Behind enemy lines: These Eagles fans are ready and waiting for your Patriots

  • LinCross Tavern co-owner Chris Norcross and his family are diehard Eagles fans. Their tavern is adorned with Eagles memorabilia. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The Lingsch and Norcross families, owners of the LinCross Tavern in Bristol, are hopeful their Eagles can beat the Patriots Sunday. (FROM LEFT), Chris Norcross, Liam Lingsch, Jared Lingsch (with daughter Isabella in front) and Chris Lingsch. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • LinCross Restaurant and Tavern co-owner Chris Norcross, standing behind his bar in Bristol, hopes the Eagles can beat the Patriots on Sunday and win their first Super Bowl.

  • The Lingsch family (FROM LEFT) Jodi, Liam, Isabella, Jared and Chris – all diehard Eagles fans – talk about the upcoming Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles at their tavern in Bristol on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Philadelphia Eagles fan Liam Lingsch stands by a seat from the old Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia at the LinCross Restaurant and Tavern in Bristol. Lingsch and his family own the tavern. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • LinCross Tavern owner Jodi Lingsch says all fans, including those of the Patriots, are welcome at this Eagles nest. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The Lingsch family (FROM LEFT), Jodi, Liam, Isabella, Jared and Chris, all diehard Eagles fans, talk about the upcoming Super Bowl at their tavern in Bristol on Wednesday. The Eagles, who play the Patriots Sunday, have never won the big game. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • LinCross Tavern co-owner Chris Norcross stands behind the bar in Bristol, and stands behind his Eagles as well. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Eagles fan Jared Lingsch kisses his daughter Isabella at the family tavern in Bristol. In back is Jared’s brother, Liam Lingsch, also a Philly fan.  GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • LinCross Tavern co-owner Chris Norcross, standing behind the bar in Bristol, and his family hope the Eagles can beat the Patriots Sunday and win their first Super Bowl. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Liam Lingsch and his niece Isabella, shown at the family tavern in Bristol, love the Eagles and are looking forward to Sunday’s matchup with the New England Patriots. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Among the collectibles at the LinCross Tavern in Bristol is a banner showing the lyrics to the Eagles fight song. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Friday, February 02, 2018

New England Patriots fans don’t have a defining moment like Philadelphia Eagles fans do.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story. The one about Santa Claus at Franklin Field, former home of the Eagles, on Dec. 15, 1968. That’s when angry Eagles fans – tired of losing, sitting in snow-covered seats, wind burning their faces – booed Claus, then pummeled him with snowballs.

You can look it up.

Since then, the City of Brotherly Love has been tagged as a bubbling cauldron of profanity and intimidation. The Eagles’ old home, Veterans Stadium, actually had a jail and courtroom to deal with unruly fans.

The Patriots had their awful runs, but their fans never booed Claus, and they certainly never nailed him with snowballs.

“It’s true, but only to an extent,” said Eagles fan Liam Lingsch of Bristol, when asked if the city’s reputation was warranted. “It can be worse in some places than others, but every stadium has its obnoxious fans.”

Justified or not, Philadelphia fans have this label sewn into their souls, and, a few days before Super Bowl LII, I found Liam and a whole nest of Eagles fans at their family business, the LinCross Restaurant and Tavern in Bristol.

Its owners, the Lingsch and Norcross families, are natives of Toms River, N.J., 60 miles east of Philadelphia. At the bar, I expected to meet people with claws and fangs.

I did not. I found good, decent people.

Let’s meet them: Jodi Lingsch, husband Chris Lingsch, and their children Liam, 19, Jared, 22, and 24-year-old Stratton. They all work fullt-ime in the family business.

We also have Jodi’s two brothers, Chris and Bill Norcross, both of whom also work there. They slid a Philly cheesesteak sub on the bar and chewed the fat, about their reputation, their team and their opponent Sunday.

They wore Eagles jerseys, and they love their team like you love yours. They’ve been in New Hampshire for more than a decade and say they love it here. They’ve been watching the Patriots dominate the NFL, while the Eagles have yet to win a Super Bowl, and they say they don’t love that.

