To Be Philadelphian Is To Live With Slings – Phillies Nation
Mug of Malcolm

To Be Philadelphian Is To Live With Slings

Some day in 1968 at Franklin Field, a bunch of drunken, rowdy Eagles fans booed to and threw snowballs at a man in a Santa Claus suit. More than 40 years later, can you believe we’re still dealing with that?

Every few weeks the fact will reappear. Yes, Philadelphia sports fans once jeered and pelted Santa. It happened. Yes, Philadelphia sports fans once threw batteries at JD Drew. That happened, too. And yes, Philadelphia sports fans once booed at the selection of Donovan McNabb in the NFL Draft. And at 9 p.m. Monday, the Discovery Channel will feature the post-World Series celebration in Philadelphia on their show “Rampage! Riot Rampage 2.”

Subtle, isn’t it?

Philadelphia sports fans have long been subject to generous amounts of criticism and scorn. Most of it is image — the media plays up the image of the Philadelphia fan to drive emotional impact, which drives viewership. Leading up to the NFC Championship, I encountered numerous people normally impartial to football who said they wanted the Cardinals to win. Why? “I hate Philly fans.” Take the World Series, which featured the lovable Rays — already Philadelphians were cooked in the support column. Much of the country rallied around the Rays, and a lot of it was because people didn’t want to see Philadelphia sports fans happy.

Much of the country is conditioned to think that Philadelphia sports fans should always be miserable because they’ve caused so much past trouble. You know, Santa Claus, and JD Drew and Donovan McNabb. But does the country remember 2003?

Bruising Boston

I attended Boston University from 2002 to 2006, and in 2003, the Boston Red Sox entered the postseason behind the “Cowboy Up” mantra voiced by first baseman Kevin Millar. The Sox had finally gained some respect and love by people across the country — suddenly the Red Sox were the lovable underdogs. Considering their divisional doppelganger — the New York Yankees — were the reigning dynasty of baseball, coming off five World Series appearances in the previous seven seasons, everyone wanted to see the Red Sox grasp the baton from the Yankees and end an 85-year drought.

But before the Red Sox could face the Yankees, they had to defeat the Oakland Athletics. It was close, but the Sox fended off the A’s in five games, taking the American League Division Series and sending their fans to a frenzy. A frenzy that went too far.

My friends and I raced across the street to Kenmore Square, which bordered Fenway Park and held the bulk of the celebration. Kenmore was a mob scene — thousands of college students huddled like sardines, waving their arms, flipping cars, climbing onto rooftops, starting fires. Girls flashing the crowds. Other students hanging onto lampposts like monkeys. Almost 100 revelers inked their fingers that night.

Boston lost to the Yankees in an epic American League Championship Series, but the country remained romanticized by the Red Sox. The creation of Red Sox Nation turned the team into an institution, and in the 2004 ALCS the Sox famously upended the Yankees in a stunning comeback. Another celebration began.

Another hundred revelers were arrested as students again caused havoc on the streets of Boston. And sadly, one student — 21-year-old Victoria Snelgrove — lost her life after being shot in the eye by a police officer’s pepper spray projectile. That moment tempered future celebrations, even the one that came after the Sox dispatched the Cardinals to win the World Series. Police in full riot gear surrounded Fenway Park throughout the World Series, even when the Sox weren’t playing at home.

As an excited but distanced observer of those 2003 and ’04 celebrations, I can say honestly that a wealthy percentage of the revelers were college students. Some lived in other parts of the country, some were bona-fide fans. For lack of a better term, they rioted. They damaged. They cost the city. And yet it’s the car flipping and song singing of the 2008 World Series celebration that finds time on a show called “Rampage! Riot Rampage 2.”

That’s because 2008 was Philadelphia, a city decided long ago to inhabit nothing but disgusting, foul-mouthed fans. Some of these loudmouthed grovelers became radio hosts and television personalities. And they wax poetic about the Jersey shore, hanging on the corner in the lower Northeast and smoking packs of Parliament. They snub those who disagree with them, yet embrace the misinformed. They revel in mom’s spaghetti and Danny’s hoagie shop, Tony’s pizza and Frank’s soda. Their version of culture is North Philadelphia, however sad that aspect seems. And their version of celebration is pounding cheap beer, stuffing face with bread and meat. It’s a Philadelphia thing. And yet, it’s the very thing we hate when outsiders heckle.

Simply Philadelphian

What does sports mean to Philadelphians? Really, it means everything.

You’re born into a large family and a small row home. You attend school with people who mirror you — they have brothers and sisters, they have the same food, clothing, toys, hobbies and faces. You grow up acclimating yourself to the people in your neighborhood. You decide to also have a large family. You might attend college, and if so, it’s in the city. You return home. You create your family. You move to a neighborhood that houses new couples. You grow your family. You work long hours and provide for your suddenly large clan. And why do you do all of this? It’s comfortable.

