Wearing his Saints jacket and a Drew Brees jersey, 13-year-old Eric Stevens felt a little intimidated while surrounded by Philadelphia Eagles fans Saturday in Lincoln Financial Field.
Even two of his uncles were giving him good-natured grief.
Some of it was not as good-natured.
“People were saying a lot of bad things to me and flipping me off,” said Stevens, who with his father, Donnie, made the trip from their home in Chattanooga, Tenn., to visit family in nearby Dover, Del., and take in their first playoff game. “I just kept cheering for the Saints, though.”
Stevens and the scattering of Saints fans on hand had the last laugh: a last-second, 26-24 victory — the franchise’s first in a road playoff game.
It advanced the Saints to this Saturday’s divisional game at Seattle. Seahawks fans are known for being extremely loud but maintain Northwest politeness in most cases.
That’s not the case in the City of Brotherly Love, where Eagles fans are notoriously hard on visitors. And Saturday night, Philadelphia police went undercover in Saints gear — not, they said, to entice incidents but to curtail anyone with hostile intentions.
For that reason, Stevens said he thought about putting a sign on his back saying “Police” but decided it would have just attracted more attention.
For some Saints fans, the evening was the height of hospitality. One visiting couple was given access passes to a ground-level club suite, where they could drink for free.
“Maybe they thought I was one of those undercover cops or something,” said Anthony Nicholson, of New Orleans. “But the folks around us couldn’t have been nicer.”
Still, Nicholson said he and about 20 other fans who gathered to celebrate at game’s end delayed going into the parking lot for several minutes longer than they would have otherwise.
Several of those who didn’t go to Philadelphia gathered at Louis Armstrong International Airport to greet the team’s arrival at 4:30 a.m. Sunday.
“In my 10 years in the NFL, I’ve never witnessed anything like that,” tight end Benjamin Watson said. “I knew coming to New Orleans would be special because the fans love the team and the team is part of the community. You’re talking about a couple of thousand fans out there at 4:30 in the morning to welcome us back. It’s just a credit to them and to our team.”
Not everyone was greeted as a hero Sunday.
Ronald Thomas, of Portsmouth, Va., an offshore maintenance worker, arrived at the Delta baggage area wearing an Eagles stocking cap.
“I got a few funny looks,” he said. “But the Eagles have been and always will be my team.”
So much so, he said, that he bet some of his coworkers $100 that not only would the Eagles beat the Saints, but they would win the Super Bowl.
“I know I’m going to hear it from them tomorrow,” he said. “Maybe they’ll just let me wear a Saints cap instead of paying them off.”