Joe Brown, stalwart Philadelphia Eagles training camp attendee, was in danger of missing out on his annual rite.
“Eagle Joe” made the trek to Philadelphia’s football team’s camp starting in 1975 when the team pushed the sleighs and worked on plays at Widener University in Chester, suffering along with his team in the gruelling August heat. He stuck with his team through the Dick Vermeil and Marion Campbell eras.
Joe was such a prominent fixture at camp that coach Buddy Ryan gave him sideline access in 1988. It was a privilege he enjoyed with the joy of a man reunited with his beloved every year thereafter. And by all accounts, the players enjoyed his predictable presence as well.
That is, until his deteriorating vision nearly broke his streak.
Declared legally blind in 2007, a disease-battered Joe wrote the Eagles asking if he could attend camp in some capacity. The Eagles weren’t going to let Eagle Joe miss out. They proceeded to send a limo to pick him up every morning at his home in Exton, PA, making sure he made it to his sideline spot.
Joe, a long-serving employee of Acme Markets, succumbed to disease in 2012. It was his Acme vacation time, carefully budgeted, that allowed him to take the time off to come to camp every year.
Then-Eagles coach Andy Reid read the following statement on occasion of Eagle Joe’s passing.
“Training camp will not be the same without Eagle Joe. He was a fixture at our practices every summer for many, many years. He knew every player on the roster, their 40 time, their college and their statistics, it seemed. He bled green. And even though he was struggling with various illnesses in recent years, he still managed to travel to Lehigh a few times every camp.”
“He always had a kind word of encouragement to each of our players and coaches. He never asked for anything and never expected anything, he just wanted to be around his Eagles family. We will certainly miss Joe and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends in their time of loss.”
Joe’s devotion was so legendary that in 2001, he actually became part of the NFL Hall of Fame as the Eagles representative for Visa’s “Hall of Fans.” (All in on similar marketing efforts in the future)
Here’s the thing: In the world of sports, there’s a broad spectrum of fan enthusiasm. And certainly, there are plenty of archetypes from “hooligan” to “disinterested courtside observer who shows up at every game” to Jack Nicholson, who is somehow both.
Anyway, fans like Joe are the absolute best of the breed. Bottling their joy and devotion is the Philosopher’s Stone for sports franchises. For fans like Joe, sports substantially enhance their life, and the team derives benefits as well. And what better PR, what nobler marketing efforts, than seeking out, honoring and accommodating the Eagle Joes of the sports world? Kudos to the Eagles for this bit of symbiosis, and let the example serve to compel other NFL teams to open their coffers for fans who bleed for their teams year after year.