Philadelphians revel in comfort. They want children who were like them. They want families who were like theirs. They want jobs that were like their fathers’. And they want houses like their childhood homes. And just like all of that, they want their Flyers to be Broad Street Bullies. They want their Sixers to go “Fo-Fo-Fo.” They want their Eagles to bruise like Gang Green. And they want their Phillies to play like 1980.

They want their childhoods all over again.

And just like that, Philadelphians use Eagles and Phillies games as reasons to get drunk and forget about life. They tailgate hours before, fill themselves with beer and enter the stadiums in a zoned trance. Every action is amplified. Every moment is magnified. A Red Sox game, meanwhile, is an example of the high-brow. Try to buy two drinks at Boston Beer Works or the Cask & Flagon before the game. Just try. You’d better have four hours to burn. There is nowhere to tailgate. You need a ticket to enjoy a dog and a beer.

In Philadelphia, you can trade three cigarettes for a dog and a beer.

While the Bostonian middle class has an infallible sense of beauty and history still weaved within itself, the Philadelphia middle class is completely removed from the idea of beauty and history. Life is a struggle. Any free time is to be taken seriously. Bars, clubs and parties are great. Phillies and Eagles games? Those are dreamlike events.

The key reality

Have Red Sox fans treated opposing players poorly? Of course. Have Red Sox fans committed acts as supposedly evil as booing and pelting snowballs at Santa Claus? Sure. Have Boston college students caused “rampage!” in the streets? Absolutely.

But when the day is done, who revels in the twisted image they’re handed?

Will Philadelphia sports fans continue to deal with the Santa Claus story? Considering it has been 40 years since the incident, it’s unquestionably hard to tell. But in my eyes, as long as fans decide to forget their troubles when venturing down to Citizens Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field, the floggings won’t end. It’s part of the Philadelphia ethic: The tough, blue-collar, dirty-handed grouch who wants a fattening dinner and sports on the tube because the day was just too much to handle. And you can’t tell me that person has been counting down the days until his first Phillies game. Because that’s the day he can blow all his troubles away, if only for three hours.

Mug of Malcolm is published every Sunday at www.philliesnation.com.

31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. Phan in TN

    March 1, 2009 at 7:21 am

    Very well written, Mister Malcolm. I’ve been to Turner Field and Jacobs Field. Both had staff that were afraid I was going to either riot or do a drive by booing since I’m a Phillies Phan.

  2. ryan

    March 1, 2009 at 9:20 am

    good piece. the reality is, philly is really no different from other sports towns. it’s just a cheap storyline that the networks love. it’s a caricature.

  3. ryan

    March 1, 2009 at 9:23 am

    i’ve always considered the santa claus thing as a badge of honor. i love it actually.

  4. Harper

    March 1, 2009 at 10:10 am

    I totally agree with Ryan. The Santa Claus metaphor mirrors the myth and reality of the Philly fan.

    While it’s no myth that the fans mentioned in Tim’s piece did what he described, it never fails that the mitigating circumstances are ignored. It was an abysmally cold day, with snow that hadn’t been cleared from the stands. The Eagles were losing (as usual) causing more disconcert in an crowd already known for its talent for vituperation. At halftime, out came Santa. The man was obviously drunk, wearing a shabby outfit before an ugly crowd. Boos and snowballs rained down upon him.

    We Philly fans hold our idols — like Schmidt — in high regard. We expect him to conduct himself in a manner befitting that adoration. When he slumps, striking out repeatedly, we express our scorn. When he excels, hitting home runs, we shower him with praise. Santa got no different.

    The rest of the world sees the disdain but none of the reasoning behind it. It’s a myopic view: completely unfair but legendary in the perverse respect it confers on us.

    Sports in Philly means no free pass.

  5. Evan

    March 1, 2009 at 10:23 am

    The stigma that falls on Philly fans is media hype, sports fans all around the world behave the same way as Philly fans. Fans riot, run on the field, boo, and generally get rowdy. Drinking seems to play a role in making a fan get out of control.

    I don’t mind the undeserved reputation too much, I expect it from the media and I hope it made JD Drew watch his head while he was at CBP last year.

  6. Amanda Orr

    March 1, 2009 at 10:25 am

    Great article Tim. So true. The same stuff happens every where else, but it doesn’t get recognized because it didn’t happen in Philly.

  7. Ray

    March 1, 2009 at 10:27 am

    I have lived in boston since 1998, when i started college here at BC. and i have seen some horrible things here, from the rioting you describe, to fans throwing beer at chuck knoblauch and alex reodriguez. and have watched increasingly frustrated at how no one makes a big deal about it. but in philly, they would.

    even more telling, my girlfriend is a boston girl born and lived here her whole life, she loves the phillies, and loves phillies games. and we have been to mets games, where i have almost had to come to blows with rude physical new york fans, and she has said without prompting that philly phans are so much nicer and more polite then Boston fans.

    the media just loves the philly as rough stories. it is sad and unfair, but like a previous poster said, wear it like a badge of honor, what other choice have they given us?

