Is there a jail at the Eagles’ stadium? Explaining the history of Eagles Court to deal with unruly fans


Philadelphia sports fans have quite a reputation for being one of the most passionate in the U.S. That passion will be on full display on Sunday afternoon when the Eagles host the 49ers in the NFC championship game, with a berth in Super Bowl 57 on the line.

That passion doesn’t always come out in the best of ways, however. At one point, anger over a potential loss prompted the Eagles to explore the possibility of installing a jail at the stadium — and even a functioning courtroom.

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Why did the Eagles put a jail in their home stadium? Here’s what you need to know.

Is there a jail at the Eagles’ stadium?

There was a jail at Lincoln Financial Field, but it was shut down shortly after it was opened. The Eagles’ old home, Veterans Stadium, had a jail for unruly fans that lasted awhile.

The Eagles decided they needed a jail because of what happened during a game against the 49ers on Nov. 10, 1997, according to SFGate. The Eagles were losing, and a fan decided to pull out a flare gun he had smuggled in and fire toward another section across the stadium.

While no one was injured, Philadelphia fans did get into fistfights across the Vet, with many of the fists directed at 49ers fans, according to SFGate. 

“In spite of the fact that we feel we have made significant strides in recent years with regard to fan conduct at Veterans Stadium, what we witnessed this past Monday was undoubtedly a step backward,” team owner Jeffrey Lurie told reporters.

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The Eagles devised a plan to handle unruly fans: install a jail. But it went further than that. Veterans Stadium was also outfitted with a courtroom, where Judge Seamus Patrick McCaffery and volunteer judges would be ready on game days to handle fans who were detained by security. The fans were taken to Eagles Court, where they would sit in a holding cell and wait for sentencing. SFGate noted that among the violators were people who tried to sneak alcohol into the stadium, sold towels in the restroom and got into fights.

When fans went to court, the process was usually cut and dried. Billy Penn reported that perpetrators were usually caught in the act and thus pleaded guilty. The sentence was usually a fine of $150 to $300 and maybe community service as well. If someone decided to plead not guilty, or if they faced more serious charges, a court date would be assigned.

“I think it helped restore relative order,” Mike Diberardinis, Philadelphia recreation commissioner, said, per Billy Penn. “The Vet had a relative order.”

Initially, plenty of people went to Eagles Court. Billy Penn reported 20 fans were processed during the first game the court was open. Traffic began to taper off as not everyone went to court. Some fans were simply ejected from the Vet, a practice McCaffery decried to the press.

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“If there’s nothing going on, there’s no sense in having a court,” McCaffery said, per SFGate. “Why they are not making arrests, I don’t know.”

When Lincoln Financial Field opened in 2003, Eagles Court was not brought back. There was still a jail installed, but it wasn’t used as often. According to Billy Penn, there were 78 arrests in the first year of the stadium compared to 309 in 2002, the last year of Veterans Stadium. 

McCaffery, meanwhile, worked his way up the Pennsylvania judicial system. The former Philly police officer served as a municipal court judge from 1993 to 2001 and an administrative judge in the city from 2001-04. He was elected to Pennsylvania Superior Court in 2003 and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2007.

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But McCaffery’s career came crashing down in 2014. He resigned on Oct. 27 after an investigation found he had sent or received 234 pornographic e-mails between 2008 and 2012 to an employee in the attorney general’s office. He later agreed to retire, which allowed him to keep his $11,000-per-month pension benefit.

Sunday’s NFC championship game in Philadelphia will feature the teams in that 1997 game that set in motion the jail and Eagles Court. While Lincoln Financial Field is not as unruly as Veterans Stadium was back then, it’s safe to say security will still be stringent for such a high-stakes clash.

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