They’re nervous, cautious and very, very superstitious. So while Patriots fans, spoiled rotten the past 17 years, can’t fathom a loss, no one I met dared to predict an Eagles victory.

“It will be a battle,” Jodi said. “It’s anyone’s game at this point.”

“I feel pretty good,” Jared said. “I have a lot of friends who are talking smack, but I’m just waiting for the outcome. I’ll either take (it) or dish it out.”

The bar is a shrine to a team with three NFL championships, but none since 1960, and none in the Super Bowl era, which began in 1967.

There’s a framed jersey on the wall, No. 81, a replica of the uniform worn by the famous Dick Humbert, who played in the 1940s. “His daughter came in and saw we were Eagles fans,” Chris Lingsch said. “I guess it’s on loan.”

The words to the Eagles fight song hang on the opposite wall – “Fly, Eagles fly! On the road to victory! Fight, Eagles fight! Score a touchdown 1, 2, 3!”

The gang, of course, sang it for me.

There’s an old, blue seat from the Eagles old home park, Veterans Stadium, which was torn down in 2004. It’s seat No. 19, and it’s viewed as a “holy relic,” according to Chris Lingsch.

“When we’re losing, people line up to rub the chair,” Liam said. “It works.”

It did this season. The Eagles are 15-3, including two playoff wins, and the crew in Bristol has seen each game through a pay TV network.

They’ve seen their star quarterback, Carson Wentz, miss the last month of the season with a knee injury, but backup Nick Foles looked great two weeks ago to help the Eagles get to this point.

The Wentz injury, however, took the juiciest subplot from the game, the one about the two best quarterbacks in the NFL this season facing each other.

Only one of them will play in Minnesota. His name is Tom Brady, he’s got every playoff record for passing under the sun, and he’s the only quarterback in league history with five Super Bowl titles and four Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Awards.

Jodi gave him credit, saying, “Tom Brady is the best quarterback of all time, and you can quote me on that. He’s also the best looking quarterback.”

Her husband, I sensed, couldn’t quite bring himself to praise Brady outright. When asked if Brady was the best ever, Chris Lingsch said, “Look at the record books, so I guess he is. But he’s not exciting to watch. Too methodical.”

I saw an opening here to ask about Deflategate and Spygate, two examples that fans across the country have used to show that Brady and the Patriots have cheated. Does Chris think Brady once used deflated balls to win?

“No,” he said, “but it’s fun to say he cheats.”

The subject came up years after the teams’ other Super Bowl meeting, in 2005, a 24-21 Patriots victory. Were the Patriots stealing signs that day? After all, Spygate surfaced two years later.

Four years ago, former Eagles defensive tackle Hollis Thomas said, “We got cheated. It’s not sour grapes. We got cheated.”

And a few days ago, Steve Spagnuolo, a coach on that Super Bowl-losing Eagles team, said, “When you go back and look at that tape, it was evident to us.”

The Bristol Eagles fans wouldn’t take the bait. They blamed that loss on Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, with Jodi calling him, Donovan “McChoke.”

“I was furious,” Chris Lingsch added. “We had the lead and we blew it.”

Chris shook his head and spoke about the disappointment and anger the entire city of Philadelphia felt that day. His gravely voice sounded both tired and tough, as though he’s been through many fights, many battles, and remains hopeful he can win the war. Or maybe he was just saving his voice for Sunday, resting it before the explosion to come.

He recalled seeing six Giants fans at the Eagles home stadium one year, standing in the cold with no shirts on, G-I-A-N-T-S spelled on their chests, snowball-filled cups and pretzels and beer landing on them from the upper deck.

“I’ve stopped throwing things,” Chris said, “but I still yell a lot.”

Round 2 is Sunday, 13 years since the teams first met for the title. Through social media, local Eagles fans will join Patriots fans at the bar in what Jodi said would be a 50-50 split of loyalties among about 50 people.

It’s a tickets-only event, a mixture of two rabid fan bases. I asked my hosts if any tickets remained.

Not a snowball’s chance in hell.