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Eagles fans are as tough as they come

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2002

TAMPA -- Perhaps only a handful of games are more important in Dave Moore's career than Saturday's Bucs-Eagles NFC wild-card game in Philadelphia, only about an hour or so from where he grew up in New Jersey. There certainly isn't a bigger one this season.

Yet the family of the Bucs tight end won't be making the trip. If it were New York or Chicago or just about anywhere else, they would go.

But not Philadelphia.

"My parents went to our playoff game there last year and they said they would never go back," Moore said. "Fans were throwing stuff, pushing my father around and throwing all their garbage on their truck because they had Bucs stickers on it. Nothing too bad, but they don't want to deal with it because it's a hassle."

There are few places around the league more unwelcome for visiting teams -- and fans -- than Philadelphia. The Eagles were only 4-4 at Veterans Stadium this season, but went 3-1 after October. In the playoffs, they are 7-3 all-time at home and have won their past two there.

Two things usually unravel visiting teams in Philadelphia: fans and weather. Together, they make for an unsettling mix.

Eagles fans are among the most rowdy and intimidating in the NFL. They can be brutal, even toward their own team, but can be especially caustic toward visitors, heckling opposing teams throughout the game.

It's not unusual for them to greet the opposing team's bus at the stadium with insults and other verbal barbs. And leaving the field, especially after an Eagles loss, can be unpleasant.

"They'll show up whether you're winning or losing," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "They're going to be there. They're going to voice their opinion, and they're going to let you know they're in the stands. They do a heck of a job with that."

Rowdiness has become so commonplace at the Vet that a holding cell and courtroom were built beneath the stadium to deal with fans who get out of hand.

"We played up there in the regular season once and (the fans) really didn't seem like a big deal," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. "But last year when (the Eagles) were rolling a little bit, they definitely influenced the energy in the stadium."

If the fans don't rattle visiting teams, the weather sometimes does. Temperatures this time of year are usually near freezing. Snow or sleet is not uncommon, making footing tricky and passing an adventure.

In essence, it can be enough of a distraction to take a visiting team, especially one from a warm-weather climate, out of its game.

Plus, the Vet's playing surface traditionally has been one of the least favorite around the league. Even though the surface has been improved -- "artificial field turf," a playing surface similar to the one at Tropicana Field was installed -- the field is still considered unusually hard, a condition that can be exaggerated by frigid conditions.

Playing there isn't expected to get easier, either. The Eagles are scheduled to move into a new stadium in 2003 that is structurally designed to be louder and move fans closer to the field.

"The fans are always going to be loud," Eagles defensive end Hugh Douglas said, "and they're always going to be rowdy."

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