In all of football there's no stadium more reviled than Veterans Stadium, home of the Philadelphia Eagles for the past 32 seasons. It smells like aging sauerkraut. Acid rain spews from its pipes. Your sidewalk is softer than the Vet's shiny plastic turf. The Eagles' faithful will hurl anything at visiting teams: invective, snowballs, one another.
The vet is a hole, all right. And we're going to miss it.
On Sunday the Eagles played their last regular-season game at the Vet (page 42). As the team stormed out of its dank tunnel before the start of the sold-out meeting with the Washington Redskins, some of the players pointed their taped fingers way up to the stadium's rafters, to the 700 level, a place where running the faucet while urinating in the sink is considered common courtesy. "You wanna get those guys involved early because they set the tone for the entire stadium," says Eagles linebacker Ike Reese. "You're ahead before you've played your first down."
In the name of progress the blue-collar joes in the 700 level—15 or so rows that ring the stadium like the third circle of hell—are being left behind by the team and the city and the NFL. Never mind that all three will be much poorer without them. At halftime on Sunday members of the 700 club stood in a puddly corridor, flicking cigarette stubs in the direction of Lincoln Financial Field, rising to the south. The Eagles' new home looks shiny, airy, clean. The field will be grass. But will there be a single nosebleed season ticket at the Linc for $300? Not even close.
Neither will there be peepholes from the visitors' locker room into the Eagles' cheerleaders' changing room, as there were for a while at the Vet. Never again will an Eagles preseason football game be canceled because the artificial turf is deemed too uneven and hazardous. It is unlikely that Eagles fans will ever again celebrate a career-ending injury, as they did during an October game three years ago while Michael Irvin of the Cowboys, a despised player on a despised team, lay still on the concrete turf. Visiting teams will probably like coming to the Line. Everything's going to hell.
"The new place?" Don Wilson, a green-chested, bare-chested 700-level denizen said during the Eagles' Sunday win, which earned Philadelphia the NFC East title and assured the Eagles at least one home playoff game. "I'm against it. You don't got cheap seats, you don't got real fans."
We have the same worry as Wilson: the death of passion. Throughout the 700 level you see overweight white men wearing Eagles jerseys, the names of exceedingly fit black men stenciled across their backs: MCNABB, STALEY, VINCENT. Transistor radios are common; cellphones are not. Who would they call? Everybody's there.
When a fight breaks out in the 700 level, a dozen security guys in their yellow windbreakers converge at once. It adds to the spectacle. You always see a few Eagles craning their necks, watching the action from the sideline of the real game. "We treat each other politely," says Bob Costa, a 700 habitue. "It's opposing fans we treat with contempt." The players operate by the same principle.
No Eagle, player or coach, is shedding a tear for the final days of the Vet. The Phillies must play one more season there, but the football people want out of the dump. Yet for now the dump is the best thing the Eagles have going for them. They're 11-3 for the year, 7-1 at home. Late in the game on Sunday, in the highest row of the 700 level, a fan held up a bedsheet in the weak December dusk: ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE. Sure, Eagles fans once booed Santa. This year, all wistful, they're making nice.