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Phil Sheridan: Hoagie controversy could only happen here

The republic is safe. You can take a sandwich into Lincoln Financial Field.

This column was originally published in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Aug. 1, 2003.

Hallelujah. Yippee. Wahoo.

Yes, sir, it's high fives all around. In some sorry states, the governor might rush breathlessly onto the airwaves to announce something boring, like a funding program for public schools. Not here. No way. We have our priorities all figured out.

Elsewhere, informed citizens may be debating whether the president lied in order to start a war over the objections of the United Nations. Not here. No way. Just because the country was born in Philadelphia doesn't mean it's our job to watch it. At 227, the U.S. is old enough to look out for itself.

The republic is safe. You can take a sandwich into Lincoln Financial Field. Our young men and women serving overseas have one less worry tonight: No Eagles fan will have to go three full hours without food.

It's enough to bring a tear of pride to your eye. Whenever you get to thinking the system doesn't work, just remember this glorious occasion. All of the wheels of democracy were turning: a concerned citizenry, the watchdog media, a duly elected mayor and governor acting swiftly and decisively.

What time do the fireworks start? When can we ...

What's that? You detect a note of sarcasm?

Sorry about that.

It's just that this whole Eagles food controversy seemed like a tempest in an Amoroso roll from the beginning. The way it played out would make a good case study for someone looking to analyze the way things happen in Philadelphia.

Admit it. You don't hear about these things happening in Cleveland or Chicago, Boston or Seattle. The reason you don't hear about them isn't that you're not in those cities. The food-ban story was on national sports news Web sites by mid-afternoon yesterday, within hours of Joe Banner's announcement.

So the reason you don't hear about such stories elsewhere is that they don't happen elsewhere. They don't happen anywhere but here.

It's all well and good that the Eagles backed off their initial no-outside-food policy. It didn't seem as if they could for a while there. When you say the policy is based on security issues, how do you change it? Do you announce you're no longer concerned about security? They were in a tough spot.

They got out of it by coming up with a reasonable compromise. If you're bringing in your own food, you have to go in a separate gate. Extra security guards will be there to make sure there are no rocket-propelled grenades among the sandwiches. The planet will continue to spin on its axis.

(Note to Infinity Broadcasting execs: That's axis, not Axis. )

The trouble comes in how everyone got from Point A, the original shortsighted policy, to Point B, the revised policy.

In some places, maybe places where the governor is working full-time on stuff like school funding, reasonable people would discuss the issue, make sound arguments and find a workable solution.

Not here. No way.

In the last few weeks: a talk-radio host got suspended for two days; a major metropolitan newspaper ran a picture of Eagles owner Jeff Lurie with hoagies stuck in his ears, with the headline "Stuff it;" the other city daily paper (um, that would be this one) had a team of reporters take hoagies through various security checkpoints, as if anyone suggested the food itself was a threat, and government officials rushed to grandstand on the issue.

It would have been funny if it wasn't so sad.

The Eagles' biggest mistake was failing to anticipate the reaction. Not because it was reasonable, but because Lurie and Banner have been here since 1994. They have been criticized for everything they say and do, even for the way they look and talk. This is Philadelphia, and they persist in conducting themselves as if it weren't.

About two years ago, when the stadium construction was barely under way, Lurie got to talking about what the game-day experience would be like there. He started by describing what is now called the Headhouse area. As fans walked in, he said, there would be live music playing, a party atmosphere complete with huge barbecue pits and all kinds of food available. As it turned out, that area will have a lot of local vendors, including a number of the contracts that were awarded to minority-owned businesses.

Of course, they'll be charging for the food. That's what businesses do. But the whole idea was to offer very good food as part of a festive experience. A lot of people who do bring food to the Vet do so because the concessions there haven't been very good over the years.

It's only a theory, but in their enthusiasm to unveil their new place, the Eagles have tripped over a number of what seemed to them like minor issues. But the fans see the whole process as a series of worrisome changes. Until they are at a game in the new stadium, they have no idea what the Eagles are excited about.

And then there is the media dynamic, which the Eagles have no excuse for not understanding. If they provide anything that can be used as a blunt instrument by the talk-radio "entertainers," they will get pounded on mercilessly. When you're getting compared to Nazis because of a few hundred sandwiches, something is out of whack.

But it's all over now, right? Things will be swell from here on out. When an issue comes up, there will be intelligent discussion and respectful disagreement. Important lessons have been learned on all sides, right?

Not here. No way.

Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or