Nothing Comes Between Me and My Chase Utley T-Shirt
Are you in danger if you wear your Philly sports gear in enemy territory? And are fans from other cities risking bodily harm if they display their colors at Broad and Pattison? Mark Kram pondered those questions in a provocative Daily News piece yesterday and found that sociologists and academic-types don’t agree on an answer. Some say it’s dangerous; others insist the notion of violent sports crowds is overblown. The piece ends with some anecdotal evidence from fans and one guy’s advice for game-day attire: “Skip it … No sense provoking some late-game or parking-lot drunk … it has been the reality for too long.”
In the wake of the beating of New York Rangers supporter Neal Auricchio, Jr. by a couple thugs in Flyers jerseys, it’s hard to argue against playing it safe when you’re headed into enemy territory. I’ve seen enough incidents between our own fans and out-of-towners to understand why it’s not a bad idea to leave your Dallas Cowboys foam fingers at home. A longtime friend of mine in South Jersey roots for both the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Miami Dolphins (despite his completely bogus allegiances, we remain pals somehow). When we went to a Flyers game against the Pens at the Wells Fargo Center last season, I wore my Bernie Parent throwback. My buddy didn’t have a single stitch of Pittsburgh apparel—no hat, no t-shirt, not even some Sid Crosby boxers. He also wouldn’t consider going to the Linc to see his Dolphins in 2007. He figured that even if he didn’t wear a Dan Marino jersey, he’d still cheer for his squad, and that alone would make him a target. I tried to convince him otherwise, but I didn’t blame him for being cautious. As a father of two, he’d rather root from his living room, where the only dangerous fan is his wife (a Giants die-hard from North Jersey—and yes, I do wonder how I’m still friends with these people).
From my experience, though, wearing your team’s logo on the road isn’t a guarantee you’ll be fending off haymakers from angry, drunken louts. It’s not even likely. One of my buddies lived in Boston for a few years, and we rolled into a Flyers matchup against the Bruins at the Garden in our orange-and-black jerseys. Aside from a lot of ribbing in the men’s room from a few drunken chowdaheads, no one gave us trouble. I wore a Phillies t-shirt to Fenway Park two years ago and I don’t remember so much as a “Phils suck” chant, despite the fact that the Sox roughed them up that night. I’ve followed our teams to New York (Madison Square Garden, the Coliseum and Shea), New Jersey, Washington D.C., and Boston numerous times. I always dressed in Philly garb, and I don’t have so much as a beer-stained jacket to show for it.
The real x-factor here is common sense, something I usually maintain at games, despite enjoying a few beers. In the 2000-01 NFL playoffs, I had the unfortunate luck of watching the Eagles lose to the Giants at the Meadowlands. Some New York knucklehead in the parking lot tailgate started throwing snowballs and talking tough, but a number of fans dressed in blue were quick to help the Eagles folks and settle things down. The Giants scored on the opening kickoff, and it was all downhill from there. By halftime, our jerseys felt like huge green bull’s-eyes. It’s one of the only times I’ve left a game early, but the hostility in that upper deck was rising. Sometimes fan violence starts when one group doesn’t have the good sense to remove themselves from a bad situation before it gets really ugly—or worse, they add fuel to the fire.
I’ve seen more than 200 games in person, just counting the big four pro teams and not including events I’ve covered from the press box, where cheering and jersey-wearing is a cardinal sin. Only once have I ended up in a truly dangerous situation—at Dodgers Stadium, which I’d say is the scariest venue in the country, at least in the nosebleeds where we sat and in the parking lots (as San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow would likely agree). It was 2008 and the Phillies had just clinched a trip to the World Series. As we exited, my friends and I wore red, but we weren’t cheering, high-fiving or trash-talking. Our mere presence was enough to prompt both men and women to pelt us with trash, shoulder-check us like hockey players, and get in our faces with threats and f-bombs.
Luckily, we made it to our car without getting curb-stomped. You could say that we wouldn’t have had any problems if we’d simply dressed differently that day. The same might apply to Stow and Auricchio. But those incidents are rare, and for me, I’d rather stay home than have to sit in silence or leave the fan gear in closet. My Utley t-shirt, Parent jersey and Reggie White throwback are all staying in my game-day wardrobe. I just won’t be returning to the cheap seats in Los Angeles anytime soon.