- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2002

They call it the Nest of Death.

It is Section 700 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, a haven for rabid Eagles fans. It is a place with a Dawg Pound-caliber reputation for toughness that can match any other in the NFL.

One could argue that the Vet is one huge nest of death, a place where civilization has died and been replaced by green-and-silver-shaded anarchy.

"We like to put the fear of God in most teams and the fans that come into the stadium," said Bill Deery, a season ticket holder who sits in Section 700. Deery also likes to spread that fear via the Internet. He operates a Web site called nestofdeath.com that is devoted to all things Eagles: news, forums, stats, cheerleaders, face painters, celebrities, records and "old school" players plus the sale of Nest of Death T-shirts, sweatshirts, tank tops and hats.

The Eagles are on the verge of leaving the nest, though. The stadium, loved by fans and cursed by opponents, is in its final days. The Eagles' game Sunday against the Washington Redskins is the final regular-season contest at the Vet. A more modern facility, Lincoln Financial Field, is scheduled to open next year.

Opposing players will shed few tears for the passing of the Vet, the place where Philadelphia fans earned their reputation as some of the toughest in sports.

Consider:

•In 1999, fans jeered Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin as he lay on the field for 20 minutes, suffering from a neck injury that ended his career.

•That same year, fans threw D batteries at St. Louis Cardinals outfielder J.D. Drew, who held out for a year after the Phillies drafted him and eventually signed with the Cards instead.

•Matthew Scott, the only person in the United States to have received a hand transplant, was asked by the Phillies to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the team's home opener in 1999. The pitch, from his transplanted hand, dribbled over the plate. The fans booed.

•Eagles fans famously blasted Santa Claus with a shower of snowballs at halftime of a game as St. Nick circled helplessly around the field before stadium officials rescued him.

The place was considered so rough that the city opened up a jail complete with a court and a judge inside the stadium after a particularly nasty bout of drunkenness and fighting at a Monday night game between the Eagles and 49ers in 1997.

And the nightmares weren't limited to the stands.

The artificial playing surface for years had a notorious reputation as a career killer for NFL players, routinely wrecking knees and ankles. It finally was replaced, but the new surface was declared so bad that a preseason game between the Eagles and Baltimore Ravens was called off last year. Lincoln Field, at least, will have grass.

The Redskins, fierce NFC East rival of the Eagles, have had ugly moments at Veterans Stadium and so have their fans.

The Redskins mascot and the Hogettes once were attacked in the stands. For players, one particular nightmare stands out: the Body Bag Game. In a brutally physical, injury-filled Monday night contest in 1990, the battered, beaten and bruised Redskins were forced to finish the game with running back Brian Mitchell at quarterback.

Former Redskins kicker Mark Moseley, who had the first kickoff ever at the stadium while he was playing for the Eagles, didn't look forward to playing there.

"It was always a tough place to play," he said. "The crowd was always rowdy and nasty, some very rough people. One time I got hit in the head with a bottle. It was a good thing I had my helmet on."

Of course, Eagles fans will tell you they are portrayed unfairly. "The media kills us," Deery said. "We get a bad rap, but we go with it and play into people's fears."

Not that those fears are unwarranted.

"One time during a Redskins game, there was some guy wearing a [John] Riggins jersey and a pigskin mask," Deery said. "The Redskins were beating the Eagles bad, and this guy would just not sit down and shut up. The next thing you knew, four Eagles fans were giving the guy an early exit."

Still, according to Brian Lyons, a season-ticket holder for 14 seasons who got his start in the 700 level "a good place to get your baptism at the Vet" Redskins fans often hold their own.

"The craziest games were always against the Redskins," he said. "I have to give them credit they would show up wearing their colors. But it was always crazy."

That craziness often added up to double-digit arrests at games for fighting, urinating in public, public drunkenness and all sorts of other infractions such as reporting.

During a Monday night game in October this season, reporters one from the Atlantic City (N.J.) Press and KYW radio in Philadelphia were removed from Section 700, where they were interviewing fans. Their tape recorders were confiscated. The Press reporter was held in the stadium's police station, and the KYW reporter was escorted from the stadium.

The week before, a tabloid television crew had secretly followed Veterans Stadium security guards trying to keep order in 700. Club officials said the removal of the reporters was a mistake.

The Vet did not create rabid Eagles fans. The stadium actually inherited them from Franklin Field, where the Eagles built a rowdy following after winning the 1960 NFL championship. They moved to the $52million, multi-purpose Vet , along with the Phillies, when it opened in 1971.

Since then, Section 700 has developed into the worst of the worst or the best of the best depending on your point of view.

"The 700 level is very unique," Deery said. "It's a place where some people fear and others are proud to sit in it. The sad thing is that the Vet is coming to an end just as [coach Andy] Reid and [quarterback Donovan] McNabb are beginning. But we hope to keep the same mentality in the new stadium, though we know they will try to corral it as much as possible."

Not necessarily.

When plans for Lincoln Financial Field were first revealed, Eagles CEO Joe Banner said the facility "will bring the fans so much closer to the field. The entire building is designed from a fan's perspective and with a fan's day-of-game experience in mind."

But a Philadelphia fan's "day of game" experience is not like many others in the NFL.

"You can knock the Vet down, but it's the people that make the place," Lyons said.

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