Its Feb. 5, 2005 the day before the Super Bowl. A carload of Eagles writers, weary after a weeks worth of 20-hour work days, decides to get away from Jacksonville, get away from the grind for a bit and enjoy the off day in Amelia Island, a quaint golfing village along the Atlantic coast about 50 miles north of Jacksonville.
We leave the hotel early, drive up the 1A, ride the ferry across St. Johns River, and park in the center of the nearly deserted tourist town at around 9 a.m. We pile out of the rental car and are greeted by the warm ocean breeze, the sing-song sound of seagulls and ... a group of Eagles fans chanting, E ... A ... G ... L ... E ... S ... EAGLES!!!!
The point is that Eagles fans travel better than any other NFL fan base. And its not just the Super Bowl or the playoffs. Its all the time.
Virtually every Eagles road game means a whole fleet of USAirways A321s packed with Eagles fans. It means downtown Saturday night packed with guys in Mamula and Westbrook jerseys trying to find one last bar thats still open. It means sizeable pockets of green amidst the home fans at kickoff and surprisingly loud Eagles chants after big plays.
With that in mind, we present our inaugural 2012 Philadelphia Eagles Fan Travel Guide.
With the release of the schedule on Tuesday, lets take a look at the Eagles eight road trips this year and what fans need to know if theyre planning to accompany the Eagles on the road this fall.
Sunday, Sept. 9, at Cleveland
Travel Grade: C-minus.
OK, lets be honest. Youre laughing. Who would go to Cleveland willingly? Exactly. But Cleveland has some appeal as a destination for Eagles fans.
First of all, its easy to get tickets. I mean, its the Browns. Second, its a chance to see the season opener, which is always awesome. Third, its not far, so you can snag an early flight home and be at work on time on Monday morning.
But the best thing about Cleveland is that the entire downtown area has undergone a dramatic renovation and now includes tons of nice hotels, bars, restaurants and shopping areas, in addition to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Cleveland Stadium, which is an easy Sunday morning walk from all the downtown hotels.
You can take the train right from inside the airport terminal downtown, and everything else is walkable, so you wont need to rent a car. Unless you want to go for a drive and visit Akron or something.
Favorite spot: Porcellis Bistro, 1852 W. 6th St.
Sept. 23, at Arizona
Travel Grade: A.
Ideally, the Arizona trip would come in late November or December, when its cold back home and low 80s in Phoenix. But its still a tremendous trip.
Main thing to remember is that you dont want to actually be in Phoenix. Youre going to either stay in Tempe, home of Arizona State, or Scottsdale, with its resorts, spas and fancy restaurants.
You have to allow yourself plenty of time in Arizona. Head out mid-week if you can and make the four-hour trip north to the Grand Canyon. If thats a little much, mystical Sedona is only two hours away.
If your time is limited, theres plenty of world-class golf, dining and shopping around Scottsdale, and ASUs campus might be the nicest in the country. Downtown Tempe is packed with outdoor bars, bistros, coffee shops, bookstores and restaurants. A little more gentrified than it used to be, but still a terrific place to spend a day or two walking around.
Back in the old days, you could stay in Tempe and walk to the stadium. Since the Cards moved out of Sun Devil Stadium and into their own stadium in Glendale, its not quite the same. But its still a fairly easy ticket. And it sure beats Cleveland.
Favorite spot: Salty Senorita, 3636 N. Scottsdale Rd.
Oct. 7, at Pittsburgh
Travel Grade: C-plus.
I actually like Pittsburgh. Its a good, honest, gritty, working-class city, not all that different from Philly.
Like Cleveland, the stadium is an easy walk from all the downtown hotels, and along the way youll find the Strip District, a 10-block area jammed with stores and restaurants. Theres another collection of more sports-oriented bars and restaurants and a bunch more hotels adjacent to PNC Park, home of the Pirates, which is less than a mile from Heinz Field.
Theres really not a lot to do in Pittsburgh other than eat and drink, but, hey, youre an Eagles fan, so that works.
Of course, the best thing about making the Pittsburgh trip is that depending on where in the Delaware Valley you live, youre a 4 12- or five-hour drive away. Its actually easier to drive to Pittsburgh than fly, and that gives you the flexibility to leave whenever you want.
Its not an easy ticket, but Heinz Field is a terrific place to watch a football game. And if the Steelers are up 30-6 at halftime, you can bail out and be back in your living room in time to watch the Sunday night game.
