Rooting for the Eagles

A chant? A song? What's your favorite way to cheer on the team?

Before they learn to spell their own name, most children in Philadelphia are able to spell the word Eagles. They hear it spelled constantly. In the mall, at sporting events, at almost any public gathering, one male will not be able to contain himself and start spelling “E-A” and by the time he gets to “G,” dozens — even hundreds — of others will join in for “L-E-S, EAGLES!”

“You get it walking down the street even at first Holy Communion,” Jim Gallagher says proudly. “It’s everywhere.” Jim Gallagher is a legend. He was the public relations guy for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1949-1995 and has championship rings to prove it. He vaguely remembers when the Eagles chant started. “It was in the early ’80s at the vet. One section would do it and then others would start. It wasn’t a very organized thing.” Jim remembers a game against Dallas in 1984 when the Cowboy’s PR guy noticed the chant throughout the stadium, “He asked me, ‘when did this start?’ I told him, ‘I think just now.’”[SIGNUP]

And boy did it take off. At anytime, almost anywhere, someone, anyone might yell “E!” and that is the cue for all Philadelphians to join in the tribal chanting ritual. When the Eagles are playing well, like in the 2005-2006 season when they went to the Super Bowl, there are no social or geographic barriers to the ritual. It is a Philadelphia war cry.

There is also a fight song. Um, check that, not a fight song, it is a victory song. Fight is a bad word at Eagles games because Eagle fans actually do fight on occasion. It got so bad at Veterans Stadium that the city set up a courtroom and jail cell right on the premises. So we don’t use the term “fight song” in Philadelphia anymore. Even the words of the original Eagles song have been changed to protect the innocent Redskins, Cowboys or Giants fans who might make the near fatal flaw of actually going to an Eagles game to cheer on their team.

The song dates back to the ’50s. Jim Gallagher still has the words and lyrics to the original song from a 1957 program when the Eagles played at Connie Mack Stadium. (The next season they would move to Franklin Field.) In the program, the names Charles Borrelli, Roger Courtland and Ben Musicant are listed as the writers of “The Eagles Victory Song.”

Here are the original lyrics:

The Eagles’ Victory Song
“Fight, Eagles Fight
On your way to victory.
Fight, Eagles Fight
Score a touchdown 1, 2, 3

Hit ‘em low
Hit’em high

Let us see our Eagles fly.
Come on and fight Eagles fight
On your way to victory.”

In the ’50s, Victory Song co-author Frank Courtland himself and his musicians would play the song at Shibe Park and Connie Mack Stadium. “The song never really caught on back then,” remembers Jim Gallagher. Then in 1964 Jerry Wolman bought the team. Wolman grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and loved hearing “Hail to the Redskins” at the games. Wolman put together a group of musicians who called themselves “The Philadelphia Eagles Sound of Brass.” It was a band fronted by a dozen or so women with pom-poms called the Eaglettes. The band was great. Wolman loved them.

But the fans never really embraced the band or the song. Maybe it’s because the team was terrible and the fans had a habit of taking out their aggression at half time. The Sound of Brass was playing Here Comes Santa Claus as poor Santa was getting pelted with hundreds of snowballs. When Leonard Tose bought the team in 1968, the band and the song disappeared.

It took 20 years for the song to make a comeback. It was a comeback worthy of Rocky.
Bob Mansure of Upper Darby, Delaware County approached the Eagles in 1997 about playing in the parking lot during home games at the vet. He had put together a band with three of his buddies and called them “The Eagles Pep Band.” The Eagles gave them a two game pre-season audition. The two-game audition has turned into a permanent gig.

Over the first year the band was constantly fine-tuning the fight song. “The original song was five minutes long with lots of orchestration,” Bob Mansure explains. “It sounded like a song from a Disney movie in the 1950s. It was good, but outdated.” Mansure and his buds chopped it down to 33 seconds; they changed the words, the tempo, the key, and the title, just about everything. I reminded Bob that the song was copyrighted in 1961. “I know. No one has ever called to complain or challenge us. I think we’re in the clear.”

Here are the new lyrics:

Fly, Eagles, Fly
Fly, Eagles, Fly
On the Road to Victory.
Fly Eagles, Fly
Score a touchdown one, two, three.
(one, two, three)

Hit ‘em low, Hit’em high
And watch our Eagles Fly.

Fly, Eagles, Fly
On the Road to Victory.

The Eagles Pep Band marketed the song by playing it hundreds of times a game: in the parking lot before the game, after touchdowns during the game, and even after the game if the Eagles won. Soon the band was appearing at pep rallies and on TV reports, and fans and clubs were hiring them for appearances. They are in essence a one-hit wonder, but they will always be on the charts in Philadelphia. Bruce Mulford, Tony “Skull” DiMeo, Brian Saunders and Bobby Mansure have no problem with that. Bobby speaks for the entire pep band when he says, “We will never get tired of playing that song.”

And the rest of the Eagles fans will never get tired of singing along or chanting “E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!”

It is a marriage made in heaven, one of those things that was a universal inevitability. At the end of “Fly, Eagles, Fly,” Eagles fans in unison shout the answer to their perpetual one-word spelling bee. “I don’t even remember if it was the band or the fans that started doing it. It was just such a natural thing to do.” And so now the Eagles chant is part of the lyrics to the song, a perfect ending.

And it is the perfect way to celebrate the Eagles in the end zone.

Eagles’ owner Jeffrey Lurie loves the tradition of singing the song after every touchdown. When the team left Veterans Stadium to move to Lincoln Financial Field in 2003, Lurie instructed that lyrics of the song be written out on the giant video screen to make certain everyone knew the words and could sing along. Everybody already knew the words, but it still worked. It was as if the stadium itself was singing the song.

“Fly, Eagles, Fly” and “E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!” are now such an integral part of the soundtrack of Philadelphia, it is difficult to imagine that either will fade away. Win or lose, Eagles will sing and chant because it is not about a season or an owner or a player or even a team. It’s about the shared experience of being a Philadelphian. And that is something to cheer about.