The Eagles are home.
Returning as champions, as heroes, as harbingers of a new era for Philadelphia, to the city that embraced the team's scrappy underdog identity as its own and a region full of fans both speechless and rabid with joy and emotion, the Eagles descended Monday afternoon from a chartered American Airlines flight — but won't be descending any time soon from the dreamlike high of Sunday night's historic Super Bowl win.
Screaming fans gathered in the hundreds at Philadelphia International Airport and at the NovaCare complex for a glimpse of the hometown heroes of this euphoric city — and of the gleaming trophy they brought here for the first time.
The Eagles' victorious return from Minneapolis was also the first glimpse of what will stretch into days of adulation and merrymaking in their home city. As fans revel in the reality of the win, a parade is planned for Thursday that could bring millions to swarm the city's key arteries. The throngs at the airport were like an opening act.
"Thank you, thank you!" the green-clad crowd there chanted from behind a chain-link fence as Eagles players crossed the tarmac to approach them and raised the Vince Lombardi Trophy into the air.
Stephanie Baffone of Newark, Del., came to the airport with her twin sister, Gina Rolkowski, and their brother, Dan DiCerbo. Baffone said the Eagles this year made fans feel as if they were part of the team, so she and her siblings weren't surprised when players came over to greet fans after landing.
"I felt like we were all on the field with them," said Baffone, 51. "You really feel included."
As the first figures emerged from the plane, the long-coveted trophy was raised into the air.
"I saw Jeffrey Lurie come out holding the trophy — I almost fell over," Rolkowski said.
Some players held dog masks; others raised their phones, appearing to document the moment. Screams and shouts and chants of "E-A-G-L-E-S" rose into the freezing air as the champions set foot on Philadelphia soil.
The unlikely champions return to a city that somehow feels changed by their historic victory — not just in terms of windows smashed and planters toppled, but in spirit and stature. A city that has always been united by its grit, now united by the championship it finally has to show for it.
One fan came wearing his underdog mask, even though the Eagles are now on top.
"That's what got them here," said Dave Sellers, who lives in the Juniata section of the city, his rubber mask hanging off the back of his head as he spoke. He also said he came to see the trophy in person.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," he said. "Might not see it again."
Another fan braving Monday's cold, Moritz Hertel, 39, felt the same way. He traveled all the way from Berlin, Germany, to watch the Super Bowl in Philadelphia. An Eagles fan since he saw former quarterback Randall Cunningham play on TV in Germany, he said he booked the trip in October after the Eagles beat the Carolina Panthers.
"I was so confident that they would win, and I booked it, and I said. 'OK, I will go see the Super Bowl in Philly and have the complete atmosphere,'" he said.
Fans at the airport were eager to catch a glimpse of Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, and broke into more than one chant of his name. But as his teammates were whisked in buses from the airport to the NovaCare complex, where more fans awaited, the backup quarterback-turned-champion had flown to a warmer climate. He appeared in Florida at the Disney World Super Bowl parade — a tradition among some victorious athletes — where he kicked things off around 3:25 p.m. on a float with Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Goofy.
"It's all right to yell when you're world champs," he told the howling crowd. "We've been waiting for that for a while. World champions!"
Foles then turned to Mickey Mouse. "Hey, we did it!" he said, giving Mickey a hug.
Back in Philadelphia, where it was about 40 degrees colder than it was in Orlando, Foles' teammates came off buses to cheers and hollers and drove off in their personal cars. Some players slowed to shake fans' hands, leaning out of their cars, as they drove away. Zach Ertz and Carson Wentz each stopped to wave, prompting cheers.
Coach Doug Pederson drove slowly, giving the thumbs up and kind of taking in the scene: hundreds of people cheering, smiling, waving signs.
"How close can I get without getting hit by their cars?" one fan in the crowd wondered.
The Eagles' landing earlier that day left the crowd in suspense as the plane maneuvered for several minutes before stopping. ("Taxi slower than Tom Brady runs!" one man shouted.) But the players' appearance sent the crowd into a frenzy. As they walked toward fans, team owner Lurie held the trophy in the air, then passed it to Pederson, who gave it to executive vice president Howie Roseman.
Then running back LeGarrette Blount took the trophy, thrust it into the air in one hand, and climbed up on a guardrail to hold it even higher. Pumping his other fist, he let out a few screams.
But his shouts were hardly audible over the cheers of fans.
"What a magical team, and they deserve a crowd to be here," said Mike Schuessler, 66, of Glenside, who arrived early Monday afternoon to watch. "It was such a magical season," he added, "I'd be here even if they [had] lost."