MINNEAPOLIS — Around 11 a.m. Wednesday, Chuck Solomon pulled away from his Delaware County home in the 14-seat tailgate bus he usually takes to Lot K outside Lincoln Financial Field in South Philly.
This time, Solomon, a burly general contractor known as “Tat Man” for his 100 Eagles-related tattoos, topped off the tank with diesel and set the GPS for a destination 1,200 miles away, heading westward and sleeping in the bus near the Illinois state line when he could drive no more.
“Now, it’s finally hitting me,” he said Friday, looking around the Mall of America. “I can’t believe I’m here.”
Brian Duffy, a Bucks County native living in London, blew the family budget on Super Bowl tickets and a flight across the Atlantic.
“Gotta do it,” he said. “Who knows how many chances we’ll get?”
And Tom Jones of Bryn Mawr didn’t hesitate when his wife asked him where he wanted to vacation for his 50th birthday.
“She said: ‘Do you want to go to an island? Do you want to go to Europe?’ ”
He said, “No, I want to go to Minneapolis in minus-7-degree weather.”
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Eagles fans have been flocking all week to the Land of 10,000 Lakes and its subzero embrace, hooked on a feeling they’ve never felt but have been seeking for years. Decades. Lifetimes.
They got a taste of it during the NFC championship game when Patrick Robinson intercepted that Case Keenum pass on the 50-yard line and took the scenic route to the end zone.
Now, they’re here in Minneapolis, forking out obscene amounts of money in what is, for some, the most expensive weekend of their lives. They want more. One more game.
“I’m a little nervous, but confident,” said Stephanie Phillips of Wilmington, a 31-year season-ticket holder who has followed the Eagles to every opposing NFL city in the country. “I want them to win so bad I can’t stand it. I need the game to start now.”
— William Bender (@wbender99) February 2, 2018
The fan base seems to have united around Doug Pederson’s team more than the Andy Reid-era gang that lost Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005. And that’s despite a banged-up roster, a backup QB who’s a dead ringer for Napoleon Dynamite, and that first-time head coach hired for his “open heart” and “emotional intelligence.”
There’s a sense that Pederson’s players might not have reached their ceiling, a pack of underdogs hyped up on Meek Mill and capable of just about anything.
“Our team is like a family. When someone goes down, another member comes in like it was their brother,” said Solomon, who hasn’t missed an Eagles game — home or away — in three years. His tattoos include the signatures of Malcolm Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, Jason Kelce, and other players. They sign him with a Sharpie. A tattoo artist makes it permanent.
“Nobody thought this was going to happen,” said Richard Lefkowitz, a South Jersey native rocking a Wes Hopkins throwback jersey around Minneapolis. “We keep showing everyone that they were wrong and it’s icing on the cake for the city of Philadelphia.”
“There’s no ‘I’ in Eagles,” said Jones’ wife, Honor. “They have the spirit. They have the grit. They want it more.”
On Nicollet Mall, site of the NFL’s outdoor Super Bowl fan festivities, Eagles fans were bundled up and pumped up as temperatures plummeted. Armed guards patrolled intersections. A security camera ran up and down a sky wire.
Fans posed in front of ice sculptures, skied down snow ramps with dogs, and lined up for sold-out zip lining over the Mississippi River.
“I like it,” said Don Sorrentino, a construction company owner from West Chester. “It’s football weather. It gets you amped.”
At the Mall of America, when particularly rowdy fans got the Eagles chant going, mothers and children turned their heads with a mix of curiosity and apprehension, perhaps fueled by recent reports of flying — and full — beer cans aimed at traveling Vikings fans in South Philadelphia.
Crawford Hill, a 42-year Eagles season-ticket holder whose friends call him “Chill,” flew to Minneapolis on Friday for his fourth Eagles championship game.
The 65-year-old from Ardmore was not only at the Birds’ two previous Super Bowl appearances in Jacksonville in 2005 and New Orleans in 1981, but he also attended the 1960 NFL championship game when the Eagles defeated the Green Bay Packers, 17-13, at Franklin Field. He was 8 at the time.
Hill has been to most home games since 1975. But, he said, the current roster chemistry and swagger make this team different. He’s hoping to travel to a fifth or sixth or seventh Eagles championship berth. Once Carson Wentz, the MVP-caliber quarterback, gets healthy and replaces backup Nick Foles, Hill said, “we’re going to be back at this rodeo.”
“With Nick stepping in, it’s unexpected and so delightful, that I feel like these guys are playing so loose and comfortable,” Hill said. “They have the confidence. And I don’t think Boston entirely grasps the vibe that’s happening down here.”
Chester native Larry Curren was reciting the Eagles pregame motto — “We all we got. We all we need” — when he became starstruck by longtime Eagles announcer Merrill Reese, who was double-fisting popcorn as he walked.
Solomon, aka Tat Man, has big plans for his bald head if the Eagles defeat the Patriots.
That’s right. A full helmet tattoo.
“I always said it was going to be my last tattoo or when we win the Super Bowl,” Solomon said. “We win Sunday, I get the helmet on my head.”
He added, “No face mask.”