Many people have strong opinions on Philadelphia fans, not one of which seems to be particularly good.
Known primarily for things like booing everyone from Mike Schmidt to Santa Claus (and even pelting the big guy with snowballs), throwing batteries at J.D. Drew, and cheering when Michael Irvin went down with a career-ending neck injury, Philadelphia sports fans have a reputation of being knowledgeable and "passionate"—while at the same time vicious and unforgiving.
We are passionate. We do expect a lot from our athletes, and we have done some admittedly stupid (but unquestionably funny) things as a fanbase, but a lot of that simply stems from the boredom of going 23 years and counting without a championship team.
Mixed up in all the passion, championship hunger, and over-the-top bad behavior, though, is the fact that lots of people just do not really understand Philadelphians as a fanbase.
People mistake our high expectations for a lack of appreciation for talented players. It's not that we do not appreciate Jimmy Rollins' ability to hit for average and power at the top of the order or his speed on the base paths. It's that when we watch him consistently fail to reach those capabilities we get frustrated and let him know about it.
The blue-collar nature of Philly is mistaken for a role that all athletes must fill in our city. Sure, we have embraced guys like Aaron Rowand, Chase Utley, and Jeremiah Trotter for their tireless work ethics and willingness to play their games at full throttle all the time. Have we not also adored glitz-and-glam superstars like Allen Iverson, Ryan Howard, and, most of all, Terrell Owens?
The most misunderstood thing about Philadelphia fans, though, is the E-A-G-L-E-S chant that is heard at any and all Philadelphia sporting events, whether home or away, for whichever Philly team happens to be playing on a given night.
This chant, heard through the wrong ears and analyzed through a cynical brain, might be mistaken for a conflict of loyalties among the teams within the city. It is understandable why one would see the chant as one of disapproval for the team whose game the fans are attending and a sign of preference for the Eagles.
Some say that upon hearing it outside of the context of an Eagles game is a clear indicator that, no matter what else is going on in the Philadelphia sports world, the chant shows that the Eagles take preference over everything else.
That, convenient as it might be, is not an accurate summary of the motivations behind our beloved rallying cry.
The chant must be understood as just that—the rallying cry that provides for Philadelphia fans a quick, easy way to identify themselves to each other when in close proximity (i.e. within earshot). It may seem a silly means of identification, but if a die-hard Philadelphia sports fan hears someone else start with E-A- it is difficult not to continue and finish with G-L-E-S, EAGLES!
Personally, I only do it at away contests—at a home game it should be pretty obvious that most are Philly fans.
However, I go to college in New York City, so when I find myself in the not-so-friendly confines of Shea Stadium (good riddance to that dump of a stadium) I can easily find comfort and a sense of strength in numbers when I hear a few guys two sections over start the Eagles chant as a sign that we may be here in hostile territory, but we're in this thing together.
It's certainly an unusual tradition, one that not many fanbases can relate to. It may be easy to mistake our show of solidarity for a display of divided allegiance, and others may never understand it.
That's alright, though; we can just add it to the list.
And when the Phillies, Sixers, or Flyers are the team that brings home our elusive championship and the outsiders hear the Eagles chant all the way down Broad Street, who cares if they understand it or not?