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Stadium won't change much

The Eagles have moved to the posh new Lincoln Financial Field, but it's still in Philadelphia and fans won't roll out the welcome mat for the Bucs.

ROGER MILLS
Published September 6, 2003

PHILADELPHIA - It is here, in one of America's oldest cities, that one of the greatest mysteries remains unsolved.

How is it that, in a place that gave us the Constitution and the Liberty Bell, a place called the City of Brotherly Love, pro football fans can be so intolerable, so hostile, so downright mean?

Somewhere, deeply embedded in the city's roughly 325-year past may lie an explanation, but it is nothing Philly fans want, nor care, to know.

When you come to Philadelphia to play any of its sports teams, and particularly the Eagles, you're in for some hostility. And these days, when you wear the colors of the Bucs, you're a primary target.

"The Bucs have already surpassed the Redskins and are right behind the Giants when it comes to our most hated rivals," said Rich O'Donnell, a Philadelphia resident and Eagles fan all 40 years of his life. "You're talking about the team that knocked us out of the Super Bowl. You're talking about the team that has Warren Sapp and Keyshawn Johnson."

In recent years, as both franchises climbed to the NFL summit, the rivalry between the Bucs and Eagles has taken on a life of its own. The teams have played six games the past four seasons (the Eagles have a 4-2 edge), three of them in the playoffs, and they will open their 2003 seasons Monday night in Philadelphia.

The defending Super Bowl champions against the team they knocked off to get to the Super Bowl. Coincidence? Probably not.

"I think the more competitive the (NFC) gets, the more you have that type of situation," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "Sure, these are two teams that enjoy playing each other and look forward to it, and I think it makes for a pretty good game to watch."

Still reeling from the 27-10 loss to the Bucs in the NFC Championship Game on Jan.19, the Eagles and their fans want a piece of the Bucs, real bad.

"I've been preparing for this game ever since the schedule came out," Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said. "You use it as a little motivational factor. You use it to probably get your other teammates fired up. You use it for some jokes. You use it for everything. But you don't have to get fired up to play Monday night against Tampa Bay. That's something that you should already have in you."

But in Philadelphia, one indignity lingers. The Bucs' win not only propelled Tampa Bay to the title game, but it also served as a funeral for Veterans Stadium, the Gothic symbol of Eagles fans' intolerance that will close after the Phillies season.

"That's one that'll be hard to forget," said Bob Tarr, a 22-year veteran transit police officer for SEPTA, the city's transit authority. "This game is about redemption for that."

Now, the Eagles move next door to the new Lincoln Financial Field, a $512-million facility (officially opened Aug.3) with all the amenities that come with such a price tag.

Gone is the ragged artificial turf that claimed so many careers. Gone are the critters known to live and thrive in and around the old stadium. Gone are the narrow concourses, the limited luxury suits and the limited bathroom stalls.

True, Lincoln Financial Field is posh. But don't think for a second - the time it takes to hurl a snowball from the top concourse to the field - that its opening is an indication of a more refined client base.

"I know that does happen in a lot of places," Bucs safety John Lynch said. "But you come into Raymond James Stadium and I don't know if you necessarily see that change. You see a lot more Buc fans than in the old (stadium). People say that (in Philadelphia) they are not going to have that (notorious) 700 section. But they'll find a way. We'll see. It'll be interesting. They're (still) Philly fans. You bump into them in the street, they're going to have something to say. It's no different."

Out with the blue-collar workers, in with the corporate executives? Nothing could be further from the truth.

"I get really annoyed with that concept because it's inaccurate, at least as it applies to our move from the Vet," Eagles president Joe Banner said. "You've got a significantly more intimate environment, with the exact same fans and season ticket holders, and a structure that should actually create more noise and keep more noise in the building than you had at the Vet."

Eagles executives swear that the ferocious nature of Joe Philly Fan, that beer-swigging, verbally abusing, foreign-object throwing supporter who made any visit to the Vet a good time to renew a life insurance policy, will not be tempered in the new facility.

"It's definitely upscale," cornerback Bobby Taylor said. "There are nice suites, lounges, seeing the way the locker rooms are set up, it's definitely upscale, but I think our fan base is going to stay the same. Philadelphia is Philadelphia."

Architects of the new stadium made two changes the Bucs will be first to notice. They brought the fans closer to the field - about 60 feet closer - and they put in real grass.

"I think we'll have great homefield advantage in Philadelphia, always have," tight end Chad Lewis said. "Whether it's in the Vet or the parking lot. People are going to come ready to go, and with the field being even closer I think it's a great football atmosphere."

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