It’s trendy now for media blowhards to downplay the impact of Eagles fans; to wave a ream of nerdy analytics suggesting home field edge isn’t worth a fig in the land of midnight green.
Don’t you believe it. The Eagles have many advantages going into this NFC title game against the Minnesota Vikings. Somewhere on that checklist – just behind a sturdy offensive line and an innovative, ballsy head coach – are the 68,000 ear-piercing zealots who will rattle Lincoln Financial Field under a sliver of a moon Sunday night.
“It’s tough on opponents in a hostile environment, and that’s what Philly is,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said last week. “It’s been a great advantage for us over the course of the year, and it’s not just the players on the field.”
Indeed it isn’t. One of the great storylines of this glorious season has been the role of those fans, who are too often falsely dismissed as inebriated, inarticulate louts. They’ve roared steadily through nine home games, helping spur 23 opponent pre-snap penalties (5th highest in the league). They’ve conquered stadiums in LA (twice) and the Meadowlands, even drawing praise from arch-enemy Eli Manning.
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This is a town belittled for booing our own, but I can’t cite more than a handful of times the natives grew caustic this season. Of course, 13-3 tends to help.
It’s tough to quantify cause and effect, but consider this: In eight road games this season, the Eagles defense allowed 21.8 points per game. In their nine home games to date, that dropped to a miserly 12.2 points per game.
Similarly, the Eagles allowed 50 fewer yards per game at the Linc than on the road. Visiting QB ratings tumbled 10 points, and RBs averaged nearly a yard less per carry.
Fletcher Cox, Malcolm Jenkins and the other guys actually paid to put on their jerseys every week deserve the bulk of the credit. But don’t ever discount the role of the people who sit up high and holler.
“When the place is rocking, you feel it,” said tight end Brent Celek, the Eagles longest-tenured player. “Yes, the fans can influence the game. No question.”
There’s been a foolish attempt in Minnesota to recruit Vikings fans to come to this game. One travel agent who sounded like a male version of Sarah Palin issued a warning, however, telling visiting Mud Ducks not to wear purple.
“I know it sounds ridiculous,” said Ticket King’s Drew Baydala, “like we’re almost talking about gangs there, but it’s no joke down in Philly. It really isn’t.”
Well, I don’t foresee those extras from Fargo getting assaulted Sunday. That stereotype of us as violent Visigoths is largely folk lore. But I do foresee any Minnesotan on site shrinking while surrounded by 68,000 leather-lunged maniacs. And I believe that creates a genuine advantage for the good guys.
Oh, and I also foresee this: Eagles win, 17-14.