The Lovable, Huggable Philly Sports Fans: Part 2

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So, how does this whole Philly Phandom relate to me personally? 

That would be courtesy of my mom. 

Born and raised in Philly, my grandparents are both South Philly Irish Catholics. Grandma was the youngest of 20, so yeah, good Catholics, lol. 

If anyone watches Abbott Elementary, the red headed teacher Melissa can easily be interchanged with any of my mom’s three stepsisters. 

No joke.

It was just my Pop-Pop and my mom for her teenage years, and the two of them would watch or listen to Phillies games together as much as possible in the 1950’s. She bragged how she’d listen to every game on the radio before bed for years, even following with a scorebook at home during the game. She lucked out though, because the 50s were the first time in team history that they actually were good – the so-called Whiz Kids. She had zero interest in any other sports, but she lived and breathed Phillies baseball. 

This carried through just as fervently once she got married and subsequently had me in the early 1970’s.  It became perfectly normal from the time I can first remember having coherent thoughts beyond how my fist tasted to have Phillies baseball to be daily entertainment for half the year.

And the, ahem, honesty of the fans following the team. Mom had no qualms about making her thoughts of the Phils game play known. (Dad? Dad loved all sports, baseball especially. But whatever loyalties he may have had as a kid to other teams were obliterated once he married my mom.)

He had to become a Phillies baseball fan ONLY.

The late 70s found a pretty decent Phillies team actually coming together and doing well. 

Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose, Tug McGraw (Tim’s dad) – preschooler Dutch just assumed the Phillies were always doing this well, and totally got swept up with my parents excitement. 

I honestly don’t recall when I first saw a Phillies game in person, but it was pretty early on. Mom would scour the schedule in preseason for days we could go on a family outing to a game, always on a Kids Day so I could score some freebies Phillies swag. 

And we’d always sit upper level behind home, and I was perpetually terrified of tripping down the steps and falling down into the lower bowl because the upper level seating was so absurdly steep at Veterans Stadium. 

June 9, 1983. Pirates 4, Phillies 3, in a heartbreaker.
BTW, our crack research department swears that this is Dutch.
We’ll play along.

But man, was it fun to boo them in a stadium setting for playing substandard.

The late 70s also saw the birth of one of the greatest marketing moves in the history of sports – the new Phillies mascot:

The Phillie Phanatic. 

As a preschooler, this was genius. The Phanatic was just as awesome as Mike Schmidt as far as I was concerned. He was like this big green goofball of a stuffed animal that acted like a naughty little kid seeing what he could get away with, and myself and my friends just ate it up. 

I managed to score an actual Phillie Phanatic stuffed toy at some point during my childhood, and it was a major win as far as I was concerned. I recall he was supposed to actually come out to our elementary school in second grade, 1981 or so, but unfortunately he couldn’t that day last minute.

So we get Phoebe Phanatic instead.

His mom. 

Not quite the same level of excitement from us kiddos.

But I did actually get to meet the Phanatic one day when we did a family day in Philly and I got to go to the Children’s Museum. No joke, it was like I met God, I was so stoked. I got a hug from him. His suit smelled like sweat and stinky sneakers. I did not care one bit. THE PHANATIC GAVE ME A HUG!!!!!!  Squeeeeeeee!

I don’t doubt for a minute that part of the thinking of the organization with the Phanatic is it might placate the fans. 

The fact his ‘birth’ coincided with the team starting to really gel as a formidable unit isn’t entirely coincidental. 

Our High School band was invited to play before a Phils game at the Vet my junior year in 1990. 

Most all my fellow trumpet guys played on the baseball team as well, so they could barely contain their excitement waiting in the right field tunnel to walk out on the field. 

We’re trying to play it cool as we march into position around the infield, but we could not stop muttering to each other how ginormous the stadium seemed from the field, and holy crap, we’re on the field at The Vet!!! We start playing…. and here comes the Phanatic on his ATV, speeding up behind our drum majors, jumping off and trying to conduct us along with them. We nearly lost our damn minds we were so ecstatic. I honestly don’t know how we continued playing.

So yeah, I’m already a Phanatic fanatic by the time I’m 6.

And then they go and win the 1980 World Series. 

