ARLINGTON, Texas — Jerome Gray’s black No. 11 Carson Wentz jersey looked uncomfortably hot, under the strong Texas sun, as Gray strolled through the NFL Draft Experience on Thursday afternoon outside AT&T Stadium.
But the silver Super Bowl LII logo on the right side of Gray’s jersey sparkled and shimmered. The same went for the logo on the black No. 86 Zach Ertz jersey worn by Gray’s friend and fellow North Philly resident, Tyler Jardine.
And that was kind of the point.
“Of all years to be here, in Dallas, which hasn’t won anything in the past 20-some years,” Jardine said. (Actually, “Jardine chortled” works just as well.) The Cowboys last won the Super Bowl in 1996.
Jardine, 24, said they had a big time at last year’s draft on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, will never forget watching the Eagles select first-round defensive end Derek Barnett, whose Tom Brady fumble recovery all but sealed the Super Bowl.
Though Philadelphia had an option on a second draft year, and the first-ever outdoor draft was incredibly well received, the second year option depended on the NFL, and the league opted to take its event to Dallas.
“They had to go ahead and buy the draft from us – [Dallas owner] Jerry Jones bought the draft out of Philly, even though we put on the best show the draft has ever seen,” Jardine said. “So we came down here for a couple of reasons: To remind them that Philly still put on the best draft, and also, that we are world champions.”
Gray, 30, said: “Overall, it’s been much, much fun … What better way to seal off the Super Bowl than coming down to Dallas and showing who we are, showing support for our team?”
In the middle of the afternoon, there was no more than a sprinkling of fans wearing Eagles gear wandering about the extravaganza, maybe because the champs were scheduled to pick 32nd and last overall. It was an interesting atmosphere; it seemed no more than half the fans present were wearing Cowboys colors, but there were representatives from every NFL city, like a jersey-clad, face-painting United Nations.
Dallas’s intent is to attract 400,000 people to the three-day event, eclipsing the estimated 250,000 gathered last year on the Parkway. The draft setup seemed to indicate a bit of the difference between the cities; the Dallas draft isn’t actually being held in Dallas, it’s in Arlington, part of the freeway-connected sprawl that lies between Dallas and Fort Worth. And the AT&T plaza and parking lot certainly provided a larger canvas for the fan event than Center City could, but just the same, it was hard to escape the fact that you were in a parking lot, not in the shadow of the Art Museum steps.
Cameron Sivji, 20, sporting a No. 36 Brian Westbrook jersey, somehow grew up an Eagles fan in Dallas. His was a hard and rocky path, until February.
“When Roger Goodell says, ‘The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles!’ I’m going to be, like, really crazy. And hopefully on TV,” Sivji said.
He was accompanied by his sister, 23-year-old Erum Merchant, who was wearing a blue No. 88 Dez Bryant jersey. So, overall, a tough offseason for her.
“I’m still in mourning,” Merchant said. Bryant, released by Dallas, has yet to sign with a new team. A nearby Giants fan taunted that Bryant was headed for North Jersey.
Sivji said he bet his sister, “If the Eagles win the Super Bowl, she owes me a draft ticket. And she actually won some.” So there they were.
Merchant said her brother reminds her of the outcome of their respective 2017 seasons “every day I see him. Every day. But it’s fun. The banter is fun … I love him despite his wrong choices.”
Ryan Dougherty, 29, from Flourtown, said he came down with a few friends from work, all fans of different teams.
Dougherty said the highlight of the Fan Experience exhibits for him so far was hearing E-A-G-L-E-S chants. “Especially in Dallas. You gotta love hearing that,” he said. “It’s been fun so far; a lot of Eagles fans, it’s been nice.”
Has he been taunting Dallas fans?
“Not much, but I have asked them if they have any playoff gear from last year,” Dougherty said. “So far, I’ve gotten no response.”
Tracy and Peg Smith moved to Dallas from Reading two years ago, they said. Peg said a lot of their Texas neighbors actually rooted for the Eagles in the Super Bowl.
“Nobody likes the Patriots,” she explained.
Inside the stadium – the first time the draft has been held in such a venue – about two thirds of the seats were empty, behind the curtained stage. To enhance the atmosphere, each team was invited to choose 50 fans who sat in a special “Inner Circle” on the draft floor, in front of the stage.
Pat McCarthy and brothers Michael and Ryan Thompson were part of the Eagles’ group, transplants to the Dallas area. McCarthy is from Lancaster, the Thompson brothers are from Doylestown.
“I’m looking forward to someone doing [to Dallas] what Drew Pearson did to us last year,” McCarthy said. Pearson, the former Dallas wideout, trolled Philly fans after they booed him, when he stepped up to make the Cowboys’ selection.
The Thompson brothers said the best thing about the Eagles finally winning it all is that they can fly their flags, wear their gear, and no one says anything.
“It’s great to be a Philly fan right now,” Michael said. “We’re the champs and everybody understands it now, at this point, and they have to respect it … Philadelphia is becoming the sports capital that it should be.”