Memo to Philly Sports Fans: You Really Do Suck

Sunday’s incident with the beer-drinking toddler has me convinced: Our brutish image as a sports town is absolutely deserved

In the words of Ray Charles, a long line of exasperated mothers with disobedient children, and members of the Clinton administration, here we go…again.

The headline in the sports section of Wednesday’s USA Today summed it up best: “Boy with bottle latest black eye for Philly.” You already know what it included: a recitation of the latest addition to our unfortunately long and winding road of boorish fan behavior, most recently the nationally televised (and quickly gone viral) clip of an infant sucking on a beer bottle. (Popular opinion seems to be that the bottle in question was empty at the time. But hey, you never know—it was Beer Week.) This follows, of course, Matthew Clemmens, the pride of Cherry Hill, intentionally vomiting on an off-duty cop and his daughter in April at a Phils game, and teenager Steve Consalvi’s romp through the Citizens outfield that resulted in his televised Tasering two weeks after that. Charming. [SIGNUP]

Frankly, I thought we’d gotten past all of this. Or at least I’d hoped we had. How many years now have we had to live down the pelting of the faux Santa with snowballs (1968), the pelting of an official with more snowballs (1989), and the thunderous growth in cheers the longer Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin lay motionless on the field of the Vet, perhaps with a life-threatening injury (1999)? In November 2007, we ran a brief story basically blowing back at the national sports media to stop beating the “Philly fans suck” horse, arguing that their constant dredging up of long-ago bad behavior was lazy and painted a twisted portrait of our sports team zealotry. They weren’t quick to buy in. “The question is whether or not Philadelphia fans embrace it and want it to be true because it separates them from everybody else,” ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser told our Rich Rys.

At the time I thought such a notion was ludicrous: City sports pride is one thing, but who wants a national reputation as a bunch of Neanderthals? Now I’m left to consider: Evidently, us. After the kid got Tasered, the big question debated wasn’t “Why did this idiot run onto the field?,” but rather, “Was this excessive force?” And even the vomiting episode—I mean, who could possibly defend that?—elicited this dismissive comment from a guy at the bar I was sitting near at Stogie Joe’s in South Philly: “So what, some guys drink too much beer and get nasty. Film at 11.”

Oh, people. People, people, people. Is it any wonder everyone thinks we’re crude, obnoxious and just plain awful?

We can’t even use the old standby anymore: Well, our teams suck. They don’t. (Well, OK, the Sixers do. But still.) And what does it matter, anyway? You don’t see the Knicks’ fans vomiting on each other, or the Lions’ fans, or the Pirates’ or Orioles’ fans. Fans get passionate—they’re supposed to—and studies show that everything from how well we think we shoot darts to how sexy we feel can be affected by the fortunes of the teams we root for. But we in Philadelphia can’t seem to be satisfied with fervor. We can’t ever seem to offer up any sense of restraint.

And that’s too bad, really. Because there’s never been a better opportunity for us to show some class. The Phillies have won back-to-back pennants and a World Series, and are on national television almost every week; the Eagles have been a national playoff contender for almost the entire prior decade. And those rakish Flyers came out of nowhere—making the playoffs on a shoot-out on the last day of the regular season—to make a thrilling, improbable run all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. This is a golden moment in Philly sports. And a golden chance for the world to see we’re not only passionate about our sports, but also about our sportsmanship.

And what do we do? We slash the tires of a sportswriter with Montreal license plates. Classy.

I was with my brother Pat at the Wachovia Center the night the Flyers beat the Canadians to advance to the Finals. Inching our way out of the parking lot, my brother and I watched as throngs of Flyers jersey-wearing fans weaved in and out of the traffic, hooting, cheering, egging on drivers’ to honk. All good stuff. But as we slowly advanced to the access road to I-95, I watched as three men in Canadians jerseys walked by, heads down. They were being heckled, and well, if you go to an opposing team’s stadium in the other team’s jersey, you’re fair game for that.

But then something happened. Two different groups of—I’ll put this politely—brutes in Flyers gear each spied the trio at the same time. They quickly meshed together and fell in lockstep behind them. Their collective taunting got louder, coarser. The Canadians picked up the pace. So did the Philly guys.

I turned to Pat in the car. “We may have to do something here,” I said. I had no idea what, exactly—I was in no mood to get my own ass kicked for a bunch of Montrealers—but I reached for my cell phone. Just then, the thugs retreated, laughing uproariously at the intimidation as the Canadians scurried off into darkness.

