What is the relationship between football and the fans?

Posted: September 09, 2010

The following vignettes were compiled by John Baer, Ed Barkowitz, Les Bowen, Paul Domowitch, Marcus Hayes, Phil Jasner, Dick Jerardi, Mike Kern, Mark Kram, Catherine Lucey, Nate Mink and Daily News staff:

Mayor Nutter: "Philadelphia fans love the Eagles. The Eagles probably have the most vocal fans of any of the various [local] teams and possibly in the entire NFL. Folks are crazy about the Eagles. They're, of course, one of the great football franchises. Their cheer is almost at battle-cry level. I'm a lifelong Philadelphian. I've been watching the Eagles, went to games when they were still playing at Franklin Field. I've enjoyed it the whole time.

Gov. Rendell: "I think there was a feeling in the '90s that we were a football town. But with the emergence of the Phillies and [100-plus] straight sellouts, it became clear that we're more a great sports town. The relationship between our teams and our fans is incredible: the love, concern and fever for the Eagles, and not just in the city but the eastern half of the state. But the theory that we're a football town is wrong. We're just a great sports town with knowledgeable, fervent fans."

State Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery, former judge of Eagles Court: "Every NFL city will tell you that their fans are the most passionate, hardcore, etc. During our time at 'Eagles Court,' I had the opportunity to compare other city's fans . . . Here, in Philadelphia, the fan-misbehavior is legendary. The Eagles' 'lifestyle' doesn't end with the season: tattoos, clothing, home/office/car/motorcycle decorations help the Eagles fan get through the months between the last game and the beginning of training camp. Sure, we have the championship Phillies, our Flyers and Sixers, but it's football that gets Philadelphians hyperventilating, sweaty palms [even in subfreezing weather]. We don't count the days until Christmas, school closing, birthdays, weddings. It's how many days until the first game, the next game. Monday mornings in this city is all based on whether the Eagles won or lost. Job productivity, up or down; road rage or courteous drivers, even the criminal justice system has seen an increase/decrease depending on how the Eagles played. [Who can forget my former colleague, Judge Ronald Merriweather, wearing his Eagles jersey under his robes on Mondays?] On any given football Sunday/Monday, it seems that wherever you go, a place of worship, to the mall or food shopping, the feeling is overwhelming anticipation waiting for that first kickoff. Every city has football fans, but in the Philadelphia region we have Eagles fans."

Jeffrey Lurie, Eagles owner, 1994-present: "The loyalty, the passion, and the thirst for football in this city are second to none. And we've seen that week after week, year after year. On the road, they travel by the thousands. At home, they always provide the 12th man. I have heard from so many fans and they just live and die with this football team. And I'm very proud to be right there with them."

Joe Banner, Eagles president, 1994-present: "It is a passionate love affair. That comes with all the ups, downs and emotions that go with passionate love. The fans realize and appreciate that their team has a great stadium, that the players have state-of-the-art training facilities and that we have been to five [conference] championship games in 10 years. They also realize that we haven't won a Super Bowl in those 10 years and feel the pain and frustration that goes with that."

Andy Reid, Eagles coach, 1999-present: "I think they're the most passionate fans in the National Football League. I think it's been that way for a lot of years. Talk to the 1960 team, they'd tell you the same thing. I've always said that I love bringing other teams in here to experience our fans, 'cause they're gonna welcome 'em like no other city welcomes 'em."

Quintin Mikell, Eagles defensive back, 2003-present: "It's a football town, man. You really feel it, just walking down the streets. Just the feel of the town, the feel of the fans, you can tell it's a football town. It's big on baseball, big on basketball, they've got their championships and their big-name players, but everybody knows when it boils down to it, it's a football town . . . It's just a different feel here. I guess it's the mentality of the people, blue-collar, like, a going-to-work kind of community."

Kevin Kolb, Eagles quarterback, 2007-present: "I think [the relationship] is as tight as anywhere. The one thing that's unique about this place, I think, is that everybody demands a championship. The fans, ourselves, everybody, and that's a good thing. When you desire that, you usually go getcha one."

Pete Retzlaff, Eagles tight end/wide receiver, 1956-66: When we opened against Cleveland in 1960 and got beat at Franklin Field, the headlines read, "Here We Go Again." Two weeks later when we played home again against St. Louis, there were 33,000 people in the stands. We were home the following week against Detroit and drew 38,000. And then we went to Cleveland and upset them in the closing seconds on a field goal by Bobby Walston. When we came back and played Pittsburgh a week later, there were close to 60,000 people at Franklin Field. And they have never looked back! So if I were to pinpoint it, that was when the love affair between the Philadelphia Eagles and the fans began."

