By Peter Gleason
Philly has gotten a bad rap ever since W. C. Fields uttered the priceless:
“On the whole I’d rather be in Philadelphia.”
Of course, that was a comparison with a hole dug for his coffin.
And Philly sports fans have been getting a worse rap ever since Eagles owner Jerry Wolman, in the throes of a cash crisis, trotted out a skinny Santa Claus as part of a halftime celebration around Christmas 1968!
For as long as pollsters have been ranking which cities have the worst sports fans, Philly has traditionally found itself at the top — or the bottom, depending on how you look at it.
It happened again recently, when a majority of NFL players admitted that they hated Eagles fans the most, according to a Sports Illustrated poll. The rest of the list features few surprises: the most hated team is the New England Patriots, the most hated coach is Bill Belichick, the most hated owner is Washington’s Dan Snyder.
But no other city gets beat up like Philly when it comes to its fans, who can be as loud and as obnoxious as those supporting any other team in any other city. If it wasn’t for the time in 1968 when the Eagles faithful attacked Santa Claus with a hailstorm of boos and snowballs, there would be far less ammo against Philly than there is today.
Nobody is louder than Seahawks fans, but instead of getting beaten up for having big mouths, the ear-shattering sound levels at CenturyLink Field are celebrated as part of the team’s 12th Man aura. Eagles fans have been slammed for throwing snowballs at just about everyone, but Jets and Giants fans have also engaged in snowball fights that led to lawsuits.
Then there is the jail that was built in the basement of the old Veterans Stadium to more efficiently process South Philly’s rowdiest die hards. But in terms of violence, awful things happen in stadiums around the country, from Oakland’s Black Hole to Arizona’s octogenarian desert haven, to the Pro Bowl of all places. You could make an argument that the worst examples of poor fan behavior actually happen in Europe, where stadiums have been the site of race riots, and where tear gas is used to quell and disperse unruly crowds. Still, Philly built the jail in 1998, and it forever lives in infamy.
But is it worse in Philly than any other city? Is the language any coarser? What visiting team actually gets the red carpet rolled out for them?
The Bronx Cheer comes from New York. Falcons fans have been stabbed in Atlanta. San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers games have produced shocking levels of violence in recent years. Oakland Raiders fans are celebrated for dressing up like characters fit for a Mad Max film. Duke basketball fans are notorious for harassing opposing schools. Canadian hockey fans have set cities on fire after tough losses. An Alabama football fan was charged with poisoning an iconic tree near the campus of rival Auburn University.
But despite all that, Philly fans are shackled with being the worst or the foulest or the most hated sports fans around. All because of a little dustup with Santa Claus almost 50 years ago.