Philly sports fans have a reputation. They’re loud. They’re drunk. They’re occasionally violent. It’s possible that a Philly sports fan might not even realize that a teen running out on the field mid-game until he’s tasered into submission by a security guard is unusual behavior until one leaves their hometown. However, if there’s one thing that people from at least 100 miles outside the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area love doing, it’s telling Philly sports fans that they are collectively perceived as possessing the decorum of a pack of rabid wolverines. Hell, the reputation has even bled into how people discuss the DNC. My Twitter feed is littered with scorching takes like a New York Times reporter remarking that “a convention at a Philly sports venue HAD to involve booing of some sort” and a The Hill headline that reads “Booing in Philly? This time it’s Sanders supporters, not Flyers fans.” Now add in every other guy who fancies himself the funniest guy in Accounts Payable who chimes in with a hot “Hey, did you know that sports fans in Philly like to boo?” as if it’s a completely fresh revelation. Forget the fact that a lot of the people attending the convention came in from out of town. Damn if this shit doesn’t get old. I should know. It’s been 11 years since I moved away from Philly to New York and anytime I find myself in a casual discussion about baseball, the other person relishes telling me that my fellow Phillies fans are famous for behaving like complete toilet monsters. Mets, Yankees, Pirates, Orioles, and Red Sox fans telling me how feral Philly sports fans supposedly are is probably the most consistent occurrence in my life.
“Philly sports fans are the worst,” someone will inevitably say to me. “You guys booed Santa Claus.”
Yes. Philly sports fans booed and threw snowballs at Santa Claus. In 1968. Almost 50 years ago.
For the uninitiated, the Santa Claus incident occurred at the end of a particularly abysmal season where the Eagles won only two games. The team’s record was horrible, but not horrible enough to get the first round draft pick, which ended up being a hotshot Heisman-winning running back out of USC named O.J. Simpson.
By the time December 15 rolled around, Eagles fans were miserable, and that misery was compounded by the fact that Franklin Field was essentially covered in a blanket of snow and ice. Add in the fact that the team was losing badly to the Minnesota Vikings, and you can pretty much guess that the 54,000 person crowd who were basically sitting in slush was in no mood for a holly jolly Christmas-themed halftime show. Of course, the person who was actually hired to play Santa Claus probably thought better of trudging through the tundra to try and cheer up the long-suffering Eagles fans and stayed home. Some hapless season-ticket holder named Frank Olivo happened to be in the stands wearing a Santa suit, he was tossed into the festivities, and the crowd channeled its festering rage onto the stand-in St. Nick.
The late Olivo himself, a lifelong Philly resident who passed away in 2015, has always had a good sense of humor about the incident. For the rest of us, it became the go-to legend as to why Philadelphia is supposedly home to the country’s, if not the world’s, worst sports fans, which conveniently glosses over the fact that a stadium-capacity crowd showed up in the snow to support a failing team.
There’s gotta be a statute of limitations on the booing Santa Claus story. Hell, half the people who bring it up to me weren’t even born yet when Santa-gate went down. There also needs to be an expiration date on the Phillies fans whipping D-cell batteries at J.D. Drew story. It happened in 1999. Kids born on the day unruly fans threw batteries at the Cardinals outfielder are most likely heading into their senior years of high school. Seriously, it’s time to write some new material.
It’s not like there aren’t far more recent examples for people who want to perpetuate the frankly classist narrative that the largely working class sports fans in the City of Brotherly Love are downtrodden, bloodthirsty savages with a chip on their shoulder about living in the perpetual shadow of New York. Not to make it easy for my detractors, but why cite an example from the Johnson administration when in 2010, a 21-year-old from South Jersey willfully barfed on a pair of Mets fans consisting of an off-duty cop and his 11-year-old daughter while taking in a game at Citizens Bank Park? A Phillies fan actually weaponized his own puke and people are still bringing up booing Santa Claus? There was also that time in 2008 when fans got so excited about the team’s first World Series win in 28 years that they flipped over and totaled a car parked on Broad Street. All told, police arrested 76 people celebrating into the wee hours of the night. Perhaps Mets fans would be less likely to cast the first stone if their team had actually won the World Series in 2015 after a 29-year championship drought. Or the one they made it to in 2000. There’s something about winning the first championship in decades that really unleashes the id. Perhaps Mets fans will find that out one day.
