Sunday's win over the Pats felt more than awesome. But aside from that stray pre-Christmas miracle, you might think the Eagles Pep Band's mission is difficult right about now.
You might assume this sad 5-7 football season has zapped the zest from the foursome tasked with leading thousands of tailgaters in rousing pregame renditions of "Fly, Eagles, Fly."
Can't be easy getting a disappointed fanbase to join in a jubilant fight-song sing-along . . . right?
Happily, hopefully, totally wrong, said Bobby Mansure, the band's bullhorn-wielding, tenor saxophone-playing, event-booking leader. Mansure and mates Bruce Mulford (upright bass), Brian Saunders (alto sax) and Tony "Skull" Dimeo (banjo) are going into their second decade as the Birds' main musical boosters.
They're also going as strong as ever.
"I approached the Eagles in the summer of '96 with the idea of having a small, informal band to infiltrate tailgates, to talk to them, engage with them. Shockingly, [the team] accepted it," said Upper Darby native and Roxborough resident Mansure. Now, "all of a sudden, this is our 20th season. We're an institution with the Philadelphia Eagles. It's been great."
Great not just because the Birds pay them on time, or because season tickets are part of each guy's contract, or because theirs is a rare, reliable gig for career musicians, or because they've gotten to meet and hang with greats Bill Bergey and Ron Jaworski, or because former guv Ed Rendell is their biggest supporter, or because the team gets them dozens of gigs at both public and private events.
The work's great because the guys are fans, and because no matter what the team's record, with every tailgate they see, they get to reprise their greatest hit.
Except not really get to. Have to.
"If we pass them and don't do the fight song, it's 'F--- you' the next game," said Mansure.
He estimated they play their 32-second "showstopper" about 150 times per home game, including just before kickoff and after every touchdown. "We don't get tired of it," he said.
They started out updating "The Eagles Victory Song," originally composed in the late-1950s by Charles Borrelli and Roger Courtland. "We took the meat of the song, rearranged seven or eight words, and changed the 'Fight, Eagles, Fight' to 'Fly, Eagles, Fly,'" said Mansure. Then they capped off the march with the already omnipresent "E-A-G-L-E-S" chant.
The quartet recorded the result in Saunders' South Jersey studio. "When you hear it at Lincoln Financial Field, that's all our voices, collectively. We sang overtop of the track, we sang it high, we sang it low," said Mansure, nearly quoting the song itself. "It's called ping-ponging." (They later re-recorded the song in a quicker tempo and easier-to-sing key.)
"At first, it didn't really stick," said Mansure, "It was really the second season - 1997 - where we really had a concerted effort to get into the parking lots, and hand out flyers. I recruited my cute girlfriends from Avalon to hand out T-shirts," printed with the lyrics, too.
If you know Birds fans, you know those lovely ladies might've been the trick. Four cheerleaders accompany the four-guy band around the Linc's lots. Fans, usually male, often get their photos taken with the women. Two nearby security guards enforce the no-beverages-in-the-photo and no-touching-the-ladies rules.
"But you can touch us all you want," said one Pep Band player.
When the Birds are winning, "Our season is more involved than Aerosmith," said Dimeo, a two-tour Vietnam vet who commutes 270 miles (about four hours) from Saratoga Springs, N.Y. to play for his home team. Busy days consist of eight or nine performances: Not just for, say, the opening of a public ice rink, the Thanksgiving Day parade, political parties or ultra-fan weddings.
Pregame, the guys appear live on WOGL and WIP. They also show up for Comcast SportsNet's "Breakfast on Broad" and official pep rallies. For the WIP gig, they give an old song new lyrics to mock that week's opponent. Dimeo, Saunders and Mulford usually write the words while driving from South Jersey (where Dimeo stays with family). They're often finishing up during the elevator ride to the station.
They always make sure to include the word "suck."
"I fully support their effort," said WIP's Al Morganti, who marvels at their energy. "Time after time, every time they play, it sounds like the first time," he added.
Eagles' brass refers to the fellas as "brand ambassadors." The team has emblazoned sidewalks leading to the Linc with the fight song's lyrics, and is currently selling customizable "road to victory" pavers for a new fan walk planned for the stadium's northeast entrance.
Such support for a fight song is unique in the NFL, according to team rep Brian Papson. "I know the Redskins have [a song]. The Dolphins have one. The Chicago Bears have one, but they don't use it. Some other teams have one, but don't use them, either."
But maybe that makes perfect sense. Could be further proof Philly fans are the world's best.
"Five-year-old kids know the Eagles' fight song," said Morganti.
"My two-year-old knows the words and can sing it," said Papson.
Mansure's overheard it during a recent trip to Disney, on the Pirates of the Caribbean.
Doesn't matter if they're performing holiday tunes under the name "Season's Greetings," or patriotic ditties as "Stars and Stripes," the guys in the band inevitably get recognized, and inevitably play their song.
They play it in the snow. They play it in the rain.
They've even played it at funerals, posted outside churches and next to caskets. You might think that's weird. The band doesn't.