Memories of Veterans Stadium invoke nostalgia amongst Philadelphia Eagles fans who grew up during its heyday.
“The Vet”, as it was referred to, was a monstrous concrete bowl-like stadium that had seating capacity for 66,000 people and was the home of both the Eagles and Phillies. After four years of construction, the stadium was ready for action in 1971.
The Eagles’ first-ever regular season game at the Vet was on September 26th, 1971 against our most hated rival, the Dallas Cowboys. The Eagles lost that game by a score of 42-7 and lost the first three games at their new stadium by a combined score of 86-10.
It was a rather inauspicious start to a new era of Eagles football to say the least.
Things ended just as bad as they started when the Eagles lost the last game they ever played there on January 19th, 2003 against Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship game. I’m still haunted by visions of Joe Jurevicius breaking free with 800-pound LB Levon Kirkland in slow-motion pursuit.
However, there were many things in between those ugly losses that will live on in the hearts and minds of Eagles fans forever…
1980 NFC Championship game vs. the Dallas Cowboys
Eagles RB Wilbert Montgomery sparked the team with a first quarter 42 yard TD run and ended the day with 26 carries for 194 yards as the Eagles dominated Dallas with their ground game. The Eagles won, 20-7, and advanced to their first Super Bowl.
1990 “Body Bag Game” vs. the Washington Redskins
In the days leading up to the game, then Eagles coach Buddy Ryan said “they’ll have to be carted off in body bags”. As it would turn out, nine different Redskin players were injured during the game, including both of their quarterbacks.
Running back Brian Mitchell was listed as the Redskins’ emergency QB and had to finish the game for Washington. To add insult to their injuries, the Eagles’ dominating defense of that time (Gang Green) scored two TDs in a 28-14 Eagles victory.
1989 Eagles vs. Cowboys, Bounty Bowl II
This was the follow up to a game earlier that season in which first-year Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson accused Buddy Ryan of putting bounties on kicker Luis Zendejas and QB Troy Aikman.
After a 20-10 win, Eagles fans mercilessly pelted Johnson and the Cowboys with snowballs as they left the field.
1995 Eagles vs. Cowboys
“They stop him again! They stop him again!” were Merryl Reese’s memorable words on a radio broadcast as the Eagles stuffed Dallas RB Emmit Smith two times in a row as they tried to gain one yard for a first down.
After the second stuff, on a 4th and 1 play, the Eagles took over and drove for the game winning field goal in a 20-17 Eagles win.
The playing surface at The Vet:
The field at the Vet was perennially voted as the worst in the NFL by players. It was basically astro turf laying on top of concrete so needless to say, it was a hard surface.
The main problem was with switching back and forth from baseball to football. Some people referred to it as the “Field of Seams” because of all the visible seams in the turf due to going back and forth between the two sports.
Players absolutely despised playing on that field. It was so bad that the Eagles would lose out on potential free agents just because they didn’t want to play on that surface. And who could blame them? Read on…
Injuries at The Vet:
In what might be the most notorious injury ever deemed to be caused by a playing surface, in 1993 Chicago Bears WR Wendall Davis ruptured both of his patella tendons (blew out both knees) on a single play while running a pass pattern.
His cleats became caught in a seam and his knees just gave out. Davis never played football again.
In 1996, Eagles QB Rodney Peete tore his patella tendon during a routine drop-back on a pass play. His foot got stuck in the turf when attempting to plant in order to make a throw.
In 2001, a preseason game between the Eagles and Ravens was cancelled after Ravens coach Brian Billick pointed out problems with the field’s surface.
In a 1999 game, Cowboys WR Michael Irvin had his career ended after a tackle in which he went head-first into the Vet’s turf. He suffered a cervical spinal cord injury and was later diagnosed with cervical spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal column).
This was also one of incidents Philly fans get a bad rap for. The legend says that Eagles fans cheered Irvin’s injury, but the truth was that fans cheered because it was a third-down play that was stopped (forcing a punt).
Once Irvin’s injury was apparent, the stadium got quiet. Then they cheered as he was being carted off as is customary for encouragement of an injured player.
I can say this is how things went down because I was actually at that game. But anyway, this is a good lead into…
Fans at The Vet:
Veterans stadium was known for the fans in the 700 level. This is where many rowdy Eagles fans were hostile towards opposing teams and their fans. Fights, intoxication, lewdness, harassment, and public urination were routine.
Fan behavior became so out of control that, in 1997, they decided to put a courthouse in the bottom of the stadium that was complete with a judge who imposed an immediate sentence.
Sitting in the 700 level was also a sense of pride for the die-hard Eagle fans who sat there. They felt it was their duty to make the Vet an intimidating place for other teams to visit. And generally, they always accomplished that goal.
The rats and cats
Players and team employees always commented on the number of rats and cats they saw at the stadium. John Gruden once asked why there were so many stray cats around and was told they were there to get rid of the rats!
There were rumors and accusations that there were peepholes in the Eagles cheerleaders’ locker room, which was adjacent to the visiting team’s locker room. This was probably the only thing visiting players actually enjoyed about coming to Veterans stadium.
A few personal memories at The Vet:
The bathrooms at the stadium were horrible. For one, there weren’t enough of them, and for two, they were small. The sinks were commonly used as urinals so washing your hands would have been the opposite of sanitary.
I have a vivid recollection of seeing a drunk woman squatting on top of a sink in the men’s room and doing her business. Not the kind of woman you take home to mom, that’s for sure.
In another memory involving urination (good memories huh?), I witnessed an Eagles fan urinate on a Redskin fan who was sitting in his seat.
It amazed me because it was right in the stands. The guy just whipped it out and starting peeing on the other guy’s Redskins parka. Needless to say, a fight ensued.
While heading back to my car after a painful loss to the Cowboys, there was a Cowboy fan sitting in his car and waving a Dallas pennant out of the window. An Eagles fan walked by, snatched it out of his hand, and broke it across his knee.
The look on the Dallas fan’s face was priceless.
Most of all, I remember how LOUD that place was. The acoustics in the stadium were far better than those at Lincoln Financial Field. When the crowd got into it, the roars were deafening.
Many teams commented on how difficult it was to hear in that stadium. I left there many times with my ears ringing and without a voice because I had to yell just to talk (not to mention cheering).
I enjoyed numerous games at Veterans stadium as a teenager and young adult. Many of them were great wins, but there were many painful losses as well. Even during the losses, I felt okay because 60,000 other people felt the same way I did as we left.
There was much camaraderie among fans both while tail-gating prior to the game, and when cheering and booing during the game. For the most part, I sat in the 700 level so there was always that certain pride one had for being part of the craziness up there.
The Vet was the epitome of home field advantage. Other teams hated playing there because of the playing surface and hostile fans. Some teams may have even been “psyched out” just by the thought of having to play there.
The Linc is a great stadium because it is modern, has good sight-lines, and much needed improvement to the bathrooms and concessions. Unfortunately, it does not have the same mystique or intimidation factor that the Vet had.
Above all else, that is what I miss most about that old concrete house of horrors.
*Watch this video made for the Eagles’ last Monday Night Football game at the Vet, good stuff!