Tommy McDonald: Hall of Fame Eagles receiver, 1957-63: "The fans are our 12th man! There are 11 players on the field and then there are the fans. And that is why we keep winning. Because of the Philadelphia F-A-N-S! When we won in 1960, they were our quarterback! If a player needed blood, they would get in line to give to him. When I got here in 1957, I could not believe how devoted the fans in Philadelphia were. Like the Phillies fans are now."

Leo Carlin, Eagles ticket manager, 1964-77, 1980-present: Fevered. I think the Philadelphia football fans are some of the greatest in the country. I began working in the Eagles ticket office on a part-time basis beginning in 1960, so I have been someone who has chance to face the public more than other people. I think it is just a wonderful football town. We have a tradition here that goes way back. That championship year in 1960 was the springboard, and people became more and more interested in the Philadelphia Eagles. The demand for the team is supreme."

Dick Vermeil, Eagles head coach, 1976-82: "I sincerely believe pro football in Philadelphia is the foundation of all the professional sports in the city. It starts there and then blossoms into the Phillies, the Sixers and the Flyers. The foundation of it all is really the Eagles."

Jim Murray, Eagles general manager, 1974-83: "It's a spiritual bond. It transcends sports. And it's all the things that define Philadelphia. It's Tastykakes, it's hoagies, it's scrapple and it's the Mummers. It's what parish you're from, or what high school you went to. It's all the good stuff."

Nick Cammauf, fan from Lancaster: "The attitudes coexist. It's definitely something blue-collar, hard-working. We really root for our teams more than any other city out there. We really support our teams, and if they're not doing well, we let 'em know. If they're doing well, we definitely appreciate that."

Chris McKendry, ESPN anchor and Philadelphia native: "The relationship between Philly fans and football runs from passionate to irrational! And that's a good thing as nobody can care so deeply without a great understanding of the sport and a respect for its history."

Michael Smerconish, radio host, WPHT (1210-AM): "It's like a long, bad marriage where neither party wants a divorce. They occasionally show some love. But more often they argue, sometimes fight, consult lawyers, then make up, and repeat the cycle, but nobody wants out."

Merrill Reese, longtime Eagles play-by-play announcer: "A passionate love affair. While Philadelphia fans love all their teams - the Phillies, the Flyers, the 76ers - there is a deeper, more passionate love among these fans and the Eagles. It's the kind of feeling you can see on a Monday morning when the Eagles have won, as opposed to when they have lost. You can see it on the faces of people all around Center City. If you had just arrived in town and had no idea who won or lost, you could figure it out in 5 minutes. I have felt all my life, as a kid growing up here, with the 1960 championship team of Tommy McDonald, Norm Van Brocklin, Chuck Bednarik and others, then felt it heighten under Dick Vermeil, and it has grown ever since. I have felt it even during lulls, when the team's fortunes sagged, under Marion Campbell, Rich Kotite and the final years under Ray Rhodes. But through it all, the seats have been filled, and at least at the start of every game the fire was there."

David Akers, Eagles kicker, 1999-present; longest-tenured pro athlete in the city: "The city every year just rallies around football season. In the past couple years, it's been a very, very big Phillies push. It's been wonderful to see those guys have so much success. Even with that, if they got 2.5, 3 million people, whatever it was for their trophy ceremony down Broad Street, you just know if that happened with the Lombardi Trophy, it'd be more spectacular, not taking anything away fom the Phillies."

"Eagle" Joe Brown, longtime fan: "Philadelphia is a 'we' town. How many games are we gonna win, coach? Or, why don't do we do this, or why don't we do that. The football team and the city is almost like family. Every Sunday or Monday, Eagles football take precedence over everything."

Shaun Young, Eagles fan aka North Endzone Nightmare: "For many of us, the really hardcore Eagles fans, it's a lifestyle. It's a religion to us. The beauty of football is that it's such a short season. It's once a week you absolutely are champing at the bit from Sunday to Sunday. I look forward to football all year long. I can't go one day without talking to somebody about Eagles football. The passion is almost overwhelming. It's really, other than my family, it's the only thing I have a real hardcore passion for."

Buddy Ryan, Eagles coach, 1986-90: "They've got great fans there. Great, great football fans. They really love their football and their team. It's very similar to Chicago and New York as far as the passion they have for their team. It was great coaching in that town."

Mike Golic, Eagles defensive tackle, 1987-92; now ESPN Radio host: "The want to love the team is there. Philly fans are smart though, and very tough if you are not successful. They want wins and they love blue-collar, tough players. I loved being part of that city when I played there, I felt very accepted."

Suzy Kolber, ESPN NFL reporter from Philadelphia: "Passionate! Philadelphia fans have a certain edge about them and expect players and coaches to carry that same edge, commitment and passion."

