Football / Sports

Eagles host public practice at old Franklin Field

They saved Chuck Bednarik's introduction for last. He emerged Sunday onto Franklin Field through a giant, inflatable Eagles helmet.

Steadying himself on a walker, the 89-year old could not reach out to shake hands as he passed the column of current Eagles. So they came to him.

Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin leaned in and said a few words. The two stood just a few yards from the spot where Bednarik sat on Green Bay running back Jim Taylor as the clock expired in the 1960 NFL championship game.

This was the kind of moment the Eagles envisioned when they decided to bring a public practice to Franklin Field, their home from 1958 through 1970.

"How cool is it?" asked the Eagles' senior vice president of business, Ari Roitman. "It would be like if Connie Mack Stadium was standing and the Phillies could go back."

Franklin Field still stands, but hosting an NFL event at the oldest football stadium still in use required planning that began months ago.

The players dressed at the NovaCare Complex and bused to the field, hitting just a bit of traffic. The equipment was shipped early Sunday morning.

The bigger logistical challenge was accommodating the more than 28,000 fans who showed up. The Eagles gave away 45,000 tickets, knowing there would be attrition.

Franklin Field, which opened in 1895 and was rebuilt in 1922, does not have restrooms or concessions in the upper level. Fans were urged to take public transportation because of the scarcity of parking. Eagles president Don Smolenski rode his bike from a half hour away in Wynnewood.

Roitman said the idea of a practice at Penn's stadium had been percolating for several years, but the stars aligned this summer. The use of Lincoln Financial Field was limited by ongoing renovations, three concerts and an international soccer match.

"You marry that with years of thinking: What could we possibly do in the community?" Roitman said. "To be able to take a practice and bring it into the community as opposed to asking the community to come to you, that's what we hope to do for our fans."

As popular as the practice was among fans, it is likely the limit of what the Eagles can do at Franklin Field. The logistics would make holding a preseason game there a "near impossibility," Smolenski said. It would be difficult to convert the season tickets from Lincoln Financial Field, and the infrastructure and parking could not handle a game-day crowd.

But the Eagles were pleased with the way Sunday went, and Smolenski is open to the possibility of holding another practice at the old stadium someday.

"You're sort of overwhelmed by the history and the legends that played the game and you realize how fortunate you are," Smolenski said. "They are the foundation of the Philadelphia Eagles. They are what makes it tick."

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