This happened to coincide with the Eagles reaching the Super Bowl for the first time ever in early 1981, the Sixers hitting their sweet spot golden years with Dr J and Moses Malone, and the Flyers earning their rep as the Broad St. Bullies. (The stadiums and arena, including old JFK Stadium, home to Live Aid, all sat at the southern end of Broad St.)

And making consistent long runs into the playoffs – the Philadelphia sports fans became drunk on the disbelief the stars had aligned for them. 

And they got a bit cocky about it.

Knowing full well – this is Philly – they’ll all suck again soon enough, we better make the most of it now.

(Exhibit A – Eagles have ONE Super Bowl win in their history, and that only happened a few years ago; Exhibit B – the Sixers last won an NBA championship about 40 years ago; exhibit C – the Flyers last hoisted the Stanley Cup about 50 years ago)

So: The Legend of The Boo-Birds grows in the early 80’s. Because now the fans passion for all sports has multiplied and merged with self-defeating cockiness (which is an attitude that only exists in SE Pennsylvania), and they start reveling in this new persona because it’s theirs to claim.

And – they’ve gotten really good at it. 

It becomes a badge of honor to readily accept your teams are underperforming.

But you still support them.

Because you ooze sports knowledge and passion out every pore and you expect the players to share that same passion. 

Especially after having a taste of what winning feels like.

tnocs.com color analyst and philly phfan dutchg8r

Mike Schmidt hits a cold streak in the mid 80s and is playing lousy at third base? Damn straight he’s gonna get booed. So he dons a massive wig one game and goes through pre game warm ups wearing it, like a time traveling Troy Polomalu, to win the fans back. The crowd eats it up, because Schmidtty is NOT the jokester type at all. And he’s going out of his way to appease the fans. 

The fans loved it.

And it just endeared him more to the city.

But the early 80s Phillies fans were JV compared to the early 80s Eagles fans. 

They are the reason the Vet had to create an in-stadium jail

Eagles fans are passionate about everything to the nth degree, because they only have one game a week for 4 months to get their point across. That whole Booing Santa thing?  That was 100% Santa’s fault – the guy playing Santa that day showed up drunk and was a disgrace to his role. THAT’S what the Eagles fans were booing – another example of booing to call out lousy work performance.

When our family moved to Florida my senior year of high school, I remember sitting in the stands with the band during football games and being genuinely perplexed at the behavior of the others in the stands. Incomplete pass? ‘Ohhh, that’s OK, good job, keep at it’, blah blah blah. 

It was so foreign to me; I wanted to yell out “are you kidding me? That pass sucked. That’s a major boo-able offense if I ever saw one, and it is our duty to let them know we’re well aware it sucked and they better not do that again.” It was pretty jarring for me, because I’d never known a different way of ‘support’ for your team. Which just struck me as coddling, and made me more annoyed!

I’ve been away from Metro Philly for over 30 years now, but that passion for sports teams has never gone away.

It’s engrained in you from birth to show your loyalty honestly. My fellow ex-pat Philly coworker and I were discussing the Phils possibility of winning the World Series this year, and she was like – “it’s a damn miracle they got this far, but I don’t see them winning, which sucks to admit.”

And my response was – why?? They’ve spent well over a hundred years getting us used to losing, we’re pretty skilled in accepting it by now. Which is why I wasn’t too distraught over the Astros beating them in six games. There’s always next year (and Bryce Harper has gotten a taste of postseason baseball now, he’ll be hellbent on getting the team back there again).

The best example I can think of that sums up the Philly Sports Fan is when a coworker of mine traveled to Philadelphia for a playoff game. 

He was a die-hard Tampa Bay Bucs fan, which was unheard of in the late 90s.  So Tampa gets in the playoffs and winds up playing Philly for the NFC championship. He got some tickets and was totally stoked for driving from FL to Philly for the game. I was like, OK, just be prepared and don’t expect the crowd to be like sitting over at the Tampa stadium. I give him a briefing of what to expect, how these are fans that REALLY get into the games, he was just like, whatever, Tampa’s in the conference championship game! Brushed it off.

He comes back into work following the Bucs win, and first thing he said to me was:

“You weren’t kidding about Philly fans.” 

Uh-oh.

