AS SAVORY SMOKE rose from hundreds of meat fires in the Eagles' parking lots and drifted toward Lincoln Financial Field, game day chefs seemed to be egging the Birds on to victory by sheer force of grill power.
It worked! Eagles 23, Bills 20.
"We were up at 4 a.m. and got here by 5 a.m. so we could get our spot," said Maria Silva from Medford, N.J., who runs such a tasty tailgate, featuring her husband Tony's succulent skirt steaks and ribs, that her all-Eagles RV displays a photo of Birds owner Jeff Lurie chowing down last season with a big grin on his face.
Silva, who recently added a huge inflatable Eagles snow globe with steadily falling flakes and a life-sized Swoop to her outdoor dining area, said her brother, Miguel Ribeiro, started the family tailgating years ago.
"Me and seven high school friends went to the Vet in a 1991 Ford Econoline and sat in the 700 level," said Ribeiro, who played right guard and nose tackle for the Delran High state champs in '90 and '91.
"We never saw Judge Seamus McCaffery," he said, referring to the late-1990s game day Eagles Court that the municipal judge ran in the stadium before he went on to the state Supreme Court, then into sudden retirement after being caught up in an explicit-email scandal.
"Everybody forgets how bad the Eagles were back then," Ribeiro said. "All eight of us wore paper bags over our heads.
"We always had fans of the opposing team sitting in four seats in front of us," he said, grinning. "And we made sure they always had to leave by halftime with their hoods full of peanut shells.
"What else was there to do?" Ribeiro asked innocently. "Watch those [late '90s] games?"
Despite the current up-and-down season, he is hoping for "the dream instead of the nightmare. We don't have the Phillies or the Flyers on the other side of the RV. We're all Eagles, all the time."
When a reporter approached Pat McFillin's old-school, out-of-the-car-trunk tailgate, his Santa-bearded brother, Tom, said, "Are you from the Health Department? Are you from the Liquor Control Board?"
McFillin of Drexel Hill, a 30-year season ticket-holder, stood amidst the striped bass chowder, three kinds of chicken filet and potluck dishes from family and friends, and said, "My spirit went down the tubes after the Tampa Bay game [a 45-17 disaster], but we don't jump the gun. You've got to take the long view."
His brother, Tom, scolded the reporter. "Look at this!" he said. "Because you're interviewing him, he burned the chicken nuggets!" Then he let out a deep belly laugh. Like Santa.
Tom Groves, from Wilmington, said his grillmaster son, Tom Jr., a head chef in real life, will not let him near the grill.
"I'm not allowed to touch the food," Groves said, exchanging a laugh with Tom Jr. while their pet-me pit bull Roxy wagged her tail and waited for someone to notice she could use a little treat.
"We've got Denver steaks and ahi tuna," Tom Jr. said. "Denver steaks are cut only two steaks per cow. The marbling is amazing."
Roxy licked his face as if to say, "The marbling is amazing? Let me be the judge of that."
Season ticket-holder Catherine Nxumalo, looking as festive as Mardi Gras in her many bead necklaces worn over her Brian Westbrook jersey, said she's been an Eagles fan since coming to Juniata by way of South Africa 18 years ago.
Nxumalo, whose teriyaki wings are her tailgate signature dish, is a nurse who was at work during the Eagles' shocking win over the Patriots. "I was screaming with my patients," she said, laughing. "I've never been so happy."