PHILADELPHIA (AP) — They grilled burgers, drank beers and tossed footballs around the parking lots as if it were an ordinary Sunday during the NFL season.
Hours before the Philadelphia Eagles put pads on for the first time under new coach Chip Kelly, fans tailgated outside and waited for the Linc to open its gates Sunday.
More than 65,000 tickets were distributed for practice, and nearly half the people showed up. The estimated crowd of 30,000 was a club record for practice. As former NBA MVP and Philadelphia 76ers star Allen Iverson famously once said: “Practice! Not a game! Practice!”
That’s how excited they are about Kelly and their beloved Eagles.
“The fans are phenomenal,” general manager Howie Roseman said. “It’s unbelievable how they support us.”
People came from all over the area, including a couple vacationing from Texas and a family from North Carolina visiting friends in Philadelphia.
“We can’t wait to see the Chip Kelly offense,” said John Sharleton, a longtime Eagles fan now living near Houston. “Once we heard we can get free tickets to see the first practice, it made our trip.”
Wide-eyed kids sat in the stands trying to figure out exactly what was happening on the field. Kelly doesn’t run a typical NFL practice. He has stations set up for the various positions and loud music blaring through the speakers. Practice is fast-paced and appears hectic to first-time observers.
The Eagles had 11 on 11 scrimmages without tackling, and fans got to see quarterbacks Michael Vick, Nick Foles and Matt Barkley compete for the starting job. After a bunch of running plays — Kelly certainly is no Andy Reid when it comes to pass-run ratio — Foles threw a deep pass to loud cheers. It fell incomplete.
Dennis Dixon made a big connection when he hit DeSean Jackson for a touchdown on a deep pass in a 1 on 1 drill. An injured Todd Herremans signaled the TD. Herremans tweaked his right knee, but seemed fine.
“It was like spring ball in college,” defensive end Brandon Graham said of the atmosphere at practice.
Some players weren’t sure what to expect after last year’s disastrous 4-12 season.
“It’s really nice to see the support, especially after what happened last year,” tight end Brent Celek said. “But it’s a new year and I’m glad to see everybody in Philadelphia is supporting us.”
The Eagles started the festivities by introducing several players on Alumni Day. Hall of Famer Tommy McDonald, Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook and Mike Quick were among the former Eagles in attendance.
McNabb, who will officially retire as an Eagle on Monday, drew the loudest cheers, slightly edging Dawkins. That was surprising considering Dawkins is one of the most popular athletes to ever play in Philadelphia and fans have always been divided in their feelings toward McNabb.
“The reception was great,” McNabb said. “It was awesome. I enjoyed being back.”
Kelly, wearing a white visor, walked onto the field to a nice ovation along with the red-shirted quarterbacks. He exchanged hugs and handshakes with some of the former players and was down to business once practice started.
The Eagles lured Kelly away from Oregon after firing Reid on Dec. 31. Kelly had tremendous success in college, leading the Ducks to a 46-7 record in four seasons and turning the program into a national powerhouse.
Now, he’s bringing his high-octane, up-tempo offense and unique overall approach to the NFL. Everyone is eager to see his transition.
A stormy forecast may have scared off many of the fans with tickets for the practice. The rain held off until it was over, however.
“The fans were great,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said.
Notes: WER Jeremy Maclin said he will have surgery to repair his torn right ACL next Tuesday. Dr. James Andrews will perform the operation in Alabama. … Herremans (knee) and DT Antonio Dixon (hamstring) are day to day.