He proceeds to share his experience driving to the game, where he’s in his car fully decked out in Bucs regalia, he and his girlfriend are wearing Bucs jerseys, and he’s got a custom Bucs Florida license plate. As soon as they cross the state line from Delaware to PA on I-95, a van pulls up in the lane next to them, each doing normal speed on the interstate. 

The side opens, and four Eagles fans in full tailgate uniform mode appear in the door opening, flipping him the bird and screaming “Tampa Sucks! Go Eagles!” As he is sharing this with me and telling me about their encounters the rest of the game in the stands, I couldn’t help but smile to myself and feel good the Philly fans had not let me down.

During the fan-less Covid era, the networks would play crowd noise so it wasn’t so weird to watch the games. It was noted that Philly home games had an over abundance of canned boos.

It was great.  I don’t often watch Eagles games, but I had a good laugh with those.

So, I assure you – Philly Sports fans are not angry, volatile, threatening weirdos at all. They are a city and region that has nurtured a love for all sports over three centuries now, studying the games and taking pride in their thinking they are walking encyclopedias of sports and sports history.

They are a city and region that have built their livelihoods with their hands and appreciate hard work. 

They don’t hate anybody.

They just collectively think of themselves as another coach, giving the players exactly what they need to hear so they can improve. And on the flip side, doing their due diligence to heckle opposing players (heckling of course is a mild way of putting it). 

Passion can be a good thing. It is the lifeblood for underdogs. And Philadelphia, no matter what, will perpetually view themselves as underdogs. 

Nothing wrong with that. [Cue “Gonna Fly Now”]

I know we have a few folks around here with ties to Philly in some capacity; what do you guys think? 

Do you agree with me? Have anything to add I may have forgotten, other than the fact that mentality carries over to every aspect of life in Southeastern PA/South Jersey?! 

I know Boston fans like to think they’re just as passionate, but I don’t think they come close to Philadelphia, they’re just better than the rest of the country.

How does your team support compare? 

Have you been to games and events where the crowd was so boring you wondered why that franchise even existed?

Feel free to share with the class!


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dutchg8r

Obnoxious Smurf that tells lame jokes and is too sarcastic for her own good.

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thegue
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November 28, 2022 8:42 am

I have to admit – though I’ve grown up with a 30 minute drive of Philadelphia, Philly teams were never my favorite. I have reasons for all of them, but I’ll share just one very long story about the Baltimore Orioles.

  1. In the middle of their great late 70s run, I used to attend Phillies’ games at the Vet in the 700 level. It escapes my mind the cost, but $3 sounds about right.
  2. I went with an older friend of mine from church, since my dad showed no interest in the Phillies.
  3. Over 3 years (77-79), I attended 15 Phillies games…and they won ZERO.
  4. This is a team that averaged almost 100 wins a season, and they couldn’t pull out a single victory while I was there.
  5. I was also there when they unveiled Phanavision. It was a doubleheader against the Montreal Expos, and the first game was tied in the tenth inning while it was POURING…and the umps called the game. We waited another hour, and they finally showed off the new scoreboard, all while it rained cats and dogs.
  6. For those keeping track, that means I saw the Phillies TIE a game before they won.

In December of 1978, I got The Ultimate Baseball Book for Christmas, and the opening chapter addendum was a chapter on the 1890s Orioles. The Orioles were good in the late 70s, maybe they could win while I was there? They did, and I became an Orioles fan.

thegue
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November 28, 2022 8:49 am
Reply to  thegue

I HAVE to add – since the 1993 Phillies team that lost to Toronto in the World Series, the Phillies have been my second favorite team. This year’s run to the World Series was awesome.

The Sixers and Eagles are also my second favorite teams in their respective sports, and Gritty might be the best mascot EVER.

But the Flyers? I hate them like the plague.

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thegue
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November 28, 2022 2:26 pm
Reply to  dutchg8r

I found the game, or lack of it: September 21, 1979. It was 4-4 in the 10th and they called the game, then never played the 2nd game.

The next day they played a doubleheader (and won the first!), then played a game on Monday when they should’ve been off.

The Orioles were amazing (remember ’83?), but in 1986 they were in first place in August but went 14-42 the rest of the season. The team hasn’t been the same since (IMO)

cappiethedog
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November 28, 2022 2:54 pm
Reply to  dutchg8r

Oh, John Kruk. He was a character. The Padres traded Kruk for a guy who was terrible…forgot his name…Chris James. It’s been awhile. It’s not Ozzie Smith for Garry Templeton terrible, but it’s deals such as these that explain why the Padres will never win the WS. San Diego also had Shane Victorino for a season. I hear he did some good things.

