PHILADELPHIA – Kick-off for the Eagles-Giants NFC playoff game was still eight hours away early Saturday afternoon.
But many fans already had begun their pregame revelry, though most parking lots surrounding Lincoln Financial Field hadn’t yet opened.
Wells Fargo Center spaces across the street already were filling, with some clever and particularly devoted Eagles rooters finding a unique way to get a head start.
“We bought tickets to the Wings so we could get in the parking lot,” said Wilmington resident Brian DiPasqualantonio, referring to Philadelphia’s National Lacrosse League team that had a 1 p.m. game inside the Wells Fargo Center.
That meant he and brother John could start tailgating at 10:30 a.m. rather than three hours later after picking up friend Wyatt Jacobs at the airport. He flew in from Nashville, Tennessee. The trio planned to use those tickets only if they needed to go inside and warm up or maybe use the bathrooms.
Brian DiPasqualantonio’s pregame confidence that the No. 1-seeded Eagles could beat their division rivals for the third time this year was tinged slightly with a chronic sense of dread.
“Look back on history,” he said, referring to several recent home playoff defeats and those back-to-back NFC title game losses at the Linc 20 years ago.
Temperatures in the low 40s, gray skies and a brisk wind made for a chilly environment. Eagles flags that flew at many gatherings flapped briskly.
Fans wore several layers to stay warm and imbibed in a variety of beverages to aid in that effort.
Donald Buono also had purchased Wings tickets to secure his space behind Xfinity Live. His set-up included an arcade-type video game, which caught the eyes of passersby Sharee Ivory and Jeanene Hill.
With Hill’s Eagles earrings and Ivory’s lipstick and hair in various shades of the Eagles’ midnight green hues, they certainly attracted attention, too.
“We don’t have tickets but we love the Eagles,” said Ivory, who hoped that by the end of the afternoon the ticket situation might change.
Two fans nearby had undergone pregame makeovers, though Gene Olewnik, a south Philadelphia native now living in Hellertown, Pennsylvania, hadn’t quite completed the green and silver paint job on his face.
“I’m gonna be writing ‘Super Bowl repeat’ on here,” he said.
“I’ve been painting my face every home game since 1980 and it’s a different face every game. It’s never the same.”
His friend Jeremy Smith of the Port Richmond section of the city had dyed his beard green. Both were confident the Eagles would prevail and repeat their 2017-18 Super Bowl run.
“This is just a steppingstone,” Olewnik said. “I don’t see anything stopping them.”
Smith predicted a 34-17 Birds win.
That type of optimism was rather rampant, despite the Eagles losing two regular-season games with MVP-candidate Jalen Hurts out with an injury before the quarterback returned for a win over the Giants in the regular-season finale two weeks ago. But the Giants already had clinched their playoff spot and rested their regulars that day, then upset No. 3-seeded Minnesota in the wild-card round.
After driving from Voorhees, New Jersey, Carlos Valle popped out of a pick-up truck sporting a Hurts jersey and felt certain Hurts would be too much for the Giants to corral.
“We all know he’s a fast quarterback,” Valle said. “He can throw the ball. Having him healthy, it’s an automatic win. C’mon man, that’s an automatic win.”
One member of the group, Kristen Kritou of Flemington, New Jersey, called herself a converted Giants fan and confessed that not being an Eagles devotee among those who are can be “intimidating.” She sported a knit hat in the Eagles’ vintage kelly green colors to show off her new-found allegiance.
Actual Giants fans were a rare sight, though one, Jacob John from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, proudly wore his Saquon Barkley jersey while his three buddies sported Eagles gear.
“It’s gonna be a hostile environment,” John said. “But we’re here for it. Nobody expected us to be here.
“Where else would I rather be besides South Philly?”
That was a prevalent and passionate feeling Saturday.
Wilmington residents Kenneth and Alex Taylor were expecting about 40 others as they hooked up a heater next to their pick-up truck. Alex is a devoted Eagles. Husband Kenneth, a transplanted North Carolinian who roots for the Tampa Bay Bucs, is not, but was happy to take part in the festivities.
“He does it for me,” she said. “We got here at 9:15.”
The draw, Alex added, is the camaraderie that comes before the competition.
“It’s just fun,” she said.
Have an idea for a compelling local sports story or is there an issue that needs public scrutiny? Contact Kevin Tresolini at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @kevintresolini. Support local journalism by subscribing to delawareonline.com.