If you’re one of those louts who’s sorry he missed it, don’t worry. It’s sure to be repeated, and soon. And then flung onto You Tube, for all the world to see.

MICHAEL CALLAHAN is Philly Mag’s articles editor.

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  • Phils fan

    C’mon. Do we all have to take a hit for idiot parents? Why aren’t all Phila parents at fault here??? I don’t go to games to puke, drink beer or run the bases. I go to watch my team. And I do so in a civilized way. Anytime you put 45K people in one place, there are bound to be a few a-holes. But that doesn’t make us all a-holes.

  • S

    “Mike, I don’t care how you do it…just get people to respond. Our blogs are a joke and we need to boost traffic. Try that whole ‘Philly fans stink’ bit we run from time to time.”

    Chief Editor

  • SJSooze

    I absolutely LOVE being a Philly’s sports fan. I remember once being pelted with pretzel and hoagie pieces at an Eagle’s game that I attended with my son. We looked at one another and turned around. Sure enough there was a pair of Pat’s Jerseys in the row behind us. We smiled and in unison declared, “Nothin wrong with a little Friendly Fire”! I just love it when other teams’ fans and the media go off on us. I have never been in a violent situation – even in my 11 years on the 700 level at the Vet. I was there when Michael Irvin went down and although Tim Hauck is second in my heart only to Dawkins, I don’t remember any cheering for Irvin’s injury. I do remember booing and the A-hole chant given to Deion Sanders’ for his War Dance around the body – or whatever that was. Not so much mention of that on the News. Still I’ll take it. Any little thing is blown out of proportion & increases the intimidation factor. The fans have worked hard for this reputation and to be brutally honest – I like being the King (or in my case Queen) in my own house. Being the 12th man (or woman) is a job we take seriously and if we are a bit of a Bully – OH WELL!!!

  • Pete

    Really? This is what we’re being bashed for now? A kid having a sip of his Dad’s potentially already empty beer at a baseball game?

    This doesn’t even rate. Having a sip of what your Dad is drinking is something that 99% of kids do, and it’s harmless. I have a photo of me doing the exact same thing when I was two, standing next to my Mom, who’s sitting on the couch laughing.

    By the way, I had my car vandalized outside of the Electric Factory once. I suppose it was classical music fans because I was there for a rock concert.

  • Blackhawks Fans

    We’re just going to say this, brutish behavior, authoritarian abuse, dumb drunken decisions, and that all around mob mentality to misbehave are the least of you good ol’ philly fans’ problems. Every city does that, yes, its fun because everyone else around you is doing it, yes we do it because we can get away with, and yes its entertaining to both you guys and those who witness it. There in lies the problem, sometimes you guys take it too far, and why? Lack of respect. The lack of respect for the opposing team and for their fans, the lack of respect for announcers, or visiting guests alike, and through your actions you only prove your lack of respect for yourselves, your teams, and even the image of your own city of Philly. Writing this because of yesterdays game and the way your fans treated one of the greatest annual events of sporting, the Stanley Cup (and the handing out of the MVP award). Honestly, the Flyers played a great season, and played with their hearts during the final. I know it was an unbelievable goal and all, and the booing during the review was understandable, but even after it was confirmed you guys continue to boo… really? are all you guys not old enough to cope with reality? sorry you lost and all, but be somewhat civilized. So go ahead, sing your song, finish your beer, taze your young, boo Palin, you love it, and so do we. Just don’t ruin things for the rest of us when we deserve it, it was like telling a child the day hes adopted that his new parents really wanted his best friend from the orphanage but had to settle because he found a home last week (odd comparison but it works for me). In closing, YoU sUcK Philly fAnS! GO BLACKHAWKS!!!!!!!! see ya next season ;)

  • Mia

    Flyers had an absolutely amazing season…ruined in a few seconds during the presentation of the Stanley Cup to the Hawks by fans whose conduct was way more foul than anything I saw on the ice. Really guys? You had to boo? You couldn’t just face a loss like real men? Held up within a week next to the image of Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga, the posterboys for sportsmanlike conduct, we just look like boors. Thanks, Michael, for capturing how we all managed to look on national television in one word: Neanderthals.

  • Tom

    Having been a Philadelphia sports fan for a great many years, I would like to think that the vast majority of our fans root for our teams in a positive and respectful manner. The entire city should not be branded by the boorish and usually inebriated behavior of some Neandrathals. Yes the Flyers had a great playoff run and lost to a team that was better in the end and the Black Hawks should be congratulated.