New Philadelphia Eagles Lead Writer, Jesse Edelman, Explains Where His Passion Began….Veterans Stadium
When you got to the 700 level at Veterans Stadium, you knew the deal. You could smell the urine in the air, and usually see it on the ground too. Growing up, this was a Philadelphian’s birthright, their sanctuary. Something was lost in the relocation to somewhere newer, somewhere shinier across the street. But this isn’t about what ails Lincoln Financial Field. This is about Veterans Stadium, its famed goons that filled the upper level, and a kid’s first real taste of the beautiful madness that it truly was.
The drive down to Veterans Stadium was a solid 40 minutes from our house in Northeast Philadelphia. It was December 31, 2000 and it was absolutely freezing. It had been almost a full year since the earth survived an almost catastrophic Y2K crisis. The Eagles were in the playoffs for the first time in four years, facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Wild Card game.
I had been to the Vet before, but mostly for the Phillies. I was excited for the game but more so for the New Years party my friends and I would be going to after the game. My Dad on the other hand, was going crazy. He had sports radio on in the car at high volume, and when he’s not screaming at a caller for voicing their opinions, he’s telling me all these stories about the Eagles history. From multiple owners running the team into the ground, to having the number one defense in the league and dismantling the Cowboys in the 1980 NFC Championship only to lose to the Raiders in Super Bowl XV two weeks later, to having an elite all-time defense along with star QB Randall Cunningham and no offensive line. There were tons of anecdotes, and he was rattling them off quickly, with all the passion and crazed intensity you’d expect from a championship-starved Philadelphian.
Our fans have always been considered rabid, crazy, and downright rude, and this evening would be no different. Once we parked, the drunks surrounded us. They were everywhere. Shirtless goons with their faces painted. Meanwhile, I’m wearing at least four layers of clothing and two pairs of socks.
Each step closer to the stadium, the louder and crazier it was. I remember the uneasy feeling I had walking in amongst pure chaos. Right before we entered the stadium, my Dad walked us over to a guy selling bootleg jerseys. Dad was attempting to school me on this multi-faceted and incredibly difficult decision, when I interrupted him. “Number five,” I said. Naturally, this is a decision many kids would have made. An older, wiser version of myself screams “go with 20, kid!” FS Brian Dawkins, a future-Hall of Famer, was a fierce leader on the defense. But there was a level of excitement in the stadium that hadn’t been felt since Reggie White left for Green Bay. That excitement was largely in part to the play of sophomore QB Donovan McNabb.
Drafted the year before, 2nd overall, the dynamic McNabb lit up the league in 2000, with 3,365 passing yards and 21 touchdowns, and also added 629 rushing yards and six more touchdowns. He finished 2nd in MVP voting behind RB Marshall Faulk, and above RB Eddie George, QBs Rich Gannon, Peyton Manning and LB Ray Lewis. The young and athletic McNabb was fearless; he could scramble around the pocket for days and make you pay with his legs or his arm.
The Bucs were loaded on defense. Led by defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, (originator of the vaunted Tampa Cover 2), they fielded an impressive four Hall of Famers in DE Warren Sapp, LB Derrick Brooks, CB Ronde Barber and SS John Lynch.
When we finally arrived at our seats, it was time. On this particular day, our section had the overwhelming aroma of vomit. The game was a mid-afternoon start, and many an amateur drinker had started in the wee morning hours. Despite the first quarter being a defensive slugfest and devoid of points or even much offensive yardage, the crowd was rocking and downright rude. Both teams managed just four first downs and just 91 yards of total offense. I heard disparaging remarks about many players and their families, especially DE Warren Sapp, QB Shaun King, and head coach Tony Dungy.
The second quarter started off with much of the same: a quick three and out for the Eagles. The Bucs, finally awake, drove the field with a combination of their talented runners, Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn, and their star wideout Keyshawn Johnson. Martin Gramatica opened the scoring with a 29-yard field goal to put the visitors ahead 3-0. Another stalled drive from the Eagles stagnant offense, and you could hear the crowd change. Doubt crept into the fans minds. The Eagles needed a spark, and fast. The Bucs got the ball back and after an early first down, our defense woke up. Two tackles for loss, stuffing the run easily, setting up for a 3rd and 19. Shaun King dropped back and was crushed by Hugh Douglas, coughing up the ball deep in their own territory. Noted first-round bust DE Mike Mamula was there to scoop it up. The Eagles had life, and the crowd was louder than I had ever heard it at the time.
From there, McNabb took matters in to his own hands, or legs I should say. Two runs from McNabb and the Birds were in the endzone. Touchdown, 7-3. The tides clearly turned, as the Bucs quickly punted and the Eagles were in business again. They found their offense, embarking on a 69-yard eight play drive culminating in a 5-yard touchdown pass to WR Na Brown. It was at this point, the rest of the game became a blur.
By then, the crowd surrounding us was completely done for. None of the stuff people were saying even made sense at that point, nor was it even considered English. I’m not one to celebrate institutionalized alcoholism, but the game was amazing. The Bucs would never get rolling again. We tacked on another touchdown, bringing the score to 21-3.
Much was made about the Bucs’ woeful record playing in the cold. At the end of this game, they would fall to 0-20 when temperatures dropped under 40. Unfortunately, many Eagles fans know this goose egg was vanquished in the 2002 NFC Championship game, the final football game at Veterans Stadium, and what some would say, the Eagles best shot at a Super Bowl in the McNabb era.
The absolute best part of this game was right before the half, one of the goons sitting next to us somehow got his foot lodged in between the chair and could not free himself. When we got back from our halftime concession run, he was still stuck. When the game ended and the crowd poured out into the South Philadephia night, he was still stuck. I really hope they freed him by the time they imploded Veterans Stadium four years later, but who knows.
I am proud to be the new Philadelphia Eagles lead writer for Double G Sports. I look forward to the upcoming season, no matter whom Cleveland takes with our 1st overall pick next year.
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