It was a cold Saturday night in South Philly and Eagles fans had hope, flavored brandy, and a rare sense of joy swimming in their veins. They were there long before that, of course, defrosting minute steak before noon in the outer parking lots and celebrating the gravy of an unexpected season, an unlikely playoff berth, a chance to feel good again.

“I had us at five wins, but now we in the playoffs, that’s all we need,” said William Palmer, who traveled in from Carlisle. “We were underdogs before.”

The fans would have been there either way — five wins, one, or none — but with a rookie head coach steadying a floundering ship and a young, handsome quarterback finding his feet, a meaningless game against the archrival Dallas Cowboys was likely the last time they could celebrate the team in Philadelphia this season.

One man missed a wedding to be there, because he’s always been there.

“I faked a positive COVID test,” said Doug Steinbrecher, 54, of Warrington. “I’ve never missed a game.”

Several men standing around Steinbrecher praised him as a “hero.”

“You had to do it,” one said.

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Palmer brought his wife, Marun, a Cowboys fan. She had bigger expectations for her team this season, after an endless Super Bowl drought.

“I had to sit through his Super Bowl party,” she said of her husband, “and I deserve one.”

Some Eagles fans said they’d rather play a competitive Dallas team than a bunch of pushovers (and coach Mike McCarthy had said the Cowboys would play their starters). Some had feelings about Dallas they couldn’t explain, though, because that’s in their DNA.

“I hate Dallas and I don’t even know why I hate Dallas,” said Samantha Painter, 34, of Maple Shade.

Fans pointed out their frustrations in the city’s other franchises, the eternal disappointment of the Flyers, the Phillies’ decade-long playoff drought, the heartbreak of the Sixers, and the Union’s hopes dashed by a COVID-19 outbreak. Some national sports figures had picked the Eagles to win three games — and seemed to gloat in that.

Few picked more, and for a while, the doomsaying seemed apt. The Eagles, despite starting out 2-5, became a lone light, flickering in the darkness of 2021.

“No matter what happens — a one-and-done playoff or a deep run — this gives us hope for next year, and everybody could use some of that,” said Mark Pollack.

Some writers have seen that light.

“If you told me that the Eagles would be in the postseason back in August, I would have slowly backed away while sharing my location with my family and friends,” wrote a USA Today sportswriter.

» READ MORE: Tank to bank: In one year, the Eagles go from ignominy to NFL darlings

The Eagles even managed to slip past COVID’s tentacles — so far — with exposures and positive tests not affecting the team all that much. Masks were rare in the blustery air Saturday and at least one fan said the parking lots were a place to forget about all the world’s bad news, including the deadly virus.

“I have declared this place a COVID-free zone,” said Dan Kukral, 49, of Mount Laurel.

Kukral wore a chef’s outfit embroidered with the Eagles logo and was busy cooking short ribs, asparagus, and chili. He planned to serve 200 to 300 people over the course of the day, regardless of whether he knew them.

“Everyone can have something to eat,” he said.

And in that spirit, the feeling that everyone deserves something nice, Eagles fans were faced with a game against the Cowboys that didn’t really matter. It was like betting with house money, in the bitter, beautiful cold.

“It’s all fun today. It’s just great to be here, on the last home game of the year,” said Charles Maiden, a Kensington native who revealed multiple Eagles tattoos as proof of fandom. “And we’re playing again next week.”

And that’s a holiday season gift no one expected.

“I never expected them to be this good,” said Collin Flanagan, of Swedesboro. “And that feels great.”

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