I had been awaiting this past Sunday since the schedules came out: Eagles vs. Panthers in Charlotte, a mere hour and a half from my home in Greensboro. I had talked to a bunch of friends to see who was in, but by the time I realized I had to go the StubHub route and pay a little more for the tickets than the casual fans were thinking, it just ended up being me and my boy Ian heading down the road.
I picked him up just past 8am to get down to the lot around 9:30 to begin tailgating. IT was the perfect day for it--low 80s, sunny day... I was reminded that football season is the most wonderful time of the year. We pulled into the lot next to some boisterous Carolina fans who feigned disgust at my Eagles attire but were quite soon wonderful hosts. We acknowledged that this is one of the most wonderful days of the year, football was back, and at least for the time being, both of our teams were undefeated. They were down from Kernersville (not too far from where I live). On my other side, up pulled a couple more Eagles fans who had made the trip down from Virginia Beach. Our plot was just me, Ian, and soon my boy James who lives in Charlotte and came over to hang out, but very quickly us and our two neighbors were one group. Such is the neighborhood of tailgating.
While I came to love sports up north, I came to love tailgating in the south. I'd like to think I put out a pretty decent spread nowadays--I've gotten pretty methodical about packing up the ol' Honda Civic, I've got a nice assortment of foldable chairs, and even added a pop-up tent to the array. I've also graduated beyond mere burgers and dogs and started throwing a few more things on the grill. This time around some more creative things on the grill. This time around featured skewers with steak, shrimp, and peppers in addition to the burgers and dogs.
That said, I can readily admit that this here Yankee is still an amateur. Our Panthers fan neighbors had perhaps THE best ribs I've ever tasted--I watched them fall off the bone on the grill--as well as some amazing potato salad. And there was no fancy equipment involved either. They had a propane grill about the same size as my Old Faithful charcoal one that's been seeing tailgates since grad school at USF. These guys just knew what the hell they were doing, and again, we were all generous with the food. I aspire to be that guy with the awesome food at the tailgate one of these days.
Eventually, it was game time, and we packed up and headed up to the stadium. It was a fairly short walk from our lot; it was probably longer once we got into the stadium and trudged our way up to section 548, row 26. There was actually a pretty sizable Eagles contingent both in the lots and in our section and elsewhere throughout the stadium, so while we were clearly the road team, it felt like a bit of home. It was nice to have enough folks to strike up a rousing chorus of "Fly Eagles Fly" after each score.
And score we did, with no small help from the Panthers themselves. Eagles won easily 38-10, with the vast majority of those points coming off of turnovers--5 INTs and 3 fumbles accounted for 28 points, if I remember correctly. It got to the point where the Panthers fans were booing Jake Delhomme (wait, I thought only we Philly fans boo our own?) and the loudest cheers of the day came when his backup trotted out to lead an offensive series. Overall it was an enjoyable game to be an Eagles fan, save for injury to McNabb.
I heard tell from a coworker of mine that someone on a local radio show was talking about how he saw firsthand how rude the legendary Philly phanbase is, but honestly, I didn't see it. I did see a couple Eagles fans being escorted out by the police (which evoked, I'll admit, cheers of E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES! from the Eagles fans in the surrounding area) but I saw the same with some Panthers fans. I think there was plenty loud, boisterous support, and maybe we didn't cower as much as we should have in an opposing team's stadium, but at least from where I was sitting--and our area was pretty evenly mixed, so there was plenty of opportunity for interaction between Eagles and Panthers fans--I didn't witness any assholian behavior.
I will say however, that got DAMN we can be annoying. Yes, we pretty much outnumbered the Panthers fans by the time the game was over, but there only so many E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES!! chants that are necessary.
All in all, though, helluva day. If only I could make it happen more often...