The following is an excerpt from Cody Benjamin’s “The Eagles Notebook,” on sale now:
It was Week 3 of that 2005 season in which I first got the tastes of those incomparable addictions of an Eagles game day. Randy Moss was in town with the Oakland Raiders, and I was tagging along a fan-bus trip to the Linc for the first of many Eagles game experiences. It was still early in my transformation to follower of all things Eagles, but it didn’t take long to notice the frenetic atmosphere.
Seeing grown men go wild in the parking lots and even more so in the stadium at first seemed odd but almost immediately became a thrill. It didn’t matter whether you were tossing the pigskin, grilling food hours before kickoff or just minding your own business. If you had a semblance of Eagles apparel or were at least associated with someone who did, you became an instant part of a family. A family of thousands that, win or lose, was going to stand alongside you, pouring its heart into a team with a mirroring reputation.
Those vibes carried well beyond that September afternoon, which ended on a fittingly scrappy note with a game-winning field goal by an injured David Akers. They drove me to learn more about the Eagles, to learn more about the game they played. And as the weeks, months and years went on, the hunger quickly reached the point where I could easily have been mistaken for one of the countless parking-lot fanatics to whom I’d recently been introduced.
The following year, the Eagles were on the brink of an improbable winning streak under the guidance of Donovan McNabb’s injury replacement, Jeff Garcia, when I simply couldn’t get enough of the team.
Still in elementary school, I had a bedtime. It was loosely enforced, but the restriction was in full effect toward the end of Philadelphia’s Dec. 4 Monday Night Football game against the Carolina Panthers.
Summoned to my room while the game was on the line, the Eagles needing a win to avoid their third straight defeat and keep any playoff hopes alive, I couldn’t fathom falling asleep without knowing the team’s fate. My team’s fate. And so I did what I had to do.
A slight hum of the TV was still apparent from downstairs, where my parents remained. In my room, however, Operation Covert Eagle was just getting underway.
With all the lights out, I crept across my floor on hands and knees, feeling my way to a boombox perched on a small stool across the room. Careful not to cause any floor creaks as I moved, I eventually reached the radio and, with the volume all but muted, scoured the airwaves for the Eagles broadcast.
When I finally stumbled upon the play-by-play voice of Merrill Reese, barely audible in my pitch-black room but still as rich as ever, it was as if the Eagles had already won. Now fully sprawled on the floor in front of the radio, my ear almost literally pinned to its speakers, I breathed a sigh of relief – one laced with some conglomeration of excitement and nervousness.
At one point during the remainder of the game, I feared the bedtime adventure would have to be called off. The subtle rumble of footsteps echoed as someone came upstairs and presumably went to bed in the room across from mine. There was no backup plan – no smartphone to check game updates, no portable radio to take the broadcast under the blankets. Maybe, just maybe, I had to let the Eagles go.
Fingers at the ready on the radio’s volume knob, I eased on and off control of Reese’s voice, determined to fight through the home stretch of this crucial game. Eventually, the threat of being exposed was overshadowed by the threat of the Panthers coming back to derail an Eagles victory and, ultimately, what would become a magical run to the postseason.
When Lito Sheppard intercepted an end zone pass to Carolina’s Keyshawn Johnson to wrap up Philly’s win, Reese’s roaring excitement, no matter how quiet it may have sounded coming from my muffled broadcast, was the culmination of one heck of a night with the Philadelphia Eagles. I was convinced I needed to stick with the team that Monday night, and I couldn’t have been more glad I did.