Gayle Saunders hasn’t missed an Eagles tailgate in years, and he doesn’t plan to any time soon — even if he’s logging onto a live stream instead of pulling into a parking lot.
Sunday marks the Eagles' first home game of the season. But this year, Lincoln Financial Field and its surrounding parking lots and streets will be free of fans — including the hundreds of faithful tailgaters who show up at the crack of dawn.
As Philadelphia tries to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the city will not allow tailgating around the stadium or in nearby FDR Park. Starting Sunday, the area of Seventh to Broad Streets and Packer Avenue to I-95 will be blocked to traffic from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. when the Eagles have a home game. Street closures include:
Philadelphia Parks and Recreation said workers from the department, as well as the police, will increase patrols of FDR Park on Eagles game days.
Even so, fans like Saunders are still finding creative ways to tailgate on game days, even if it’s at a distance.
Saunders, who runs the Eagles podcast 4th and Jawn and usually has large tailgates in a parking lot near Xfinity Live!, is now hosting weekly seven-hour virtual tailgates via live stream on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, which can reach 12,000 participants from across the world.
“I think it’s a difficult time for die-hards to be home by themselves, they’re looking for other outlets to connect with Eagles fans,” he said. “We’ll talk about things that we’d usually talk about at the tailgate: the upcoming games, the matchups, what kind of food you’re eating.”
Rocco Galleli found a socially distant way to tailgate in-person, and help his business in the process. Galleli, who owns a catering business and a banquet facility, created a drive-in tailgate in his huge parking lot in Williamstown, N.J., where guests could reserve a place for $40. He rented a 40-foot movie screen, hired a D.J., and brought his catering trucks to the lot, allowing guests to order food or bring grills and cook themselves.
“When the Linc announced that they’re not going to allow any fans inside the stadium, we said this would be a great opportunity to give the people some sense of normalcy and bring everybody together as part of Eagles nation,” Galleli said. He plans to continue the events for the remainder of the season.
South Jersey native and long-time Eagles fan Ben Bradway attended Galleli’s drive-in tailgate, ecstatic to spend time with other fans at what he called “probably the closest thing” to normal tailgating.
“People really need an outlet,” he said. “Wear a mask, an Eagles mask, and you’ll be fine.”
Bradway made friends with the strangers, sharing sausage sandwiches and cheering on the team, even as they faced a brutal loss to the Washington Football Team.
“The atmosphere was back, that’s what I had been missing,” Bradway said. “You can’t get that anywhere else but Eagles football.”
Saunders said he has considered going to socially distanced tailgates, but doesn’t want to take the risk, especially because he lives with his elderly father.
“A tailgate can be a whole different thing when alcohol is involved and you don’t know the people, and you don’t know where people have been,” Saunders said. “Are you going to take your mask off and scream at a touchdown?”
Julie May, who has had season tickets for the past five years, agrees. On Sunday, she brought her television into the backyard and tailgated outside with family and a few friends. She said she’ll sit this season out, even if the Eagles eventually allow limited fans into the stadium, like some other National Football League teams have done.
“I don’t think I could even see going to the field this year,” she said. “I can’t see being around 20,000 people right now.”