Philadelphia Sports Fans: A Great Fanbase...Just Don't Ruin It
It seems that once again the old meme regarding the heinousness of Philadelphia's sports fans has reared its ugly head, and for the first time, I find myself thinking that the narrative is not the only thing that has become tiresome.
For those of you who may have missed it, GQ recently published its list of the "Worst Sports Fans in America" and, surprise, surprise, the big winners (or shall we say, losers) were the Philadelphia faithful. After all, as this tired trope goes, these are the fans who booed Santa Claus, had a jail in the basement of their stadium, cheered when Michael Irvin nearly died and jeer their biggest stars.
This not the first time Philadelphia fans have been subjected taken the brunt of this easy punchline on the history of Philadelphia sports fandom, but it is also not the first time the city, or at least the city’s fanbase, has become up in arms about the slanderous insult being once again hurled our way.
Indeed, at this point, it is not entirely clear which narrative has become more tiresome.
Obviously, the portrayal of the Philadelphia sports fanbase is unfair; a few bad eggs should not ruin it for the whole bunch, and a handful of incidents over 50 years should not define a sports fanbase.
Nevertheless, having had to defend themselves repeatedly over the years, Philadelphia sports fans have now had enough, and it's time to dissemble a narrative that has become tiresome and, frankly, becomes more ridiculous every time it gets regurgitated.
Let’s recap the arguments frequently made in support of the Philadelphia sport fan:
1. The "One of Us" Argument
A reasonably straight-forward proposition: Philadelphia is a hard-scrabble, blue-collar city, and we like guys who are hard-scrabble, blue-collar players.
Thus, when a guy like Scott Rolen comes through town, who has world-class talent both defensively and offensively but is also a bit of a prima donna and a pretty boy, Philly fans are slow to warm to him because he is not our type of player.
On the flip-side, Aaron Rowand may not have the same talent level as Rolen, but he broke his nose crashing into the center field wall, one time, and we will love him forever for it.
The essence of this argument is that Philly fans will shun the most talented players in a sport in favor of less talented players, whom they will love as long as they “play hard,” which can only be demonstrated through a handful of neat plays.
Guess what, Philly fans: This makes you idiots! The inability to appreciate truly talented players because they do not make blood-inducing plays or lose teeth is not a compliment to the fanbase.
And it certainly does not support the proposition that Philadelphia has good sports fans.
2. The "We Demand Excellence from Our Teams" Argument
Essentially, the story here is: Philadelphia sports fans are not fickle, we just demand excellence.
Face it, you or your neighbor believes that NBA basketball is dead, and the Philadelphia 76ers are the deadest of the dead NBA teams.
That may be. NBA basketball has its fair share of image problems and it has certainly lost its standing amongst the major professional sports leagues.
Question, does the fact that the city that gave us the Big Five, Dr. J. and Allen Iverson cannot muster interest in one of the NBA’s most storied franchises make Philly fans good sports fans?
Quite the contrary. This would seem to be a black mark upon the Philly faithful.
3. The "Our Games Have Become Such Fan-Friendly Experiences" Argument
This is perhaps the most tiresome element of the argument for the greatness of the Philly sports fan—that going to see a Flyers, Phillies or Eagles game has become such a fantastic, wonderful experience for the whole family.
Philly fans have a tendency to act as if they have suddenly, collectively decided to clean up their act, and have instantaneously created their own fan-friendly environments in support of their local teams.
Never mind the fact that all three teams play in completely new, state-of-the-art stadiums that have replaced more readily affordable venues. And never mind the fact that the “riff-raff” that used to populate the 700-level of Veterans Stadium and the cheap seats at the Spectrum have now been priced out of Eagles and Phillies games.
Let’s not pat ourselves on the back for the environment in these ballparks and arenas.
They have been created for us, not by us.
