Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Before Eagles game, cleanup team took the field

A little past noon yesterday, Tony Leonard - his Eagles hoodie up, his eyes tired - took matters into own hands.

Chris Leigh shovels snow into a large blue barrel to be dumped in the Linc's upper concourse.
Chris Leigh shovels snow into a large blue barrel to be dumped in the Linc's upper concourse.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

A little past noon yesterday, Tony Leonard - his Eagles hoodie up, his eyes tired - took matters into own hands.

Most of the heavy lifting had already been done at the Linc - shovelful by shovelful in the stands, Bobcat scoop by Bobcat scoop on the sidelines.

On the playing field, Leonard, the Eagles' head groundskeeper, had jerry-rigged plows fashioned from the long tubes the tarps are rolled on, ordering runs after every four-inch accumulation.

In Section 112, the platoons of shovelers - part of a 1,700-man army - fed snow onto downhill chutes that looked like luge runs, spilling it onto the field for the busy-bee Bobcats to nip at.

Vast stretches of the parking lots - K-1, K-2, and, well, all the K's - were scraped to the blacktop, the snow carted off by a fleet of 70 tri-axle dump trucks to abandoned runways at the Navy Yard.

By noon, 24 hours into the Big Dig, things seemed under control - most of the stairs shoveled, the aprons salted, the necessary lots in the 290-acre sports complex ready to open for the first wave of tailgaters, eager to set up: Game time for the Eagles-49ers matchup had already been pushed back more than three hours, to 4:15 p.m.

But every fight has its messy mop-up operations. And if you're the commander on the field, sometimes you have to get your hands dirty.

So, after a full day and night deploying 45-horsepower tractors to clear the field with the improvised tarp-tube plows, Leonard was assessing a crisis - maybe snafu is a better word - on the 50-yard line.

Right behind the Eagles bench, the snow pile looked like a chip off the Rockies, tight and hard and, well, blocking access to the input/output plug box that feeds all in-stadium communications.

As in: Unless a cable is plugged into that box, the coaches can't even talk to the guys upstairs.

Let us just say that, from the highest level, a degree of unhappiness was being expressed.

"Hey, we just had 23 inches of snow," Leonard said, mostly under his breath.

He climbed onto the mountain.

This time was different

It's not that the Linc hasn't coped with snow before - even on game day.

But the worst of the worst, at least in Leonard's decadelong tenure, was in 2005, the National Football Conference championship against Atlanta.

And that was just 12 inches - about half the snowfall that descended on Philadelphia this time. Back then, the results weren't pretty. A few shovelers claimed frostbite. (There was a question of whether they'd availed themselves of mittens.) And yesterday, tailgaters were still complaining about the hassle they'd endured just to park.

This time around, the army arrived bigger and stronger.

But, most of all, sooner.

An army of snow-movers

One of the early birds was Tim Collins.

He's a union heavy-equipment operator, Local 542, out of Fort Washington.

When he got the call, he grabbed an Italian hoagie from the Giant near his Levittown home and headed to South Philadelphia.

He'd come in at 1 a.m. yesterday, chipping at mountains of snow the plows had stranded at the intersections. He was operating a big, white, rubber-tire front-end loader.

By midmorning he was at 11th and Pattison, still breaking down piles, loading them into dump trucks: "You can push all you want," he said. "You can push from here to China. But somewhere, you got to draw the line."

That's the key, in the final analysis - to eventually get the snow off-site. Push it into big piles. Break it into small piles. Scoop it into the trucks.

Matthew Jacobs Jr., with his young son, Matthew Jacobs III, was driving one of the trucks, a 20-ton dump truck for Ramos & Associates.

He estimated he'd made close to 30 runs of his own to the Navy Yard since starting his shift at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

That left the smaller potatoes - shoveling off the corners, sidewalks, steps, aisles, and concourses. One of those shovelers was Matthew Callahan. He'd heard about the job at midnight Saturday, come down to the NovaCare mobilization center, and was headed for a yellow school bus to take him back there 12 hours later: His pay? $10 an hour.

Most of the shovelers were Latino, many working for McKenna American, the Wilmington snow-removal contractor. Crew chief Steve Maciag motioned them to scrape away icy patches near the Comcast Gate, where 80 percent of the fans funnel in.

He was born in Watertown, in the top left of New York state, near Lake Ontario. He waved at the snow piled 10 feet high in the parking lot.

In Watertown, he'd seen 108-inch snowfalls for months on end.

"Now that's a snow place!" he said.

Everything but the box

Everything was going sort of as planned.

The parking lots had been coated the day before with "salt face," similar to the briny slurry PennDot uses to keep snow from hardening on the surface of highways.

Scoops of Turface (pronounced TUR-fiss), a soil conditioner that acts as a water absorber, were sprinkled in the tunnels leading from the locker rooms to the field.

Tailgaters Charles Pagano (from Hatboro) and his companion, Nadine Beers (her real name, from Warminster), were on their way in to fry a 14-pound turkey.

The Linc's 2.5 acres were a bit wet, but holiday green.

Still, there was that stubborn, 12-foot ridge of snow between the Eagles bench and the missing link - the crucial electrical box.

Tony Leonard, the groundskeeper, had a blast-heater the size of a jet engine brought out to melt the stuff.

Then he thought better of it.

He grabbed a shovel and started tunneling through it.

A staffer tunneled from the other side.

They'd snake the cables under the snow peak, like kids wiring their igloo.

You could see Leonard relax.

He cupped a snowball from behind the pile and winged it at one of his guys on the sideline.