Editor’s Note: An edited version of this article was first published by BillyPenn.com
Falcons sightings around Philadelphia are not as uncommon as you may think. A few years ago, a pair of peregrine falcons were mildly famous for making a nest atop City Hall. But those falcons should stick to the perches around North Broad Street this week, and perish the thought of flying down to South Philly.
On Saturday, our beloved Eagles will take on the Atlanta Falcons in a NFC Divisional playoff game, with the eyes of the football world glued to the City of Brotherly Love. The streets will be flooded with green and, for at least a few weeks in January, it will once again be fashionable to wear a Nick Foles jersey.
But what if green isn’t your favorite color? What if you bleed something else, say red or black?
For two brave New Jersey natives, that is the dilemma. Lifelong Falcons fan Paul Baillif, of Woodland Park, NJ, scored tickets to Saturday’s tilt at Lincoln Financial Field. He turns 40 this Sunday and they were a birthday gift from his wife, Janet.
“This will be my first Eagles game, but I have tailgated by myself with warm beer at a Bon Jovi concert,” he said.
To celebrate, Baillif is taking another Falcons fan — his 19-year-old nephew, Chris Parodi — along for moral (physical?) support. The duo was milling around the idea of sporting their favorite team’s colors in the tailgate lots. Then, at the urging of relatives and friends – including this reporter – Baillif decided to go commando. Not for the reason you think.
“No f—ing way,” when asked if he would wear Falcons gear to the game. “Whenever I wear Falcons gear, they lose. The last time I wore Falcons gear was 1999 when we lost the Super Bowl against Denver. Hell, last year the reason they lost was because I used a Falcons napkin at a Super Bowl party.”
Meanwhile, Parodi is choosing to play it a little more stealth.
“I plan on wearing Falcons gear to the stadium, but under a jacket or sweatshirt,” he said. “I have heard that is the smart thing to do. “I have heard from others that they [Eagles fans] are vicious or angry, but I think they are just very passionate and get upset if anyone else makes a comment about their team.”
Despite being raised in northern New Jersey, in the heart of Giants country, Baillif fell in love with the up-tempo, run-and-shoot offense and aggressive, swarming defense — aptly known as “Gritz Blitz” — that the mercurial Jerry Glanville ran as head coach of the Falcons in the 1990s. Guys like Deion Sanders, Michael Haynes, Andre Rison, Tim Green and Jessie Tuggle were rising stars. They were flashy and controversial, a young kid’s dream team.
“Deion was dancing his way down the sidelines, and the entire team had a rock-star attitude,” Baillif said.
Parodi grew up in a house full of Giants fans, but developed an addiction to Michael Vick highlights. He started using the Falcons on the popular Madden NFL video game and never looked back. Vick, a former Eagles quarterback as well, appeared on the 2004 Madden cover.
“Mike Vick was my first Falcons jersey growing up and from that point on I have been a die-hard fan of the Atlanta Falcons,” he said. “He was rushing through defenses like it was nothing.”
With those childhood memories in mind, both men will be cheering wildly for the Falcons at the Linc. They have heard all the rumors about Eagles fans, like the elaborately embellished one of fans throwing beer bottles at Santa Claus, that have painted a putrid picture of the city’s fan base.
(Keep in mind, Boston fans booed Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday during a 2014 Bruins game. No one seems to talk about that incident.)
Even so, Baillif plans to run his “big mouth” for all four quarters. He promised to keep it clean and fun, although he may break out into a rendition of the “Dirty Bird” dance if the Falcons get into the end zone.
“I’ve heard to expect a lot of animosity and getting ragged on but it’s all in fun,” Baillif said. “I’ve heard to be careful to not offend an Eagles fan because they will all gang up on you.”
“I have been told from friends and family to not instigate anything with the fans,” Parodi added. “I have also been told that Eagles fans can be a rough crowd so be ready to get yelled at.”
When I told my buddy Andy, a diehard Eagles fan attending Saturday’s game, that there would be a few enemies inside the gates, he sent a cautionary text message.
“You should STRONGLY advise them to not wear Falcons gear and to keep it down at the game,” Andy wrote. People are going to be very, very aggressive at this game with very short fuses. This is the playoffs. I legit would advise against fans of opposing teams to go to playoff games at the Linc.”
Overall, the vibe is much tamer than it was at the Concrete Jungle, aka Veterans Stadium. Ejections are down at the Linc and raucous fights are at a minimum. Remember, the Vet had a court in the basement and someone once shot a flare gun across the arena. But even if the 2018 crowd trends more upper crust than blue collar, this is the playoffs. And the Eagles have never won a Super Bowl.
Alas, hope springs eternal. Philly has walked away with victories the last two times these two teams have met in the postseason, back in 2003 and 2005 when Vick was piloting the Falcons. That 2005 win punched the Eagles’ second-ever trip to the Super Bowl. Since 2000, the Eagles are a whopping 7-1 against Atlanta, including a 24-15 win at the Linc in 2016.
“Total letdowns,” said Baillif. “This year, the Falcons are peaking at the right time.”
Adding insult to injury, the Falcons are coming off the worst collapse in Super Bowl history. Down 28-9 heading into the fourth quarter, the Patriots rallied and won last year’s championship in overtime, 34-28. The bitter after-taste of that one is extremely hard to swallow. Despite believing the Falcons will beat the Eagles this week, Baillif sees a similar end result.
“I’ve been a Red Sox fan for the past 23 years and a Falcons fan for the past 29 years so disappointment is expected,” he said. “Dirty Birds gonna clip the Eagles’ wings, silence the Saints, then blow it again against the Patriots.”
That’s optimistic pessimism at its absolute finest. And something Eagles fans can strongly relate to after losing to the Patriots in 2005. If nothing else, Falcons fans and Eagles fans can share a common hatred for all things New England.