They streamed from the bars and the house parties at 10:18 p.m., a teeming mass of raucous revelers ready to seize the streets.
And Philadelphia police were ready – with officers arrayed down South Broad Street, at Temple University, in Mayfair, and on Main Street in Manayunk – lined up at each location as if daring the masses to do their worst.
As the city turned out to celebrate the Eagles’ first NFL title since Dwight Eisenhower was president, the party was at times chaotic but no more so than many had predicted. Still, as the night wore on, property damage spread.
“This city is about to explode,” said an officer stationed at Broad and Walnut Streets as the clock ran out in Minneapolis and masses poured into the streets of Philadelphia.
Just before 12:30 a.m., revelers smashed a display window at the Macy’s department store across from City Hall, and looters burst into a Sunoco APlus convenience store at Broad and Catharine Streets, grabbing merchandise and screaming, “Everything is free.”
Fans clambered up light poles, despite the city’s best efforts to keep them off by slathering the fixtures in hydraulic fluid. And by the end of the night, nearly all of the light poles on the east side of City Hall had been toppled.
People yelling “Everything is free,” looting, trashing this gas station. Damn it, Philly we better than this. pic.twitter.com/WecXaAmrFh
— Stephanie Farr (@FarFarrAway) February 5, 2018
Even before that, rowdy fans had flipped a car parked outside the Hyatt at the Bellevue, and officers were called in after three people fell from light poles and lost consciousness at Broad and Arch Streets. The awning of the Ritz-Carlton hotel across from City Hall collapsed under the weight of people seeking a bird’s eye view of the crowds.
People eager to get out of the city before the crowds amid the celebration rushed subway terminals, where jostling for position quickly became a problem. Cans were thrown at officers, bottles were shattered in the street.
At Frankford and Cottman, police in riot gear moved through the intersection just before 1:30 a.m., seeking to break up the celebration, where hours before three officers were seen leading a man away in handcuffs. And although things were calmer along Main Street in Manayunk, police hauled away one man after he shot off bottle rockets behind a large crowd of fans.
The largest groups of people along Broad Street began to disperse just before 2 a.m., leaving a trail of crushed cans, shattered glass, and toilet paper littering the streets.
But despite an occasionally chaotic end to the night, the celebration of the Eagles’ victory was largely a peaceful affair. (As of Monday morning, city officials said only three arrests had occurred.) Officers hung back and let the public jubilation play out, stepping in only to avert the most unruly behavior and to prevent the beer-fueled masses from injuring themselves.
Some appeared eager to get in on the revelry themselves. They high-fived fans streaming out of Broad Street bars and stood by as men and boys set off fireworks in the streets around City Hall. Others – eager to capture the once-in-a-lifetime moment in Philadelphia sports history – shot selfies and videos on their cellphones.
Standing amid the sea of people marching down North Broad Street near Temple University, Officer Mark Lapenta of the 22nd District was hooting, hollering, and high-fiving as much as anyone else in the crowd.
As State Police mounted on horseback moved through the mass of people later, people chanted, “Don’t punch the horses.” And a group of well-meaning fans helped right planters that had been toppled along North Broad Street at the height of the celebration.
Dave Spitzer, 31, of Lower Merion left around 11:20 as fireworks shot off and a man behind him knocked the signal off a traffic pole. But Spitzer stopped to shake an officer’s hand as he left.
“It seems to be under control that the city hasn’t burned to the ground yet,” Spitzer said, despite the growing crowds. “I think they’re handling it pretty well.”
Video isn’t going through right now but crowd has filled the intersection of Frankford and Cottman. As the smoke of firecrackers fills the air, mood is celebratory. Cops high-fiving fans, taking selfies. pic.twitter.com/nySmgaHdn9
— Erin McCarthy (@erinK_mccarthy) February 5, 2018
— Christie Ileto (@Christie_Ileto) February 5, 2018
It was a response honed over the near-decade since a Philadelphia team last won a championship – the Phillies’ 2008 World Series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Back then, drunken vandals and looters left in their wake a trail of broken bus shelters, overturned cars, shattered windows, and a smoldering fire on Broad Street. Seventy-six people were arrested for disorderly conduct, vandalism, and assaulting police — and Richard J. Ross Jr., then the city’s deputy police commissioner, likened the streets the next morning to Beirut during the Lebanese civil war.
This time, officers had been readied to respond to anything.
Speaking at a news conference last week, Ross, now police commissioner, said his department’s response to massive public gatherings had been tried and tested at recent high-volume events including the pope’s visit in 2015, the Democratic National Convention in 2016, and the large-scale public gatherings that erupted in response to police shootings across the country and to President Trump’s election.
“After a while you do have to relinquish the street, provided people are being peaceful,” he said. “You’re going to create more havoc trying to [stop them,] and you have to have somewhere for people to go.”
Still, they weren’t taking any chances.
Barricades were lined up along the South Broad Street median hours before kickoff, ready to block off traffic for crowds expected after the game. Streets Department employees had spent Sunday morning installing LED lights at Frankford and Cottman Avenues, hoping that brightening the traditional gathering spot would deter any potential troublemakers.
And in response to the jubilant fans who viewed Crisco-coated light poles as a challenge rather than a deterrent after the Eagles’ NFC championship victory last month, the city adopted a new solution Sunday to prevent potential climbers: water-repellant hydraulic fluid.
By halftime, officers on bikes swarmed out under a steady rain from a staging area at Independence Hall as city garbage trucks rolled out to various points across the city to control the flow of revelers through the streets. Major thoroughfares were blocked to traffic.
But even amid police preparations, the lure of a historic moment in Philadelphia sports proved irresistible to officers arrayed across the city.
— Robert Moran (@RobertMoran215) February 5, 2018
They gathered in groups to watch the game through bar windows in Mayfair, clustered together at Chickie’s & Pete’s in South Philly to discuss the halftime show, and began massing along Manayunk’s Main Street as the Eagles regained their lead late in the fourth quarter.
Within minutes of the game’s end, Mayor Kenney urged a peaceful celebration.
“Go forth and celebrate,” he said in a statement. “But do so in a way that will make Philadelphia shine.”
The following staff writers contributed to this article: Michael Boren, Aubrey Whelan, Kristin E. Holmes, Caitlin McCabe, Allison Steele, Samantha Melamed, Chris Palmer, Julia Terruso, Stephanie Farr, Bethany Ao, Michaelle Bond, Robert Moran, Erin McCarthy, Jonathan Lai, Mari A. Schaefer, Alfred Lubrano, Jeff Gammage, and Bob Fernandez.