When Diane Kaji gets to the Big Easy, sure, she’ll meet up with the other Birds fans, but first, there’s serious business to take care of: locating the cheesesteaks.
“Last game, when we weren’t doing too well around halftime, we brought out the cheesesteaks, and, well, you saw what happened. They worked,” said the Philly expat, a lifelong fan of the city’s sports teams who now lives in Tallahassee, Fla. The sandwiches, she believes, were the magic in last weekend’s wild-card win over the Chicago Bears. “So we’ll be looking for them in NOLA. ... We had cheesesteaks and soft pretzels flown in for the last Super Bowl. It’s kind of just what we do.”
Driving 390 hours in six hours from her home, Kaji, 51, will join her daughter — who’s flying in from Washington — and thousands of other Eagles fans expected to converge on New Orleans this weekend as the Birds take on the Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff game.
If the Eagles win, they’ll move on to the NFC championship — one game away from the Super Bowl. If the Birds lose, they’re done for the season.
About 19,000 Eagles fans — that’s one Birds fan for every three Saints fans in the 74,000-plus-capacity Superdome — are expected to attend the game, according to projections from ticket vendor Vivid Seats.
Joe DiBaggio, organizer of the Phans of Philly travel group, said he expects about 200 Eagles fans at his tailgate outside the Superdome on Sunday, and a good number at a bar crawl Saturday night, which starts at a Bourbon Street spot.
He doesn’t foresee any greased poles in the French Quarter, but “with 3-for-1 drink specials, they might have to,” he said, referencing the measures police in Philadelphia took when fans turned rowdy after last year’s postseason successes.
But most fans can’t make it to New Orleans.
Unlike last year, when they had a first-round bye and home-field advantage, the Eagles sputtered into the postseason this time around and are fighting through the playoffs on the road.
That means many fans, including Rodney Edney, will watch the game on TV in Philadelphia.
“I have to be at work during the game, but they always laugh at me [on game day] because I’ve got my phone in my pocket, and I keep checking the score while I’m taking orders,” the Cracker Barrel employee said, smiling as he signed his well wishes Friday for the Birds on the NBC Sports “Road to Victory” bus outside Reading Terminal Market.
For Kristin Mainzer, watching the game from her home in Ardmore makes it that much more special. Mainzer watched the last Eagles playoff round from Ohio, and said she’s excited to be back in her hometown for this weekend’s big game.
“I’m a big Eagles fan and from this area originally ... so it means a lot to be back for this,” she said.
Even in Cowboys country, there will be some Eagles fans watching and rooting.
Andy McDowell will keep up his ritual of watching the action from his home in Miami, Okla.
“I have watched every Eagles game here since I was a young kid in the early 2000s, continuing the tradition of my dad cheering for Reggie and Randall in Oklahoma, an area that is very much Dallas Cowboys country," he said.
Coming off a four-game winning streak, including the nail-biting “double doink" 16-15 win over the Bears last Sunday, the Birds hope to be a new team in New Orleans after mid-season struggles. The last time they played the Saints, the Eagles suffered the worst loss ever by a defending Super Bowl champion, falling 48-7.