It’s a great weekend to be a sports fan in Philly: playoff basketball on one side of the street and interleague baseball on the other as the Boston Celtics take on the Sixers for Game 4, and the Boston Red Sox begin a weekend series with the Phils. And I, a resident of Philadelphia for almost half a decade, will attempt to enjoy (and survive) the weekend as a lifelong fan of Boston sporting teams.
That’s right: I’ve slapped a ratty “B”-stamped 59/50 official Boston Red Sox on-field cap atop my 7⅝ dome essentially every day that I’ve lived in Philadelphia. I wear David Ortiz (as Papi), Jacoby Ellsbury (as no. 46), and Jason Varitek (as captain) t-shirts in heavy rotation. I’ll talk about Pedro Martinez’s 1999 summer to anyone who will listen (as well as Octobers ’03, ’04, and ’07, the Bloody Sock, Nomar, Mo Vaughn, and Pedro again). And that’s just baseball.
Point is, I’ve worn my (mostly baseball) pride for a while in this town because I don’t feel like Boston and Philadelphia have too much to dislike each other for, in the sports sense. With the exception of the Patriots, there isn’t much justification to hate on our New England sports neighbors, especially when New York is such a closer and easier target. Barring a World Series matchup, the two baseball clubs will play one or two series a season, tops, and that’s only been the case for 15 seasons or so. The Sixers and the Celtics haven’t had the fan bases necessary for a rivalry in years. The Flyers and the Bruins have been going back and forth long enough that it’s kind of a wash, really.
I understand that Boston has had six more rings fitted for its fingers in the past decade. And I’m honestly not trying to rub that fact in.
I just feel that, as towns that both like sports a whole lot, we should get along a bit better. What’s the beef that Philly has with Boston, and how am I so oblivious to it on the other side of the fence?
For clarification I turned to my dad, a Boston native who carries the Octobers of ’67, ’75, and ’86 like stab wounds. “The Phillies had some great teams back in the day,” he said. “Schmidt, Kingman, Dykstra … they were National League so there was no team rivalry. You could admire them without getting too personal.”
This was the camaraderie that I was looking for in an old fan, but it’s probably worth noting that this is the same father who, following a 2010 trouncing of Doc Halladay by the visiting BoSox, dismissed the still-fresh addition to the Senior Circuit as being “nothing but a good National League pitcher.” He’s about as tolerant of the National League as Cole Hamels is of Bryce Harper. The same dad would immediately follow with, “On the other hand, I hated the Broad Street Bullies and everything they stood for. I hated their fans, their town, their building, and their uniforms. Hockey breeds contempt!”
Apparently the rule for being a Boston fan is “plays well with others until wronged; after that, never forgive and never forget.” And this mentality appears to be ingrained from birth.
Examples: With the exception of Joey Votto, I’d be hard-pressed to name a full roster’s worth of Cincinatti Reds players, and yet I will never forgive the ball club for a few innings in 1975, which predated me by more than a few years. I knew the phrase “Beat L.A.” before I knew the NBA had players other than Michael Jordan. If the doctor had offered me lifetime Yankees season tickets upon my birth, I probably would’ve spat in his face.
I was able to catch the second half of Wednesday night’s NBA contest at a bar in Center City, but the C’s had already dealt the brunt of their damage and the double-digit deficit Philadelphia was attempting to climb back from proved too much for the crowd’s patience. The Sixers red was filing out of the bar, but I still fell victim to some half-hearted regional negs. The emphatic “Fuck your Celts,” followed by the slightly more ambiguous “Green sucks!” flew right by me, but the tried-but-true “Go back to Boston,” always vexes, since “But I like it here” is a less than stellar comeback.
In summary: Philly, I enjoy your sports teams (or at least four-fifths of them, and I’ll only say it’s a football team that I hate), and I will continue to coexist with and respect the majority of your fans, but as I reach my fifth year in the city I’ve realized a tough truth: There are rules for living in Philadelphia when you’re a non-Philadelphia sports fan and it’s probably time I started abiding.
1. Sports rivalries do not have to make sense. They do not have to be approved by both parties involved. They are not like turning the keys for a missile launch. Entirely irrational hatred fits just fine within the “sports rivalry” definition.
2. Mutual appreciation of a sport between dissimilar fans is all well and good, but it is not a requirement for sport or societal interaction (so I should probably stop expecting it to be so). It is entirely acceptable to follow up a sports compliment from a foreign fan with ice-cold disgust directed toward his or her team.
3. Philadelphia will respect non-Philadelphia sports organizations roughly around the time I respect a New York Yankee or a Los Angeles Laker.* Until then, I know, “Go back to Boston,” or sit down and shut up.
*One not named Mariano or Earvin, anyway. Credit where credit’s due.