4. The "Consecutive Sellouts" Argument
In an offshoot of No. 3, there has been a lot of back-patting around Philly over the Phillies’ incredible string of sellouts over the last season-and-a-half, which has extended over 100 games and promises to extend well into the 2011 season and potentially beyond.
So? Philadelphia can sell out its ballpark in the wake of consecutive World Series appearances. Is that impressive? Does that make us great fans?
Just imagine what we would be saying if we did not sellout every game with the success this team has experienced. I think that would be more noteworthy, and also disappointing.
I think the string we have had, while impressive, should also have been expected.
5. The "We Demand Excellence from Our Coaches" Argument
What was once a love-hate relationship with Andy Reid has become a hate-hate relationship, and Philadelphia fans seem to pride themselves on their ability to not love Andy Reid. He has simply delivered too many winning, playoff-bound teams over the years.
I happened to be running errands and listening to the radio the day Andy Reid announced that Michael Vick was taking over as starting quarterback for the remainder of the season. Let’s just say the shock and outrage felt by the Philly fans and media was deafening.
"Andy Reid lied to us!"
"How does this help us win, long-term?"
"Michael Vick is a dog-killer!"
That was just some of the deafening chatter on the radio that day.
Then, when Michael Vick played at a level no one anticipated throughout the season, the praise heaped upon him and the Eagles by the fans and media was deafening once again: "This is Eagles history!"
"Vick is such an amazing athlete!"
"He should be the MVP!"
Vick and the Eagles earned the love and praise of the Philly faithful, while Andy Reid’s role in putting Vick in a position to succeed was casually ignored.
Then, when the Eagles lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers on a final-drive Michael Vick interception...
"Off with Andy Reid’s head!"
Hey, Philly fans, the inability to give credit where credit is due—does this make you good fans or bad fans?
6. The "Cliff Lee Chose Us, So We Must Be Awesome" Factor
This argument sets forth the proposition that when Cliff Lee chose to take less money to come back to Philadelphia instead of staying with the Texas Rangers, with whom he’d just been to the World Series, or going to the New York Yankees, who offered him significantly more money, it somehow represented the new referendum on the Philly sports fan.
Lee even indicated as much, stating that he and his wife were so flattered by the treatment they received during his brief stint here in 2009 that they wanted more than anything to return to the City of Brother-Lee Love.
So, that solves it, right? Philly fans are great. Cliff Lee said so.
Except, let's unpack that statement a little bit...
Lee arrived in Philadelphia via trade in 2009 as the Phillies’ postseason fate was in question. He pitched stellar ball down the stretch and helped guide the team to a third straight division title.
Then, in the postseason, he helped pitch the team into the World Series and had a magnificent championship round, essentially the only Phillie that did, in a losing effort against the New York Yankees.
Is it hard to believe that Cliff Lee received a good reception in Philadelphia?
Without ever going through a contract dispute with his team, like Allen Iverson, J.D. Drew, Eric Lindros and scores of other Philadelphian athletes before him, was there ever a chance for the fanbase to turn on him?
Of course Philly sports fans loved Cliff Lee. He pitched 120 excellent innings and we essentially had him for free.
The ability to root for a player and treat that player well when he plays at an elite level on the game’s biggest stage does not make a fanbase great.
And at the end of the day, that is what is so annoying about the new narrative, "We really are a great fanbase."
We are a fanbase who loves to win and hates to lose. A group of fans that loses patience with teams who do not continue to improve, and celebrates with teams who defy low expectations by doing something good.
We fill stadiums for our winners and we fail to show up for our losers. We wait with bated breath for the stars of tomorrow, while remembering with teary eyes the heroes of yesterday that we may not have actually cheered for.
We bleed Eagle Green, and we pine for the return of the Broad Street Bullies, and we dance in the street when we win the World Series.
For all the world to see, we are clearly not the worst fanbase in the sports.
We are a great fanbase and a great sports city.
Let's just not ruin it by making silly arguments as to why this is the case.
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