By Nicholas Leo
TAMPA, Fla — Four hours before Monday Night Football kicked off, Philadelphia Eagles fans stormed into steaming hot parking lots from across the country to do what they so often do: Make an opponents stadium look like South Broad Street.
The flood of green could be seen making small talk of visiting the same shore towns, recognizing hometown shirts and chanting ‘E-A-G-L-E-S’ even more often than at the Linc. Buccaneers fans, almost seemingly more impressed than annoyed, look on with smiles awaiting the matchup of two undefeated teams.
Kyle Kahlbom’s flight from Washington D.C. was cancelled, so he decided to take a $200 Uber to Trenton, NJ to catch a different flight to Tampa. His childhood friends Dan and Jesse Woods awaited his arrival, they’d moved to Tampa from Cape May Court House, NJ with their family 25 years ago, and have been representing midnight green ever since.
“We were at the playoff game in 2022 vs [Tom] Brady, Jesse was wearing the dog mask. We were talking shit about Brandon Graham to the Brady fans,” Dan Woods said about the Eagles loss two years ago.
Another pair of New Jersey natives that moved out-of-state in 2015 have since been trying to flock to an Eagles game every year. Cole B. went to a Birds win in Chicago, the 2017 NFC Championship vs the Vikings, and came to Tampa looking for redemption for a Thursday night loss to the Bucs he attended years ago.
“We were leaving the hotel tonight, a five-year-old kid walked into the lobby and said to his dad, ‘Man there’s a lot of Eagles shirts’,” Cole B said. “I turned to the kid and said, ‘Yea, it’s a home game tonight!’”
Being a New Jersey born-and-raised Eagles fan, it truly felt like home. My initial ‘where you from?’ being answered “Outside Philadelphia”, no matter if they lived in South Jersey or Allentown; like true fans that wish they were from the city they love to root for.
Sean Lickers, born in Buffalo, NY, moved to northeast Pennsylvania at the ripe age of 10. Even though at seven-years-old he was watching ‘The Juice’ O.J. Simpson rush for 200 yards live for his Bills, he quickly converted to an Eagles fan.
“I was way up there in between the Pittsburgh and Scranton area. And the man who owned the bowling alley that I used to hang out at was a die-hard Eagles fan with season tickets for over 20 years,” Lickers said.
Now an Eagles fan for the majority of his life, Lickers made the move to Tampa Bay in 2017; the very year he became a Snow Bird, the Eagles would win their first Super Bowl.
“This is my first Eagles game I’ve been to since I gave up my season tickets in ‘05,” Lickers said.
The night would end with hometown fans in attendance being subjected to Philadelphians’ belligerent ribbing, as the Bucs struggled to capitalize off Eagles turnovers and had a handful of their own. In a game that never felt close, the Eagles secured the victory over Tampa Bay 25-11.
Jalen Hurts went 23-37 throwing for 277 yards in the primetime matchup, with A.J. Brown hauling in nine receptions for a game-high 131 yards. Baker Mayfield threw for 146 yards, including one interception and one touchdown pass to Mike Evans.
The turning point in the game came just before halftime, in a manageable 10-3 game for the Buccaneers following a Mayfield interception, Devin White came up with an interception of his own on a miscommunication between Hurts and Deandre Swift, returning the ball to near midfield.
With thirty-nine seconds left and an opportunity for Tampa to tie the game before the half, Eagles rookie Jalen Carter forced a Mayfield fumble on a first down sack, the ball being recovered by Tampa. Carter would follow that up by punching the ball out of Rachaad White’s hands the next play, this time giving Philadelphia possession of the ball with twenty-four seconds left in the half.
For most teams playing at home, this would suck the life out of the stadium and quiet the crowd. Not this crowd. The energy of the stadium wasn’t lost, but transformed. Eagles kicker Jake Elliot would put one through the uprights as the half expired, and one could feel the hope that the Bucs once had was now stored in overly confident and drunken Eagles fans’ smiles of glee.
The second half was played at a slower pace, with 40 rush attempts between two backs and Jalen Hurts, if Philadelphia’s initial game plan wasn’t to run the ball down Tampa’s throat, they made a change. Deandre Swift’s 130 rushing yards with an average of eight yards per carry stands out, as it tripled what the entire Bucs team rushed for.
The epitome of the Bucs’ night can be expressed in a two-play sequence that unfolded with just under four minutes left in the third quarter. After Tampa’s second interception off Hurts, this time saving an Eagles touchdown at the one-yard line, they were driven back into their own endzone for a safety on the very next play.
For a second I thought I was in Philadelphia, imagining the ringing bells as the crowd around me sang the Eagles fight song a capella.
Philadelphia head coach Nick Sirianni would make his way into the crowd following the victory, shaking hands and high-fiving with the crowd, acknowledging the effect of their presence.
“This was a home game,” Sirianni told the crowd.