Really really arcane fact: The first player from my alma mater in my lifetime while I was old enough to care who made the NBA was a cousin of David Ruffin. His name was Trevor Ruffin. He played 61 games for the ’95-’96 Sixers. He averaged 12.8 ppg and 4.4 assists. I suspect Ruffin was cut to make room for Allen Iverson.

My old avatar went to St. Louis High School. We’re going to San Francisco to catch the Dolphins game. We’re Tua-crazy here; it helps offset our 3-10 team that plays in a 9,000-seat facility. It’s pretty nuts how many QBs that same school produced: Marcus Mariota(Falcons), Chevan Cordero(San Jose State), Jayden deLaura(Arizona Wildcats).

Tua’s younger brother Taulia went to a public high school. Yay! He led Maryland to a 7-5 record. From my neighborhood: Dillon Gabriel(Oklahoma; it’s not all his fault, the defense was horrific), McKenzie Milton(Central Florida).

The architect of our trip teaches art at a public middle school. He doesn’t seem all that keen about going to MoMA, claiming that the last thing he wants to do whenever he has free time is to look at art.

Phylum of Alexandria
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November 28, 2022 11:01 am

You’ve done a great job capturing the Philly spirit, and what a lot of people are missing when they dismiss it as mere bad manners or sour grapes.

As I’ve said before, sports is all Greek to me. Even worse, I know more Greek than I know sports!

Still, I must confess that I feel like I missed out on what could have been some real rewarding community experiences by not getting into sports.

But…my dad never even tried to get my brother and I into sports. He took us to some games when we were in high school, but that was too little, too late. By that time, we were more excited about Les Miserables coming to the Forrest Theater.

I guess I should ask him: why didn’t he ever try to play ball with us when we were younger? Did he sniff out the nerds even at an early age? Or, did he create the nerds by just assuming we wouldn’t be into it?

A philosophical chestnut which may have no clear answer…

cappiethedog
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November 28, 2022 12:45 pm

As a child, I was fascinated with the Guinness Book of World Records. These records will always be a part of my long-term memory: Robert Waldow was the tallest man. 8’11”. Robert Hughes was the heaviest man. Okay, the memory’s not perfect. I remember him being 1,064 lbs. He was 1,071. And the 1930 Philadelphia Phillies had the worst team ERA. 6.71.

I don’t really have a favorite football team. I root for players. I liked Donovan McNabb. I thought the Eagles caught a break when they faced Arizona instead of the Panthers. That first Cardinals drive: I just felt it in my bones. They’re going to win.

My neck of the woods has a low self-esteem. They don’t like being underdogs. They root for other NCAA teams.

cappiethedog
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November 28, 2022 10:10 pm
Reply to  dutchg8r

So many trolls on sports blogs. Trent Dilfer is not a better QB than Dan Marino because he has a Super Bowl ring.

Virgindog
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November 28, 2022 12:54 pm

Nice job, dutch! Almost makes me want to move to Philly. Or at least have a cheesesteak.

thegue
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November 28, 2022 2:15 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

One of us Philly-ites need to write an entry on the best cheesesteaks in the area.

SPOILER ALERT: It’s not Pat’s or Geno’s, those tourist traps in South Philly.

Phylum of Alexandria
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November 28, 2022 2:32 pm
Reply to  thegue

Steve’s Prince of Steaks is my hill to die on.

mt58
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November 28, 2022 8:11 pm
Reply to  dutchg8r

 🙏 

cstolliver
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November 28, 2022 8:01 pm

This was awesome, Dutch. I will admit I’m not much of a sports fan overall, but there were a few years in elementary school in Chicago when I fell for the Cubs. The year they finally won the World Series was so great. One of my favorite late-in-life pictures of my dad was his wearing the World Series champions T. We also enjoyed the late-’70s Pirates/Orioles rivalry in my grandparents’ south central Pa. town (my brother went for the Pirates; the rest of us supported my grandparents’ love of the O’s — when the Pirates won, my brother was completely obnoxious about it, in the way only a true fan can be).

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