In no way did Eagles players take with a grain of salt the impact of the fans on gameday, but until last season they just always knew the faithful would pack Lincoln Financial Field in full throat, ready to have the greatest day. Every week it was a party, a highly fueled afternoon or evening of laying it all on the line for their favorite football team. It was controlled bedlam and, if you were a first-time visitor, it could change your life, or at least leave your ears ringing for days.
That's just the way it always was, every gameday.
Until it wasn't.
Last year's mostly empty Lincoln Financial Field was a product of a global pandemic that left all of us wanting. Filling up sections of the stadium with cardboard cutouts of the fans was a good attempt -- it raised over $260,000 for the Eagles Autism Foundation -- but, the truth is, the fans were still and just not full of life (joke intended). On Sunday, for the first time since the Eagles played Seattle in early January 2020, Lincoln Financial Field will be filled to the gills with fans wearing Midnight Green and White. It's going to be loud, rowdy, and perfect.
"It will be a packed house, a game full of fans, electric fans and passionate fans," quarterback Jalen Hurts said. "I'm looking forward to it."
Aren't we all?
The theme for Sunday's game is Welcome Back because, well, we truly mean it. South Philadelphia just wasn't the same without the fans in 2020. Whether it was a quiet Training Camp or the listless games, the lack of energy was impactful on the Eagles last season. The players just didn't feel it, not that was any excuse for a 4-11-1 campaign. Eagles fans have a remarkable way of expressing themselves in good times and in times that are not so good, and the players appreciate it.
Truly, they need it. No doubt they appreciate it.
"I'm hyped for the fans," cornerback Darius Slay said. "I like to connect with fans and have a relationship and I couldn't do that last year. Being new to the team (the Eagles traded for Slay in March 2020), I wanted to get to know the fans, but I couldn't do that. I want to hear them and everything they have to say."
Two preseason games were solid tests for the new Eagles, but those games are nothing like the real thing. Fortunately, the team had a chance to experience the thrill of a road victory with throngs of Eagles fans in attendance last week in Atlanta, a true teaser for how the crowd will react.
"It was great to see the fans in Atlanta," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said. "You could just see all the green in the stands; they were yelling for us. It was awesome to hear the Eagles chant near the end of that game. It was really cool. So, I look forward to when the entire stadium is all Eagles fans. I know it's a great place to play, a great atmosphere. It's a great advantage for us. I know what we have to go through when we're on the road and I know the fans when we go on the road aren't nearly the type of fans we have, so I know the headaches it creates for opposing offenses when they come into the Linc, so I look forward to being on this side of it on Sunday."
The tailgaters will line up early in the morning and friendships and family traditions will be renewed, a glorious side story to what is happening on the field between two 1-0 teams. Generations of Eagles fans have treated the parking lots as holy shrines to enjoy a Sunday morning feast on the way into the ballgame. A season-long interruption won't dampen the enthusiasm in any way.
For the players, the energy boost will be very real.
"I think it's natural to feed off the crowd," linebacker Alex Singleton said. "I know I missed them last year. Before I started playing in the defense, most of my time came on special teams, in kick coverage, and I always made it a point to run down the field and wave like crazy to the fans to get them riled up. Our defense was going on the field and I know that the home team's defense loves it when the fans are so into it like they are here.
"Last year, there were no fans to rile up. I missed it all so much. We all did. It's going to be such a great feeling hearing the fans going wild on Sunday. Everybody missed it. We can't wait to get juiced from their energy."