A similar scene plays out at the ballpark for a Phillies game against the Nationals. I opt for a Jayson Werth shirt. Here’s a guy who reportedly said he hated the Phillies when he left town for Washington, and a team that started a “Natitude” campaign to encourage their long-absent fans to find some cojones and stop Phillies fans from flooding their home field. But when I clap and yell “Good hustle” as Werth legs out a single, the only person who wants to punch me is my high-school-buddy wingman. We go fetch a round of beer, and my friend tells the vendor to give me a warm one. “We treat out-of-towners well,” she says with a friendly smile. A cashier at a nearby hot-dog stand says, “Thank you, sweetheart. Enjoy the game.”
Sweetheart? Enjoy the game? Are the Phillies recruiting vendors from Wisconsin? By the seventh inning, I decide to turn up the heat when Carlos Ruiz comes to the plate. “ADD-ER-ALL!” I yell, referencing his 25-game suspension for pill-popping. This pains me, of course—I literally cried when Chooch caught the final out of the ’08 series. My method acting prompts little reaction. Though the Phils lose, the worst I get is a “Fuck the Nationals!” as I walk to the subway after the game. All this good behavior on the part of my fellow Philly fans makes me happy, albeit a little concerned. I don’t want to dodge haymakers and beer bottles, but we’re a proud people, tough like a diner steak at 2 a.m. There’s a difference between being civil and being soft. C’mon, Philly—is that all you got?
MY NIGHT AS a Penguins fan isn’t so peaceful at the start. Sidney Crosby is probably this city’s most hated hockey rival, mostly because he doesn’t play for the Flyers and has immense talent, but also because he whines, dives, takes cheap shots and grows a flimsy mustache. I’m wearing his number 87. My companion is an actual Pens fan. As a father of two, he doesn’t dare wear any Pittsburgh gear tonight. On the concourse, I catch a middle finger from a guy in an orange jersey. Our seats are in section 222A, up near the flags and banners that hang in the rafters. A shout rings out in my direction: “Crosby sucks! You can’t wear that shit in Philly, you fucking retard!”
Forget what I said about being soft.
It’s not long before the Flyers fans next to me, beers in hand, start spewing f-bombs like they’re auditioning for a Quentin Tarantino movie. The worst offender is a woman who’s averaging an obscenity per minute. “Fuck him up, Simmonds!” she yells as a fight breaks out on the ice. Her foul-mouthed friend spills her suds across our aisle.
That’s when the weirdest thing happens—one of the guys in their posse, a rugged fellow with a shaved head, sits down next to me and apologizes. He says his name is Pat, and offers me an extra beer for no reason in particular. He’s an Army vet, he tells me, and spent hard time in Fallujah and Kandahar. When he heard a few goons harassing a Pens fan, he told them to chill out. “Some trash talk is great, but if it gets physical, that’s not cool,” he says. “You look like you can handle yourself, but I’ll walk down with you if you go for a beer.”
When the final horn sounds, the Flyers have choked, giving up a three-goal lead and losing. Pat the Army Nice Guy offers me a toast before we part ways: “Here’s to you for coming to a Flyers game.”
Is the team onto me? Did they plant this saint? Wherever you are, Pat, you’ve done Philadelphia proud.
Life returns to normal down the street at Xfinity Live, where two aggressive bros in orange tees try to get under my skin as we wait in line to enter. That’s when it gets even weirder.
“Nice t-shirt,” one of the Aggro Dudes says, mocking me. “You just buy that? I think the tag’s still on it.”
“Sorry,” I say. “What was the final score? Did you catch that?”
In that moment, my act melts away. I’m rubbing the Pittsburgh win in the face of my fellow Flyers fans—my comrades. As much as I despise certain teams and their players, it turns out what I loathe above all else is asininity, no matter where it’s found or whose jersey it’s draped in. Even while wearing that Crosby shirt—the worst UPS delivery I’ve ever signed for—I’m allergic to douchebags looking for trouble.
That trait, I fear, might be my undoing in this experiment. During the first intermission, two women in Flyers jerseys gave me some good-natured ribbing about being in “orange-and-black country.” They weren’t surprised when I told them Flyers fans had been disarmingly friendly. “Baseball and hockey are fine,” said the brunette. “It’s the Eagles you have to watch out for.”
I asked: What if I were a Cowboys fan at an Eagles game? “Those drunken assholes will beat you up.”