A couple of years ago, I spent New Years Day in Center City Philadelphia. Somehow, it was 65 degrees that day and the Mummers Day Parade was in full swing. Philly is one of the last big working class cities with a downtown that works, and the Mummers are one of those great big city cultural traditions.
For those of you who don’t know who the Mummers are, “Mummers Day" is like Mardi Gras, but with less shouting and throwing of plastic crap from China. You'll see grown men dressed like peacocks playing kazoos and banjos. The mayor comes, people cheer.
Loving Philadelphia, my wife and I walked around enjoying the end-of parade frenzy in this odd, beautiful weather. Then came the one moment in my life when I most wished I had a camera.
One mummer, six foot and burly, had on a classic Bill Bergey Eagles jersey. The rest of his outfit was a girl get-up, rounded out with a purse, a long pink skirt and a blond Farrah Fawcett style wig. Approaching a wall of a historic building, he lifted up his skirt and took a leak right there.
A blond in a dress, lifting up to relieve him(her)self? It would have made a great truck stop postcard. But I thought something else.
That thought: This picture sums up what the rest of the world thinks about Philadelphia sports fans. That Philly fans are a rude, crude, badly behaved, badly dressed public nuisance.
Surely, this was entertaining stuff, but it goes to show that even in their most distasteful moments, Philly fans always bear their colors proudly. Even while not making momma proud.
Anyhow, it is important to point out that Philly fans pull no punches. Labels aside, they do court both attention and criticism for their enthusiasm.
Philly fans have booed Santa Claus, booed Sarah Palin, and might boo God, were he to show up wearing a Bruins or Redskins jersey on Judgment Day. Growing up in Philly, my all-time favorites came from local newsman Howard Eskin, who would refer to Cowboys fans as things like “losers” or a “waste of DNA."
True, Philly sports fans don’t do incognito very well. They don’t just go to games because it’s an alternative to the amusement park. The fans wear every sports emotion on their sleeves.
Probably on their pink skirts too.
Philly fans, however, are as hard on their own teams as they are on opposing fans. They expect excellence. And if you lived in such a great sports town, wouldn’t you too?
Philly gets beat up year after year in the press, mostly by other cities’ press outfits, like the city is the Greg Norman of sports cities: big name, but only capable of second best.
I remember hearing this even after the Phils won the World Series. Pundits would say ”It’s about time”, or “That’s all they’ve won." And if the Phils win a likely 100 games this year, we will hear it again.
But, somebody please tell me the last time a trophy of any kind came to San Diego, Cleveland, Baltimore, Denver or LA.
Philadelphia's old city sports culture has been around long enough to experience every victory and heartbreak imaginable in every sport.
Maybe fans in Philly have more heart. Maybe they’re just more interesting. It could just be that wearing your heart on your sleeve for your sports team is possibly one of the last great big city cultural traditions.
Andy Frye writes about fans, sports and life, and you can follow his obsessive-compulsive sports behavior on Twitter at @MySportsComplex.