would really want. She survives him in addition to his mother, Barbara Sloan; his father, Clayton; a brother; and three sisters.
The services will be Thursday at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 118 Main St., Port Republic. Visitation is 10 a.m. to noon, with a service to follow and interment immediately afterward in the church cemetery.