During a press trip over the weekend of the famed Army-Navy Game at Lincoln Financial Field, the Philadelphia CVB showed how intimate a city can feel when everyone works together.
I grew up frequenting the Philadelphia area. And while some of the city’s characteristics always have struck me as cozier than nearby Manhattan — its quaint, brick-laden Old City District, for example, makes visitors feel as though they’ve traveled back in time to the beginning of the American independence movement — it’s still big, the country’s fifth-largest city.
But when the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB) hosted me in December to get a look at how Philadelphia activates venues across the city to prepare for the annual Army-Navy Game, which has been held in Philadelphia 88 times in its 119-year history — I learned just how well the community works together to remain true to its “City of Brotherly Love” nickname.
Bites and a Bowling Alley
My experience began at the Cambria Hotel Philadelphia Downtown, a newly opened, 223-room property that’s just blocks from Philadelphia’s iconic City Hall, where I was warmly greeted. I settled into my chic hotel room, appreciating the way the bed faced the window and was bathed in sunlight. I then met and walked with my fellow journalists and our host from the CVB to the first destination of our three-night stay, a.kitchen, located in the AKA Rittenhouse Square hotel. The French-inspired restaurant features seasonal bites and an extensive wine list, which we perused while making our way through a charcuterie tray. As we enjoyed our main entrée of perfectly prepared duck, we chatted with our knowledgeable, friendly server, who had as much passion for the city as any tour guide we’d ever met. Our interaction set the tone for the rest of our trip.
Before we headed back to our rooms for the night, we popped into hotspot Harp & Crown for a nightcap. The space, we determined, could only be described as “Harry Potter in the American South” — a charming mix of leather seating, vintage photographs, old-fashioned lamp posts, and eclectic wallpaper. Another surprise element: The restaurant’s underground speakeasy lounge, complete with a two-lane bowling alley, can be rented out for private events of up to 90 guests.
Let the Games Begin
I woke up bright and early the next morning, greeted by sunshine flooding into my room. We met for a quick but hearty breakfast of oatmeal and scrambled eggs at the Cambria, in preparation for a full day ahead, the first day of the Patriot Games. Presented by USAA, the Patriot Games are a two-day, five-event competition between the Army Cadets and Navy Midshipmen leading up to the Army-Navy football game — a Philadelphia tradition started in 2003 to entertain visitors coming into the city for the weekend. The Army-Navy game itself delivers a reported $30 million in economic impact to the city.
During the day, we visited iconic Philadelphia places to view the games, which also gave us the opportunity to see how seamlessly the venues worked together to coordinate the multi-location event. Our first Patriot Games challenge of the day was the “Rocky Relay” on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, made famous by the first Rocky film (whose theme song we heard no less than 20 times during our stay in Philadelphia, by the way). We then stopped to watch the “Leadership Reaction Course,” hosted at Independence Visitor Center, which offers plenty of indoor and outdoor meeting space, ideal for business receptions. The visitor center recently completed the first phase of a $15-million renovation project, which expanded a gift shop and a terrace that overlooks historic Independence Hall. During our stop, we enjoyed the destination’s staple food: Philly cheesesteaks from Campo’s, a sandwich shop established in 1947.
Our final Patriot Games stop of the day was at the Shops at Liberty Place, positioned at the base of the city’s most recognizable skyscrapers, One Liberty Place and Two Liberty Place. We threaded our way through crowds of onlookers to watch a pull-up challenge and pep rally, which featured the teams’ bands and cheerleaders.
The next stop during our whirlwind day was Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles. There, we were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium, led by Eagles Chief Financial Officer Frank Gumienny, to see how the venue was prepping for the big game. Gumienny gave us a warm welcome and showed us around the facility’s multiple private meeting spaces as well as the Eagles’ locker room, where we tried on official Eagles gear — available for photo ops during private events — and laid eyes on the Super Bowl LII trophy. From there, we walked the same path players take onto the field, complete with special lighting and music playing in the background — a memorable experience, regardless of whether we were Eagles fans or not.
Our final stop of the day took us to the Army-Navy Gala at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, a complex that takes up four city blocks. The evening celebration included a rousing “Battle of the Bands,” which whet our appetite for the Army-Navy competition to take place on the field the next day.
The Main Event
On game day, we fueled up on breakfast at the iconic Reading Terminal Market, one of the country’s oldest and largest food markets. We were given some time to wander on our own, choosing our own breakfast adventure. I opted for a doughnut from Beiler’s Bakery, an establishment owned by a Pennsylvania Dutch family since 1984. Then we were off for an early arrival at the stadium, to get there before 50,000 fans piled in.
The March-On ceremony, in which approximately 4,000 cadets and an equal number of midshipmen take up the entire football field, was an awe-inspiring moment that warmed us — along with the energy in the crowd and our newly acquired Eagles cold-weather apparel — despite the chilly temps.
We pushed through to watch the game long after sunset, and then headed to Oloroso, a Spanish tapas restaurant created by famed chef Townsend Wentz. With our stomachs warmed by glasses of sherry and our appetites primed by unusual bites like grilled octopus, we chatted with Oloroso’s staff. Not surprisingly, they were all warm, hospitable, and well-informed about all things Philadelphia — bookending what had by now become a familiar experience during our time in Philly.