There are certain things you come to expect when you travel by plane to cover an Eagles game. Chanting, for instance. You expect chanting.
On the departing flight, there will be Eagles fans in Eagles jerseys and Eagles windbreakers and Eagles sweatshirts and Eagles T-shirts and Eagles hats – perhaps just a smattering, perhaps three-quarters of the plane – and just before takeoff, they will chant: “E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES!” Depending on the departure time, you will find this display of passion and loyalty either charming and endearing or exasperating and annoying. (There is nothing endearing about any sort of chanting about any sort of team or topic before 9 a.m.) Then they will repeat the chant upon the plane’s landing, as if Carson Wentz himself had guided the aircraft safely to the ground.
This weekend promises to feature more of these episodes, at greater volume, than most weekends when the Eagles are on the road. On Sunday, the Eagles will play the Rams at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. It’s an important one, as football games go. The Eagles are 10-2 and coming off a loss, their first in nearly three months, to the Seahawks. The Rams are 9-3, with 31-year-old prodigy Sean McVay as their head coach and Jared Goff showing he can, in fact, play a little quarterback in the NFL. Playoff seeding, and perhaps even home-field advantage in the NFC, will be at stake, and if the local civic panic after the Eagles’ stumble in Seattle hasn’t reached a fever pitch yet, it will if they lose Sunday, fall to 10-3, and let their grip of a first-round bye slip out of their hands.
Postseason implications aside, though, this game has been easy to target for a while as one that would lure larger-than-usual traveling parties (and I do mean “parties”). For one thing, it’s a Sunday afternoon game in Los Angeles in December. Check the weather app on your smartphone. Right now, mine says that, on Sunday, it will be 38 degrees in Philadelphia and 82 degrees in Los Angeles, and that’s reason enough for many fans here to set aside some personal days at work and use Eagles-Rams as an excuse for a mini-vacation. As a character in the film Swingers says about life in Hollywood, “Look out the window. It’s sunny every day here. It’s like manifest destiny.” That was true last year, too, when the Rams made their return to L.A., even though Jeff Fisher was coaching them then.
For another, the Eagles already have played in Los Angeles this season, and it was one of the strangest, most stunning scenes in the team’s recent history. On Oct. 1, they beat the Chargers, 26-24, at StubHub Center, the soccer arena that will be the Chargers’ home until their (and the Rams’) new stadium opens in 2020. StubHub holds 27,000 people, and the announced attendance for the game was 25,374, and it wouldn’t have been surprising if more than half of those spectators were Eagles fans. It sounded like, felt like, and even to a great degree looked like an Eagles home game. There were more Harold Carmichael jerseys in the stands than there were Charlie Joiner jerseys.
Surely, the sight of Eagles fans overtaking StubHub inspired people here to try to storm the Coliseum in a similar manner. Because the Coliseum holds 93,607 and because the Rams have capped ticket sales at 65,000 for each home game this season – they let in 91,000 for their first home game in 2016 … and promptly ran out of water and beer – the place can look awfully empty in a camera shot. Still, 65,000 is nearly 2½ times StubHub’s capacity, so it’s possible, even likely, that more Eagles fans will attend this time around. WIP, for example, is sponsoring a trip to the game, and as of Monday, more than 1,400 people had signed up, according to a station representative.
That said, the Rams’ relative home-field disadvantage might not be quite as decided and profound as the Chargers’ was. The Chargers’ inaugural season, 1960, was in Los Angeles, yes, but they spent the subsequent 56 years in San Diego. That’s their true hometown. They have no purchase in L.A. The Rams did have their 21 years in St. Louis, of course, but they had been in Los Angeles for 49 years before that. Once they came back, they at least had something of a built-in fan base in a city that once loved them.
“It was a great football town,” said former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, who was drafted by the Rams and played for them from 1973 through 1976. “It actually bothered me a lot when I heard people say, ‘They won’t support the team.’ That’s ludicrous, man.
“When I was playing in the Coliseum, the place was rocking and rolling. It was great. You’d turn around on the bench and see Johnny Carson sitting behind you. There were stars everywhere. You’d stay in the Beverly Hilton Hotel. I’m a 21-year-old kid out of Lackawanna, New York, and I’m getting yelled at on the field, and it’s Sammy Davis Jr.”
Jared Goff is 23, and if someone is going to be yelling at him on the field Sunday, it’s likely to be Smitty from Lawncrest – and all of his buddies. It should be quite a sight. Just one small request: If you’re on the 8:10 a.m. flight from Philadelphia International to LAX on Saturday and your voice is feeling strong, please, have mercy.