Long before the Birds’ selection of Derek Barnett, the Ben Franklin Parkway was swarming with football fanatics from all across America, including Cowboys fans who didn’t grow up anywhere near Dallas.
The Eagles were well-represented in their hometown, with Carson Wentz jerseys outnumbering every other shirt that I saw by at least a four-to-one margin. I’d say that the Pittsburgh Steelers were the second-most popular team judging by the amount of Troy Polamalu, Antonio Brown, and hideous bumble-bee throwbacks I saw.
It’s easy to get inside the gates.
I went in the near the Rodin Museum without having to wait in any sort of line. You’ll go through a metal detector and have your bag checked, but the process is incredibly simple.
There’s plenty to do
When you walk over to the west side of Parkway, you’ll come across a ton of interactive, all-age activities.
I spotted Mike Golic signing autographs at an ESPN booth that sits adjacent to a faux-anchor desk where you can take a crack at being a professional broadcaster. You pick a voice, take a seat, and read off a teleprompter while recording the session to your phone.
A little further up, there were free samples of Skittles and Campbell’s soup being passed out, though I didn’t see Donovan McNabb or his mom.
Another area had a couple of PlayStations hooked up to Madden 2017 and mannequins in college football gear for photo ops. Penn State seemed to be the most popular while the Pitt Panther was shoved in the corner. Go Mountaineers.
The most popular area was probably a setup that allowed you to dive into a basin of foam pieces while catching a pass out of the air.
Most people gave it a good effort, but we’ve got a wise-guy here:
Fly Eagles fly pic.twitter.com/fmnpwTcSjb
— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) April 27, 2017
The far northwest corner of the setup includes a zip-line area that also featured longish lines. There’s an area carved out specifically for children on that side of the fairgrounds, where you can throw passes and try on NFL gear.
Just make sure it fits.
Food and drink
You can buy beer on both sides of the Parkway, and the prices are what you’d expect.
Twenty-five-ouncers of Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, and Shocktop go for 12 dollars. You can also get Goose Island IPA and Stella Artois in smaller quantities for $11. Soda is $6 and water is $5, but there are “water filling” stations on the premises. Props to the NFL for that setup.
The food is mostly local and there are tents placed at the northeast corner of the area near the music stage. I saw offerings from Nick’s Roast Beef, Di Bruno Bros., Joe’s Steaks, and Philly Pretzel Factory. Prices, like beer, are what you would expect for a festival atmosphere.
There’s a picnic table and lawn area where you can sit down and eat, or put down some blankets to watch whatever band is performing. There was a group doing cover songs when I walked by.
Here are some other things I spotted while walking around:
Aghony and Ecstasy
Understandably, there were not a lot of Nelson Agholor jerseys on the parkway.
What’s the weather gonna be?
I saw a mob scene in the middle of Parkway, but it wasn’t for a football player. People were trying to get photographs with 6ABC meteorologist Adam Joseph.
Dueling Radio Stations
Both 97.5 the Fanatic and 94 WIP have broadcast tents set up on opposite sides of the Parkway. WIP is near the “NFC locker room” and 97.5 is near the “AFC locker room.”
It was 4 pm when I went over there, so WIP was in the middle of the Chris Carlin and Ike Reese afternoon show. Fans were allowed to ask questions in that live setting, with a mob of people trying to crane their necks to get a look inside the tent.
On the other side, Mike Missanelli was on the air with former Eagle Brian Westbrook. A similar-size crowd was waiting for photo opportunities with Mikey Miss, and they finally got that chance when the host had to get up to use the bathroom.
As people waited outside of the port-o-johns, I overheard this conversation:
Fan 1 – “Who’s inside the toilet?”
Fan 2 – “That’s Mike Missanelli, who gives a (expletive) (expletive).”
A third fan, wearing a Wilbert Montgomery 1980 throwback jersey, unsuccessfully tried to rally others to help him tip over the toilet.
Missanelli was mobbed when he came out, and a drunk woman who requested a photo took off Mike’s sunglasses and put them on before posing for the picture.
Cleveland fans can’t run in a straight line
The Browns did well on day one of the draft, much better than their fans did in the 40-yard dash.
This is a cool area where you can throw passes, run sprints, go through a tackling dummy, or hit the agility ladder.
It’s on the northeast side of the Parkway, near the food and the music stage.
You can also kick field goals.
This corner of the Parkway also includes the main autograph tent, which has a rotating cast of current and former NFL players on the schedule. Thursday included Mike Quick and Ryan Shazier.
Dreaming of McCaffrey
Christian McCaffrey is a Carolina Panther, but this Eagles fan had a fleeting dream of the Stanford running back/wide receiver playing for his team instead.
You can get pretty close to the draft stage
This is what the view looks like when you push up as far as possible towards the stage. People were jockeying for position about four hours before the draft started.
The setup reminds me of the Susquehanna Bank Center, or Tweeter Center, or whatever the music arena in Camden is now called. Think of the public area as the “lawn” while everybody else is in the seated area closer to the stage. It’s a really cool setup, which you probably saw on TV Thursday night.
Obey Jesus, or hellfire
This was outside of the gates on 22nd Street near the new Whole Foods building.
These guys were probably trolling, but it made for some entertaining conversation with the crowd of football fans that was either exiting the draft or just about to go in.
I found some humor in this part of the discourse –
This guy says you don't need the Eagles when you have Jesus Christ pic.twitter.com/fsvrjCxeGQ
— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) April 27, 2017
This, again, took place outside of the gates, and I really didn’t see much drunkenness or hostility or anything like that on the inside.
It was a sprawling setup with plenty of room and cool things to do, especially for kids, so bring them down during the afternoon. You will run into long lines for some of the more interesting activities and exhibits, but that’s to be expected.
It’s a great setup and it’s worth the trip.