  8. Joey

    March 1, 2009 at 10:30 am

    People need to remember Game ended at 10:00 due to the fact it was only three innings. we did half the damage Boston did and had two extra hours to kill. Who are the real hooligans?

  9. Phan in TN

    March 1, 2009 at 10:51 am

    I’m still giggling because I saw the word vituperation in this blog.

    We Phillies fans take ourselves too seriously in my hirsute opinion.

    I was chatting on philly.com during the playoffs and WS games. We fans were offended once every 37 seconds during those games. Most of us abhor Joe Buck because he “obviously hates Phillies fans”

    The umpires too turns hating us too. The injustices piled up but we won our karmic victory.

  10. Mike B.

    March 1, 2009 at 11:51 am

    During the Super Bowl riots in Pittsburgh this year, Pitt students tore up bus shelters, broke windows in at least five businesses along Forbes Avenue, attempted to dismantle traffic lights, and lit anything not fixed down on fire. No one really made a big deal of this. Yet if this had happened in Philly, the ESPN headline would have been “those cannibals are at it again.”

    Travesty.

    Very well said, Tim. Scoop Jackson wrote a very good column after the World Series about whether we “deserved” to win it. I won’t say his conclusion – you’ll just have to read it yourself.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=jackson/081030&sportCat=mlb

  11. trini

    March 1, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Very well written Tim. Its true, the badgering of Philly fans will never end. I say, embrace it! We are who we are, it is not going to change.

  12. Tim Malcolm

    March 1, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Harper: Good assessment. I have to say, however, when you dropped the word “perverse,” it summed things up well. When you think closely about it, Philadelphians have a somewhat perverse relationship with their sports teams.

  13. Rasputin

    March 1, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    I went down to Atlanta for opening day to see the Phillies. As they were announcing Larry Bowa as their manager, I showed my respect by cheering. I didn’t go overboard or anything, but the 10 year old kid next to me yelled at me to “shut the F@#* up!” If I had spoken to an adult like that in front of my father, he would have ripped my head off and threw it into the field. Of course, the father just laughed along. Way to keep it classy, Atlanta!

  14. Phan in TN

    March 1, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    I grew up in North Philly and spent 8 years in the Army. My visit to Turner field was very different. The fans and staff were overly polite and looked a bit scared.

    God was in his holy temple and my phils were winning. I heckled the Braves fans as they left early because Saint Chipper wasn’t delivering for them. No, I was not deep in my cups. I simply had a duty to vociferously remind the Braves fans that they were sister kissers.

    So, its really my fault that Philly is judged the way it is. I am THAT fan that has embarrassed us all for these many years. I hurled invectives and expletives that day. I almost made three grown men cry because they had the wrong letter on their hats.

    mea culpa

    mea culpa maxima

  15. Chase Mutley

    March 1, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    This was a great Sunday morning read, Tim.

    I understand that due to your personal experience there and being that they’re the most recent team to win a championship that has a fanbase that could just as easily be described as “fanatical”, that the Boston comparison is an easy one. However, I’ve always found myself avoiding the “well look at Boston” trap when defending Philadelphia to the outside world because in a way, I’ve always identified with the Boston fans. I’ve never spent more than a weekend there but growing up, through music, I have quite a lot of friends from the Boston area. Not students, not business transplants, but locals. Kids from South Boston, from Brockton, from the working class suburbs like Wichendon, and from Westfield. These kids are just like the kids I know from the Philadelphia area. Their families just like families from Philadelphia. Families that spend generations in the same neighborhood. Smart kids who even when given the opportunity to get out, go back. How can an outsider understand how bloodlines, family history, are staked to a neighborhood that extends only a mile in each direction? And sports are a big part of it. It kills boredom. It gives hope. It gives enjoyment. It gives distraction. Over time it is part of who you are, your family history. This isn’t just a Boston or Philly thing. Look to New York, look to Cleveland, look to Chicago. Look at college sports in the mid-west and the south. It isn’t a Boston or Philly thing but I think it runs deepest here and there. Maybe it’s because it’s the north east. Maybe it is because the economic conditions in the area leave a lot of people tied to the area. Maybe it’s because we all went so long without a title. Maybe we’re just better… or maybe we’re just worse. I don’t know the answer but I’ve always felt a strong bond with the Boston sports fan. It’s not like Los Angeles where going to see a Dodger playoff game is an excuse to don a Manny wig, drink beer in the afternoon and fight anyone who looks at you cross-eyed. There’s history and emotion here that is much deeper than a day at the ballpark.

