The Eagles' first open practice of the 2018 season was still two hours away, and 25-year-old Veronica Ortiz of North Philadelphia already had worked herself into a quasi-religious frenzy as the heat of a 95-degree Sunday afternoon rose from the steamy parking lots outside Lincoln Financial Field.
As her tailgate group of 16 friends and relatives put down their beer and sandwiches — briefly — to cheer her on, Ortiz sang a full-throated "Fly Eagles Fly" and danced in her Underdog mask just like any dyed-in-the-wool, bleeding-green Birds fan.
So, how long, exactly, have you been an Eagles fan, Veronica?
"When they won the Super Bowl – since February!"
Welcome to euphoria – the first day of the rest of the Eagles' new life as Super Bowl LII champions. Newcomers such as Ortiz are cramming their way onto the bandwagon, even as the diehards finally enjoy the bragging rights that come with the Vince Lombardi Trophy making its long-awaited first trip to Philadelphia.
"It's a lot more fun!" said 24-year-old Ryan Murphy, wearing a Super Bowl commemorative hat – lest anyone forget what happened in Minneapolis six months ago – and a Carson Wentz shirt. "I can bust on Giants fans! I can bust on Cowboys fans! For the last 52 years, and ever since I was in the second grade, we've heard trash talk from other fans."
Murphy, who lives in Upper Township, Cape May County, and works at a hotel bar in Cape May, said reigning as NFL champs is simply "awesome" – a once rarely heard word in Eagles Nation that now echoed in and around the Linc under the blinding sun.
August after August, Eagles fans have packed such practice sessions — from the Lehigh Valley to, more recently, their new home in South Philly – to see favorite players up close and to draw upon the sports fan's eternal wellspring of hope, the notion that this year, finally, would be the year the Birds brought home a Super Bowl title.
Now that year has finally arrived – with the Eagles' 41-33 win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4 – so the multitudes who thronged to the Linc for this open practice under the Sunday night lights had to cope with a strange new sensation: basking in the balmy afterglow of victory.
Can a city that tattooed its Rocky-themed underdog status on its biceps for decades suddenly embrace the joy of winning?
"I'm more confident," said 64-year-old Ira Watts, who came down from Pottstown with three friends and who has an Eagles banner strung across his living room that is not coming down until the Birds win another Super Bowl. "Other seasons, there was doubt, hope. We needed that hole filled. This season, there's no hole. We're the team to beat. We're the alpha dogs. We're Philly strong!"
"It's no more 'Wait until next year,'" agreed 55-year-old Don Wickward of Pottstown, a fan for three decades. "You get tired of hearing that. At the same time, we'll have a bigger target on our backs."
Such sentiments were common Sunday outside the Linc, a swarming sea of midnight green as fans lined up to get inside and watch the defending NFL champs punt, pass, and kick. Thousands of free tickets to Sunday night's practice had been snatched up in a couple of hours when the Eagles offered them through Ticketmaster last month.
In addition to their hoped-for first glimpses at quarterback Carson Wentz's rehabbed left knee and at this spring's highest draft pick, tight end Dallas Goedert, fans got extra perks such as autograph sessions with Eagles alumni and a chance to honor the troops at an event during the evening called Military Appreciation Night.
Whether the Birds can achieve that rare feat of winning consecutive Super Bowls wasn't the only thing on fans' minds. Many were curious, if not anxious, to see whether Wentz – the present and future of the franchise – could fully recover from 2017's devastating late-season injury. "We have Foles — he's good," said Veronica Gresham, 38, of Pleasantville, N.J., attending her third open practice. She was referring to Nick Foles, who stepped in for Wentz and was the Super Bowl MVP. "If Wentz isn't ready the first couple of games, we know we have Foles – and we have faith in Foles!"
"It's iffy," said 51-year-old Mike Gilbert, of South Jersey, sounding for a split-second like an Eagles fan of yesteryear. He was there with his son, daughter, and three grandchildren including, 10-year-old Jacob, who'd dyed his hair green. "You've got Wentz and you've gotta figure out what's going on with him. If they stick together and get their minds in it, they can do it."
Brianna Davidson, 28, of Chester, came to the open practice with Xavier Blakely and their 5-month-old daughter, Nahla, who was wearing a shirt celebrating the Eagles' NFC championship, a gift at her baby shower right before the Super Bowl.
Like the fans all around her, Davidson wanted the Eagles to repeat in Super Bowl LIII, but with a little more urgency.