THEY HELD a soccer match at Lincoln Financial Field a few weeks before the first Eagles game in 2003. In the restaurant business, this would be called a soft opening.
Don Smolenski, who was the Eagles CFO at the time, and team president Joe Banner headed out into the concourse to check things out. They discovered a rather sizable problem that showed why soft openings are a good idea.
"For the soccer game, we realized that our signage was confusing," recalled Smolenski, now the team's president. "In Headhouse Plaza, there was this crossing of people because the signs weren't right. It was so crowded. Joe and I were right in the middle of it and we were like, 'Oh my God, we gotta fix this.' "
When the Eagles hosted the Patriots the night of that first preseason game, Smolenski remembers ladders in the concourse and workers still hanging speakers.
It hasn't always been pleasant at Lincoln Financial Field, especially lately, but in the 10 seasons the Eagles have played there, it's almost always eventful. The fervor that accompanies this team makes just about every game memorable.
"You remember the losses," Smolenski said. "I can still picture Donovan getting hurt, that play."
Smolenski was referring to the NFC Championship Game that first season, a disappointing loss to Carolina when the Eagles defense couldn't stop the run and the offense was ground to a halt. Donovan McNabb injured his ribs and had to yield to Koy Detmer. It was the third consecutive conference championship loss, which rendered one of the most remarkable plays in franchise history obsolete.
The week before, the Linc hosted its first playoff game - the fourth-and-26 game against the Packers.
"The owners meetings the following March  were in Jacksonville," Smolenski recalled. "There was a reception on the USS John F. Kennedy. Every team went and you were greeted by members of the Navy who were fans of your team."
"One guy [an Eagles fan], they called him the mini-boss, ran the flight deck. He took us up to his command center and he told us they were in the Mediterranean doing exercises during the Green Bay game and they had the game on a little 7-inch TV. It was fourth down-and-26 and Donovan came to the line of scrimmage. There was a rainstorm and the ship got hit by lightning and the TV went out. So they didn't know what happened."
McNabb hit rookie Freddie Mitchell with a 28-yard completion on fourth-and-26, and the Eagles kicked a field goal to force overtime.
"Twenty minutes later," Smolenski continued, "the TV came back on and they saw David Akers kicking the game-winning field goal. They had no idea what happened. That story gave additional memory to fourth-and-26."
Construction on the stadium started in 2001, was completed in 2003 and cost $512 million. The city owns the facility, but the Eagles run it. The biggest early controversy was the Eagles' attempt to prohibit fans from bringing food into the facility. The policy was rescinded after a week, but the public relations hit went down like a soggy hoagie.
The greatest moment in the facility's history was the Eagles beating Atlanta in the 2004 NFC Championship Game. Timmy Kelly, an 11-year-old lucky charm from Bustleton, performed the national anthem, and a snowstorm had hit the city the night before. It was so cold that in the upper-level tunnels, where the wind was howling, cups of beer would crystallize and freeze before they could be enjoyed.
The Eagles were again denied a world championship 2 weeks later in Jacksonville, leaving a void in the trophy case as familiar as the words to "Fly, Eagles, Fly."
The stability and the success that coincided with the opening of the Linc has made this 4-10 season hard to stomach.
The Redskins visit Sunday for the final game of the Linc's 10th season. It could be hailed as Robert Griffin III's Philly debut, but remembered as the final home game of Andy Reid's tenure.