When a team's home losing streak spans beyond both a Roman and Football calendar year, people tend to take notice. And when some of them believe the underlying reason is the owner’s insistence on turning what used to be the league’s toughest place to play (the Vet) to, basically, a country club, (the Linc), they start calling up talk radio and complaining. Loudly.
All told, when it comes to the Eagles slide – nine games, beginning with a 26-23 overtime loss on Oct. 14 last year to the eventual 4-12 Lions – you could argue the Linc is the problem.
But not for its cozy, family-friendly feel.
For its acoustics and playing surface.
First, there’s the Linc’s open-air structure. Ideally, it would’ve been built as a dome. (To that end, if elected commissioner of the world, my first act may be to put every relevant professional and college sporting event in a dome. I digress…) Problem is, building a stadium with a roof, even a retractable one, is significantly more expensive. Pennsylvania taxpayers put up $85 million to fund the Lincoln Financial Field construction project, eventually valued at $512 million. Imagine the price tag had there been a roof.
Why a dome? It shelters you from the elements and exposes your opposition to relentless noise, both of which should translate to team success. At least in theory – the net effect is a tough to quantify. Still, Eagles fans who think the lack of rowdiness at the Linc directly impacts the scoreboard would agree, bottling up sports' most passionate fan base couldn’t hurt.
But having a roof isn’t the only way to a create stadium pulse.
Take this, from TIME Magazine, on CenturyLink Field, home of the Seahawks:
While the vocal cords of Seahawks fans surely deserve credit for piercing ears, so do the designers of CenturyLink Field. Even though it’s a mostly open-air stadium, the building traps noise. … Two huge canopies — one on the east side of the stadium, the other on the west side — cover 70% of the seats.
“The main thing that creates noise is any type of overhanging structure that reflects sounds back into the stadium,” says Andrew Barnard, a research associate at Penn State‘s Applied Research Laboratory, specializing in structural acoustics.
Seattle’s stadium has two additional overhangs, functioning as the bottom of the upper seating bowl, that cover the lower seating bowls. “Sound also reflects off the bottom of the upper deck, and back onto the field,” says Barnard.
Maybe the most important function of that structure:
“Fans get caught up in it,” says Stewart. “They experience an intense increase in the sound levels that they would not normally experience in an outdoor environment, and are energized by it.” As a result, they scream even louder.
Only thing sciencey about the Linc’s structure is wind turbines. Yay?
In fairness, even the Seahawks didn’t see the "12th Man" coming. The architect, Jon Niemuth, called the effect a “happy accident.” Tough to crush Jeffrey Lurie and Co. there.
The decision on the playing surface, however, is questionable. The Linc uses a reinforced natural grass surface, called DD GrassMaster, in which artificial fibers stabilize the grass blades and roots. Some great work by IgglesBlog in 2008 delves deeper, exposing the “real source” of the problem: the field’s absurd usage, given that it doubles as home of the Temple Owls and, as we learned over the summer, concerts.
But whether the grass would hold up better if not for ownership’s ambition to, you know, make money and stuff misses the point. It shouldn't have been grass at all. It should've been field turf, the same surface used in three of the four stadiums built since the Linc. (The fourth is the retractable grass inside Arizona’s University of Phoenix Stadium, clearly not practical for Philadelphia.) And in three of the four built before it.
Especially for a cold-weather city in a sport that, at this point, plays warm-weather football.
Even if the NFL didn’t implement the rule changes that, some say, made the NFL “the arena league” until 2005, two years after the Linc opened and four years after the financing was approved, the Eagles had a progressive, pass-first coach in 1999. They didn’t have the same speed they do now, but, for a coach/front office that insisted they didn’t need elite wide receivers to be successful, you’d think they’d do whatever they could to… enhance the effectiveness of the scrubs they trotted out there.
They didn’t. So, we have this.
On complaints that the Linc is calm, safe, well-policed: if you think this, this, this, this, this, this and this -- and this and this -- are good, swell, worth team wins, something to strive for, you have issues. You also don't seem to care too much about eradicating the stigma about Philly sports fans that's persisted for, like, ever.
As for the instability at quarterback the past few years: Even the Cardinals, fixed with the league’s most active turnstile under center (Palmer, Kolb, Skelton, Lindley, Hoyer, Bartel), have managed to go 12-7 and 5-1 in OT at home since 2011 with teams that won a flimsy. 8, 5 and, now, 3 games. At minimum, you should run into 2/3 home wins per season… on accident. That’s how awfully, marvelously bad this has been for Philly.
What’s sad is, if the Eagles still played the same brand of football they did in the early part of the decade, both points would be moot. Their defense would thrive on what may be unofficially the sloppiest field in football. (Of note, the Eagles were 30-18 in the regular season 5-2 in the playoffs under the late Jim Johnson thru 2008.) And fans would ballyhoo loud as ever, helping fuel a team that was already likely to win.
(Enrico's note: not all of us here at the Level believe the Birds should play in a dome or on turf. This is the opinion of the writer of this article, Matt.)