Phil Martelli, Saint Joseph's basketball coach: "The fanaticism that I see for the Eagles in this town leads me to believe that there have been some medical coverups in that I'm certain when some of these fans/fanatics have bled their blood has been green and I want to know why it hasn't been reported."

Ike Reese, Eagles linebacker, 1998-2004; now radio host, WIP (610-AM): "In my 12, 13 years of being here, it's a deep, passionate love. I really believe that. It's one of those loves that you can't live without. I don't care whether it be a girlfriend or a wife, how mad she makes you. You know that that she's the one who truly makes you happy ultimately, and ultimately you want to be intertwined together forever, and I think that's how football in Philadelphia is."

John Chaney, Basketball Hall of Famer, former Temple coach: "At one time, I thought we were at an all-time low. I think that we've grown and grown in terms of how fanatical we've become in sports in general, but in football in particular, it is almost like we are attached to it in the strongest way to the point where we become heightened with our anxiety about what should be done. It goes from hot to hot to hot and not from hot to cold. Our emotions are spent and sometimes misspent losing and winning. We find ourselves living on football minute by minute."

Anthony Gargano, host, WIP Radio (610-AM): " 'So sung they, and the empyrean run With Hallelujahs,' Milton once wrote, and couldn't that describe the Linc after an Eagles touchdown? Or Chickie's and Pete's? Or just about any random household in the Delaware Valley? There is an abundance of religious undertones in this relationship. I wrote a book called 'A Sunday Pilgrimage' that chronicled the week leading up to Super Bowl 39, in truth, because I couldn't get a scene out of my mind. Thousands of Eagles fans had flocked to the breezy banks of the St. Johns River and intermittently busted out into song. That had to be the way it happened by the Gasper River in the Second Great Awakening. While Jacksonville by no means doubles as a monastic place, the core of any pilgrimage includes an exalted purpose. I saw those strangers hug and sing together and smile from the heart and that cannot be deemed as some trivial happenstance."

Harold Carmichael, Eagles wide receiver, 1971-83; now director of player development and alumni: "Philadelphia is a passionate city for this game. They're also a passionate people about getting the job done, and doing it the right way. If you don't do it that way, Philadelphia will let you know. I've been in that situation before. I understand their passion. I understand what they expect from their football players."

Mike Quick, Eagles wide receiver, 1982-90; now radio analyst: "It's part of the family. They invest themselves as much as they do in their families. Players know that. They do respond to the people. It always blows my mind."

Ron Jaworski, Eagles quarterback, 1977-86: "I was excited to come to Philadelphia and really find out what a great town it was. I told people I've had my butt booed by 70,000 people, cheered by 70,000 people, many times the same game. You have to understand, they're passionate.I remember people saying, 'They can boo you, but they won't let anyone else boo you.'I was one of their own. Now, as time moves on, I really understand how these people take ownership not only of football, but the teams in town in general. Football is different because I think it's representative of the hard-nose, tough kind of town Philadelphia is. And people love effort and energy. Not that they accept losing, but they'll deal with losing as long as they see great effort."

Ray Didinger, Comcast SportsNet; former Daily News columnist: "I've always felt the relationship between the Philadelphia fans and the Eagles is that of a family because it is so tied to ritual. Unlike the other teams, the Eagles play once a week and people plan their lives around it. I believe the fans love the Eagles in the same way they love a family member; that is, they get upset when they disappoint them, they get angry and tell them off, but they never abandon them because, in the end, the Eagles still are family and a very real part of who they are."

Mike Missanelli, radio host, The Fanatic (97.5-FM): "I would describe the relationship between Philadelphia, the fans, and football as something like marrying your junior high school girlfriend. You know them so well and you love them so much that that familiarity can breed equal parts of over-the-top passion and depths-of-hell hate. The fan has expectations for the team, just like a husband or wife have expectations for each other, and when those expectations fall short, it makes us miserable. We don't know anything else but the conditioned response of the fall sports season and the Eagles' pursuit of an actual championship, which bounces from high to low, from week to week. And thrown into this caldron of emotion is this concept that our team is owned and run by outsiders who don't get us. It is a strange dynamic: We love the team, but we don't quite trust the owners of the team who don't seem to get us at all and who apparently don't realize that though they pay the bills and take the financial risk, they simply hold the team in trust. If we didn't have an Eagles football season, there would be a void in this city that couldn't never be filled. And yet, along with that joy is also an unavoidable misery."

Pete Ciarrocchi, owner of Chickie's & Pete's: "I look at just the way my restaurants get crowded and the way people talk about that one game for days before and days after. You schedule your day - your kids' school stuff - around the game. Sundays are football. No matter what else we have going on, football owns Sundays. It brings life to a slow day."

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