    You spend years and years living and dying with a team, I don’t see anything wrong with hitting the streets and lighting off fireworks, toilet papering the streets, getting drunk until the wee hours of the morning. Are those who take things too far? Sure. I think if you look to at Philly and see that all the trouble was downtown, where all the schools are, and little-to-no violent crimes on Frankford and Cottman where the locals live, that speaks volumes. Same for Boston. Same for anywhere I would guess.

    Until 2004 and 2008 Boston and Philly had the loser teams, living in the shadow of NY sports, in the shadow of the Yankees and the Giants (NOT the Mets. You hear me Mets fans? You live in the shadow not only the Phillies but a team on the other side of town). In 2004 the Red Sox became the sweethearts of America. Red Sox fans popped up everywhere. Jimmy Fallon made a romcom about it. Maybe everyone just liked the idea of the Yankee killer. David vs. Goliath. During our playoff run this year you’ll remember the “Red Sox fan” who questioned the “class” of Phillies fans on this blog. Huh? I bust on my Boston friends all the time for the pink hats, for Fever Pitch, for the Red Sox fans in New Jersey, and Los Angeles and in Montana. It drives them nuts.

    2008? The Phillies? We turned Cinderella into a pumpkin. We boo’ed Santa Claus. We tormented decent human beings like Michael Irvin and JD Drew. Who doesn’t like Michael Irvin?! Only Philadelphia. We didn’t get a Wheaties box. It was the lowest nationally rated World Series ever. We get Riot Rampage 2. It’s never sunny in Philadelphia. You know what? Who cares? We do take ourselves too seriously. We get bent whenever the media talks about “Philly fans” because a lot of it isn’t true. But who cares? We know it isn’t true. Do we care that baseball fans in anywhere but Philadelphia think it is true? Let them talk. Let them talk about our city, our teams, our fans. Let them root for the Red Sox. We’re World Champions.

  16. Chase Mutley

    March 1, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    (sorry for the giant comment. it didn’t look nearly as long when i was typing it. too much coffee.)

  17. Harper

    March 1, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    I’ve rooted for the Phils all my life since I was 7, as soon as I figured out what baseball was. I didn’t stop. I didn’t jump ship. I may have lost the faith in the really lean years after Schmidt retired but I never lost the love. Every single spring I was back, ready for new season, bleeding pinstripes.

    You know, it’s easy to be a Yanks fan. Or Mets or Sawks or even Braves and Dodgers. Rooting for a winner is easy. Takes no real effort and everyone has to agree with you. But Braves and Dodgers fans make for the exits after 6. Yanks and Mets throw money at their problems then cry when it takes integrity and heart to win not dollars.

    Sawks fans, for all their bellyaching, got their due then became the enemy.

    Being a Phils fan takes something more, something called character. The Phils have made it hard but I will love them until I can’t — when I’m on the other side of the dirt.

  18. Phillin' 'er up!

    March 1, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    Tim, I love you.

  19. Phan in TN

    March 2, 2009 at 7:41 am

    I just can’t let this one disappear without complimenting Chase Mutley.

    I expect various imbeciles to type silly stuff. I do not expect a very entertaining mini diatribe on this site. I was pleasantly surprised first, by the piece by Mister Malcolm and then by the logically stated bit of verbage by Chase.

    I would recommend that every “real” phillies fan go and read Chase’s piece up there again. Don’t just read the first and last sentence. If you really take your philly phanaticism seriously, read it.

  20. philajen

    March 5, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    The phillies fans did get a little bit of revenge against Joe Buck during Game 5 part 2 of the Series. He was out in center field in a booth up top next to Mitchell & Ness store when one of the fans saw him and started a “Joe Buck Sucks” chant that went on for about 5 minutes as he was trying to hide from the crowd.

    I never saw anything in the news regarding the treatment of Phillies fans at Dodgers Stadium yet I heard countless stories of how they were treated poorly and security did nothing to stop it. What do we hear about…… Maddon crying about mustard packets being thrown at his family… Do we even have mustard packets anymore at the stadium?

    I can’t wait to see the fear in the faces in DC with our bus trip. Look out – 2 buses of Phillies fans!!! lol

  21. Native Philadelphian4 life

    October 22, 2009 at 11:55 am

    I think that it is quite ignorant to judge Philadelphians when you don’t even know the real reasons why we act the way we do. Personally, (and you might think I’m horrible) I thought that Santa Claus thing was funny as hell. They booed Donovan McNabb because we want someone who will do a better job as a quarterback. McNabb seems like he’s been slacking a bit. Joe Buck does suck and our cuisine is not ONLY cheesesteaks!!!!! Actually, fyi, when most people from Philly go out to eat, a cheesesteak is the LAST thing on their mind. We’d rather dine on chicken tenders and pizza fries then get a cheesesteak (cuz we can get that anytime).

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