In one sense, this was nothing new for me, watching through binoculars as an Eagles player scooped up a fumble and took off.
The way the view through the lenses heaved up and down was a bit different. A plucky contingent of Eagles fans stomped and shook the end-zone metal stands we were sitting in, at Denver’s Empower Field.
Then there was my son, Dan, on my left, yelling, “Get down! Get down!” — an admonition that would prove misguided — as Darius Slay cut toward the middle, dropped the ball, picked it up again, sifted his way to the sideline, and sped 83 yards for the touchdown that defined the Eagles’ 30-13 Nov. 14 victory over the Broncos.
I spent 19 years covering the Eagles from NFL press boxes, which tend not to jump up and down. I’m sure Dan and his older brother, Matt, dispensed a fair amount of extemporaneous advice to Eagles players and coaches during that time, but I was never sitting with them to hear it.
I retired from The Inquirer in August at age 65. Matt is 32. Dan is 28. Have very many fathers and sons in the Delaware Valley spent a couple of decades closely following the Eagles’ struggles, without ever watching a game together, in person?
There’s a video of Matt, at a friend’s house in South Jersey, crying tears of joy as he talks on the phone with Dan at the end of the Eagles’ victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. I wasn’t involved in their celebration; I was running around U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, tie askew, reporting and writing a Doug Pederson story.
Retirement is a scary word. To embrace it, you have to get past the notion that with your work life over, you’re just counting down the days until you shuffle off this mortal coil. (Hey, we’re all counting down those days, some of us just don’t have to fill out expense reports anymore.)
I am thankful, today, to be retired, because so far it has been what I envisioned — a chance to be present for my family in ways I could not be during my 43-year journalism career.
When the NFL schedule came out last spring, I hadn’t yet decided to hang up my laptop. We discussed making the Denver trip a family occasion, though we knew that when game time came, I would be working, as was the case when the boys and occasionally my wife, Barbara, attended games at Lincoln Financial Field.
There was always that barrier. Dan’s wife, Brelyn, belongs to a large extended family, the Howards, who tailgate at home games around a tricked-out kelly green bus. In recent years I would stop by on my way to the press box, touch base with everyone, but they were fans having fun, and I was a guy on his way to work. No beer for me, thanks much though.
What to wear?
On this day, the barrier finally was down, neither tie nor press pass dangled from my neck. Most assuredly there was beer, from a concession run by a local brewery. The afternoon sun reflected off our faces in section 117, row 41, seats 7-10, the three Bowen men and Brelyn.
Matt works and lives in Denver now, as did the Eagles fan seated to his right, Noah, from Cape May County, who wore the jersey of a fellow South Jersey native, ex-Eagle Corey Clement. Matt still proudly reps Connor Barwin’s No. 98; for Dan, it’s Malcolm Jenkins’ 27.
I wore an old olive green long-sleeved L.L. Bean polo, which was something of a compromise. The boys and Brelyn thought that the shirt I’d planned to wear too closely mimicked the Broncos’ orange and blue. I explained that I’m not really, you know, a FAN, even if I’m retired and sitting in the stands. I still do some journalisming here and there. I would not feel comfortable wearing an Eagles jersey. (If I ever DID feel comfortable, it would be in Brandon Graham’s 55, by the way.) So, I donned the well-traveled olive green polo.
The game experience was pretty close to perfect, as was the whole weekend. I was sorry Barbara missed it. She stayed home with our dog because she’s not a huge fan of long flights, and we’d just visited Matt and Clare in Denver about seven weeks earlier, as they settled into their new house (which proved to be within easy walking distance of the stadium). That September visit, too, was something I couldn’t have managed before retiring.
The vibe for our November afternoon at Empower Field did not evoke Field of Dreams. The boys and Brelyn are adults. There weren’t a lot of corny “Jeepers, pa, there’s Jalen Hurts!” But we were together, marveling at Slay’s feat and bemoaning yet another Derek Barnett penalty, watching with amazement when K’Von Wallace blocked a field goal, and with apprehension when Kenny Gainwell missed a blitzer, causing Hurts to throw an interception.
It would have been great to have done this, say, 15 years earlier, when the boys were younger and more wide-eyed. But this time in our lives is also precious. Dan and Brelyn are newlyweds, settling into Baltimore after grad school at LSU. Matt and Clare (she isn’t from Philly and opted for peace and quiet on game day) are first-time homeowners whose adjustment to an adopted Western city was delayed by the pandemic.
Gathering for an Eagles game isn’t going to get easier. I’ll keep getting older. For them, there might be babies and more moves and complications we can’t foresee.
But we were there on this day, united on a golden afternoon, happy, healthy, talking about our lives and hopes and memories, as the Eagles unfurled one of their best performances of the past several years.
We lingered afterward, as many Eagles fans did, taking celebratory photos. Debbie from Cinnaminson, also visiting a son who’d moved to Denver, offered to take one of our group.
Normally at that point I would have been hurrying down to the press conference area, thinking about what to ask, what to write. Instead I watched the boys and Brelyn bask in the aftermath. Fans who’d gathered around the Eagles’ tunnel cheered each departure, some players stopping to sign autographs. We tried to determine who’d gotten the loudest ovations.
Dan said his next challenge would be to properly inaugurate me and his mom into tailgating. Matt said he wanted to provide me with something snappy and witty to include here, but decided “it was just a really special time, and I think I’ll leave it at that.”
I know I’ll remember this game much more vividly than most of the more than 350 that I covered.
I had a very different view.
Les Bowen is a former Eagles beat reporter for The Inquirer. He can be reached at email@example.com