It’s this reputation that makes players and opposing fans alike think they are entitled to treat Phillies sports fans with the same, let’s call it spirited vigor. Although Joey Votto didn’t even get a hit during a Phils loss to the Reds back in May, he didn’t let his unremarkable performance stop him from trolling the crowd at Citizens Bank Park by pretending to throw a ball to a bunch of children sitting by the dugout and then laughing at them when they realized the fake out. In July, a person in a Pikachu suit felt totally comfortable flipping off the fans during a skit where the Pokémon character was chased by the Phanatic, which admittedly, is pretty hilarious. If I didn’t tell you in which city a mascot flipped the crowd the bird, you’d probably fill in the blank, right?
It’s also this reputation that compels me to behave like I’m a pair of opera glasses away from attending a performance of The Pirates of Penzance when watching the Phils play the Mets at Citi Field. And when the teams wins, I make it a point to not look that happy about it as I quietly file out of the stadium. Still, that didn’t stop a drunk Mets fan from screaming obscenities at me during a day where his team was down 10 runs, which coincidentally is behavior far more aggressive than anything I ever witnessed at Citizens Bank Park or Veterans Stadium.
In complete fairness, there are plenty of sports fanbases that deserve the infamous reputation as much as, or more than, Philly fans. There are plenty of unruly mobs that to which you could pass the worst sports fans torch. Drive a few hours out of Philly and you’ll hit Penn State, where the college football fans are more concerned with protecting the legacy of coach Joe Paterno (with support from Donald Trump) than the fact that he facilitated decades of institutional child sexual abuse. Drive a few hours south and you’ve got the University of Maryland basketball fans who react to wins and losses alike by rioting, looting, setting shit on fire, and catching a cop in the face with a wooden board. Across the country, Oakland Raiders fans have embraced the violence that permeates “The Black Hole” to the point that they dress up in Mad Max style body armor. Across the bay in Candlestick Park last year, aside from the multiple fights in the stands, there were two separate (fortunately non-fatal) shootings happened in a preseason game against the Raiders. Hell, even the supposedly well-behaved St. Louis Cardinals fans were allegedly caught on mic yelling racist taunts at former Cardinals and now Cubs Jason Heyward outfielder.
That being said, since I’m primarily a baseball fan, I should probably pick the team whose fanbase deserves the trash reputation currently bestowed upon Phillies fans. There’s a lot to choose from. Red Sox fans are sore winners and Yankees fans are arrogant about cheering on the bloated, underperforming sports equivalent of the Death Star. However, no other fanbase deserves to take the toilet behavior torch away from Phillies fans quite like Dodgers fans.
For starters, Dodgers fans typically get to the game around the 3rd inning and tend to jet around the 7th to beat traffic. A game tied in the 9th inning could still have tumbleweeds whipping through the stands at Dodger Stadium.
That being said, the fans that do stick around are likely to put someone in the opposing team’s jersey in an ambulance or a body bag. The latter happened to 25-year-old Giants fan Mark Allen Antenorcruz when he was shot to death in the parking lot in 2003. According to the Los Angeles Times, the fact that the young father didn’t wear his Giants jersey because he “didn’t want any trouble” didn’t make a bit of difference. In 2011, Dodgers fans fractured Bryan Stow’s skull in a near-fatal beating because he deigned to wear a Giants jersey to a Giants-Dodgers game on opening day.
Horrific beatdowns aren’t just reserved for Dodgers fans. Last October, a mother and son tag-team beat a Mets fan straight into critical condition after the Mets won Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Is some of criticism levied towards Phillies fans valid? Sure. They’ve booed their own players, they’ve cheered the injuries of opposing team’s players, and sometimes they throw things. Is the CBP parking lot the venue for spontaneous Roman gladiator fights? Hell no.
The next time I tell someone I’m a Phillies fan, instead of getting told about how my supposedly classless brethren once booed Santa Claus, I’d rather hear something like, “Hey, at least you’re not a crazy Dodgers fan” or “Glad you’re not a racist Cardinals fan.”