Favorite spot: Tilted Kilt, 353 North Shore Drive.
Nov. 5, at New Orleans
Travel Grade: B-plus.
Best thing about this trip is that the Eagles-Saints game is on a Monday night. More time to enjoy the unique charms of New Orleans.
If youve never been to New Orleans, its a unique place. Much of the city never recovered from Katrina, and there are signs of the tragic flood everywhere you look. But the French Quarter is still going as strong as ever, and the revitalized Warehouse District is nearby, for those who are more interested in art galleries, fine dining, Bohemian boutiques and coffee shops than the debauchery of the Quarter.
To many, New Orleans just means drinking. But you dont need booze to enjoy the fascinating culture, history, food and music of Nawlins.
Best of all: The Louisiana Superdome is within stumbling distance of all the hotels.
One warning: Youre not going to sleep. The hotels in downtown New Orleans are more like frat houses than hotels. But if you need a 64-ounce Hurricane at 4 a.m., youll be in luck.
Favorite spot: Pat OBriens, 718 St. Peter St.
Nov. 18, at Washington
Travel Grade: B-plus.
Washington? Really? Yeah, why not?!
The District of Columbia is actually one of the great cities in the country to visit. With its museums -- all free art galleries, historic monuments, theaters and spectacular architecture and a terrific subway system connecting all of it, youll find plenty to do in Washington.
Take Amtrak down to Union Station in downtown D.C. Friday, spend Saturday in the city, take a cab to FedEx Field about 12 miles away in Landover on Sunday morning, then pick up Amtrak at nearby New Carrolton after the game on Sunday for the quick trip back to Philly.
Redskins tickets are easy to find, and youll feel right at home, since theres usually about 15 to 20 percent Eagles fans at every Redskins home game. If its late in the season and the Redskins have already collapsed, that number can go even higher!
Favorite spot: The Bier Baron (formerly the Brickskeller), 1523 22nd St., NW
Dec. 2, at Dallas
Travel Grade: C-minus.
It speaks volumes about Dallas that the only interesting thing in town is the site where a president got shot.
That and great Mexican grub.
Really, the highlight of a trip to Dallas , once youve visited Dealey Plaza and the Book Depository, is the stadium itself. Dallas Cowboys Stadium is a monument to all that is garish, excessive and over-the-top. The place is absurd I mean, there are actually nearly nude go-go dancers pole dancing over the east end zone but theres never been anything like it anywhere in the world, so its worth seeing at least once.
Plus, its Eagles-Cowboys, and the Eagles usually play well in Dallas.
Other than that, the Dallas-Arlington-Fort Worth area is mainly an endless maze of highways, strip plazas, shopping centers and boot stores.
If you go, dont laugh if you see guys in the bars wearing cowboy hats. They do that. Seriously.
Favorite spot: Desperados Mexican Restaurant, 4818 Greenville Ave.
Dec. 9, at Tampa
Travel Grade: A-plus
The Gulf Coast in December? With apologies to Arizona, if youre going to make one Eagles trip this year, this is the one.
If youre a hardcore Phillies fan, youre probably familiar with the whole Tampa-Clearwater area, since the Phillies hold spring training in Clearwater, and March has meant a massive migration south for Phillies fans since 1947.
If you havent been to Tampa, just go. The whole region is loaded with attractions, from the spectacular beaches and waterside bars in Clearwater Beach to the museums and restaurants in St. Petersburg to the nightlife in Tampa.
And itll be warm. And sunny. And the Eagles will probably win.
Favorite spot: Frenchys Rockaway Grill, 7 Rockaway St., Clearwater Beach.
Dec. 30, at Giants
Travel Grade: Seriously?
Yeah, lovely East Rutherford. Why not make a vacation out of it?
In all seriousness, heres the best thing about going to an Eagles-Giants game: The Eagles usually win up there. In fact, the Giants have won more Super Bowls since 2006 (two) than home games against the Eagles (one).
The Eagles are 8-2 in their last 10 games at the Meadowlands and 2-0 all-time at MetLife Stadium.
But the best thing about going to a Giants game? The Turnpike is right around the corner from the stadium. Youll be on your way out of that dump in minutes!
Favorite spot: Park and Orchard, 240 Hackensack St., East Rutherford.E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org