Advice for Super Bowl LII: Don’t mess with Philly phans

Philadelphia Eagles' tight end Zach Ertz celebrates a touchdown with fans during the second half of the NFL football NFC championship game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

With their beloved Philadelphia Eagles playing this Sunday in Super Bowl LII, sports fans from the city of brotherly love will find themselves on something of a national stage, both for their phanaticism and for those times, when, well, brotherly love was close to the last thing on their minds. And you’re probably going to hear some stories.

It is said that Philly fans once booed Santa Claus. This is not entirely true, many Philadelphians will argue; we did not boo Santa, we threw snowballs at Santa.

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It is said that Philly fans once booed Santa Claus. This is not entirely true, many Philadelphians will argue; we did not boo Santa, we threw snowballs at Santa.

Snowballs would have been a welcome change of pace for baseball player J. D. Drew in 1999, two years after he refused to sign a contract with the Phillies, who had taken him with the second overall pick in the 1997 draft. On his first visit to Philadelphia with the St. Louis Cardinals, Drew found himself dodging D batteries hurled from the stands. Even the Philly Phanatic (the Phillies mascot) got in on the fun, dumping huge bags festooned with dollar signs on the field between innings.

Drew does not own the honor of being the target of the most quintessentially Philly projectile, however: That belongs to Washington Redskins defensive lineman Chris Baker. After a particularly dirty hit on Eagles quarterback Nick Foles in a September 2014 showdown at Lincoln Financial Field (“The Linc”) in South Philly, Baker was ejected from the game. As he left the field to a chorus of boos, a cheesesteak whizzed past his head.

I lived in Philadelphia for three years in my early 20s and can attest that the vast majority of the fans of the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and 76ers are not the type to throw a battery at someone (or waste a perfectly good cheesesteak). I can also confirm, however, that there are few things more disconcerting than rooting for a Philadelphia opponent on Philly’s home turf. Philly fans are loud, they are loyal, they are unpredictable, and they are hilarious.

There are few things more disconcerting than rooting for a Philadelphia opponent on Philly’s home turf. Philly fans are loud, they are loyal, they are unpredictable, and they are hilarious.

I recall a 1998 visit from my brother, during which we went down to the old Veterans’ Stadium for a Dodgers-Phillies game. One of the soulless cookie-cutter stadiums that appeared everywhere in the late 1960s, “The Vet” served double duty as a home for the N.F.L.’s Eagles and M.L.B.’s Phillies, and by 1997 it was something of a dump. The artificial turf that passed for a grass playing field had visible seams running through it. The concrete pedestrian walkways and ramps were cracked and reeked of urine. The Phillies, who had been in the World Series only four years earlier, were averaging only about 18,000 fans a game—in a stadium that could seat 66,000.

As we were leaving the game, freelance vendors at the exits were hawking their wares, including several selling T-shirts that simply said “F--K DALLAS.”

“What does that even mean?” my brother asked.

“They hate the Dallas Cowboys,” I told him, “You see those shirts everywhere.”

“But the Cowboys are a football team from Texas,” he complained. “And this is a baseball game against Los Angeles!”

I shrugged. How could I explain? It was Philly. It made no difference that the opponent that night at the Vet was the Los Angeles Dodgers. Cowboys like Troy Aikman or Michael Irvin still deserved Philly’s scorn, and plenty of fans were snapping up those jawns.

Actually, a few months later, Michael Irvin’s career ended in a scary incident on the field at the Vet, where it appeared that Irvin had broken his neck. As he was being loaded onto a stretcher, the Eagles fans—you guessed it—cheered. While it earned the fans plenty of critics, Irvin himself wasn’t one of them. Blue-collar fans sacrifice a lot to afford football tickets, he pointed out, and had a right to express themselves. “You’ve never heard me say one negative thing about the Philadelphia crowd.”

Earlier that year, on the infamous 700 level of the Vet, a huge brawl broke out during the Phillies’ home opener against the Atlanta Braves—but it wasn’t between fans of the two teams. It was between students from two local Catholic high schools, Monsignor Bonner and St. Joseph’s Preparatory, both of whom were celebrating senior “cut day.” The brawl was so big and lasted so long that the game was momentarily delayed; even the players were watching the spectacle.

It is said that an Eagles fan punched a police horse in a postgame celebration in January. Not true, say Philadelphians: two different fans punched two different horses at two different games in January.

America editor-at-large James Martin, S.J., brought up the legend of “KiteMan,” a 1972 hang-gliding daredevil who was hired to deliver the first pitch of the season after being launched from a ski ramp toward home plate. But the wind shifted direction, Kiteman careened off course, crashed into the 600 level, and threw the first pitch into the Phillies’ bullpen. “The fans at the Vet,” Father Martin remembered, “booed him all the way down.”

Things eventually got so rowdy at the Vet that the city of Philadelphia created Eagles Court, an ad hoc courtroom in the bowels of the Vet where drunks, brawlers, public urinators and all the rest (for example, the famous fellow who shot off a flare gun during an Eagles game) were brought before Judge Seamus McCaffery during the actual game and immediately sentenced. But it’s hard to know if it had a salutary effect—or simply became a rite of passage.

This postseason has had its own memorable stories. It is said that an Eagles fan punched a police horse in a postgame celebration in January. Not true, say Philadelphians: two different fans punched two different horses at two different games in January.

There may not be many Philly fans present in Minneapolis this Sunday. Super Bowl crowds tend to be a bit more hoity-toity than the denizens of “The Linc.” The N.F.L. doesn’t allow mass viewing parties (it would hurt their Nielsen ratings), so Eagles fans will instead fill every bar and restaurant in town. It will be a colorful and hilarious time, as long as you leave your Cowboys jersey at home.

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Richard Bell
3 weeks 1 day ago

Rowdies. Thanks for the warning!

Stanley Kopacz
3 weeks ago

It's not just sports. It's the whole City of Brotherly Love. Local news weatherman personality Jim O'Brien was known for his over-the-top clownish antics on-air and his taste for adventurous activities like motorcycle riding and skydiving. One time in 1983, his main chute didn't open and he was too late with the secondary. He died on impact. Not long after, this sensitive joke spread through Philly: "What was the last thing that went through Jim O'Brien's mind before he died? ...............his feet."
Before she went national, newscaster Jessica Savitch worked in Philly. Also in 1983, upon leaving a restaurant, she backed her car into a canal and drowned. Shortly thereafter: "What do you call a date between Jessica Savitch and Jim O'Brien?.....Surf and Turf." I won't even go into entertainment newsperson Jerry Penacoli and the gerbil.
I attended Monsignor Bonner in the 60's, a real hotbed of elitists. I'd rather the brawl had broken out with Cardinal Dougherty than St. Joe's Prep but one must make do.

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