This was a sideline chat to eavesdrop upon: Chuck Bednarik, former Eagle; Merrill Reese, voice of the Eagles; and the guy they call Eagle Joe.

Everybody at training camp knows Eagle Joe. Headsetted staffers say hi. Security director Bruce Buchanico makes sure he's wearing the latest gear. Head coach Andy Reid pays his respects.

''I spend more time talking to people than I do watching practice,'' Eagle Joe said.

His name is Joseph Brown, and for the last 37 years he has been a cashier at the Acme Superstore in the Granite Run Mall in Media. But for three weeks every year, the 53-year-old Brown becomes Eagle Joe, Philadelphia's most devoted training camp fan.

Brown reported to his 29th straight camp last week, a term that spans three sites, seven head coaches and countless contract holdouts. He has attended camp longer than 76 of the 87 players at Lehigh University this week have been alive.

Eagle Joe walks the sideline, courtesy of a pass proffered by Buddy Ryan, with two cameras slinged across his shoulders. A security note directed to the field crew reads in part, ''Sideline spectators are not allowed to have cameras. Except Eagle Joe.''

A season-ticket holder since 1985 (Section 214 in the new stadium), Brown skipped an open house Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field to visit Lehigh instead.

''They might send out a search party if I didn't show,'' he said.

Brown's devotion to watching football practice began in 1975, when he planned to spend a week of vacation reading football magazines by his apartment complex's pool.

On Tuesday, a few buddies dragged him to Eagles camp at Widener University, where Brown watched then-coach Mike McCormack run the drills. He visited camp every day the rest of the week and began planning his vacations around football thereafter.

''Little did I know, but that day changed my whole life,'' Brown said. ''And I'm damn glad it did.''

His favorite camps were presided over by Dick Vermeil in the days before roster restrictions and the salary cap. Brown watched in awe as Vermeil's 120 Eagles ''whaled the tar out of each other'' for six weeks. ''Absolutely vicious,'' he said.

In 1988, head coach Buddy Ryan wanted to know who the guy was hanging around every day. He sent a ball boy with a message and a pass: Ryan wanted Brown to watch practice from the sidelines. Gradually, people began calling him Eagle Joe.

''I don't make a pain in the butt of myself asking for autographs and such,'' Brown said. ''I think I caught their eye with common courtesy, not like the guys who paint their faces and get all drunked up.''

Ryan was the first to treat Brown as ''one of their own,'' even taking Brown to lunch with the team. After Ryan, word filtered to successive coaches about Eagle Joe.

He said he's on a first-name basis with Reid, who outfitted Brown with all new gear several years ago. Reid even gave Brown a hat that the coaches wear.

Eagle Joe wore the hat all through training camp, then wrapped it in tissue paper and boxed it. It's the only hat he has ever washed.

''As I get older, the seasons come together in one big blur,'' Brown said. ''But the people I've been fortunate enough to meet is what makes it memorable.''

Friends used to wonder what was wrong with Eagle Joe. Now they reckon he's an insider. Which is why, when he returns to the Acme, his checkout line will be the longest in the store.

''Every single day for two weeks, people will get in my line just to talk to me about football,'' he said. ''I love being out here. It's like one of the coaches said to me once: Training camp is like Christmas. You can't wait to get down there and see what you have.''

mark.wogenrich@mcall.com

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