The sports media loves cliches like it loves athletes giving 110 percent. Whenever a game’s in Philadelphia, you have a 110 percent chance of seeing shots of cheesesteaks and the Rocky statue. (If you’re lucky, you’ll catch dated stock footage of the skyline without the Comcast Center.)
The other cliche is, of course, Philadelphia sports fans. Even though Richard Nixon was not yet president when Eagles fans threw snowballs at Santa, lazy out-of-town writers continue to reference the 1968 incident. If you’re a Philadelphia sports fan, you can probably rail off the list of Philadelphia sports fan transgressions off the top of your head, so often are they references. (My personal favorite is the fan who fired a flare across Veterans Stadium during a Monday Night Football game in 1997.)
“If you’ve ever been to a ballgame or a hockey game in Philadelphia, you know that the City of Brotherly Love is kind of a misnomer,” noted cliche machine Bob Costas said before the Winter Classic on Saturday. It didn’t even take until the game to give people a reason to back up that cliche.
Before the game, Canadian R&B singer Melanie Fiona went to sing “O Canada,” because the Canadian national anthem should always be played before games involving New York and Philadelphia. Just as she was about to sing, boos were heard on the television broadcast.
Were fans really booing “O Canada”? Some fans said, no, the video screen showed burgeoning Flyers star Claude Giroux and fans were chanting his last name. Others said people were booing the fact that the late Kate Smith wasn’t shown on the video board dueting from beyond the grave on “God Bless America” with the very much alive Lauren Hart. (They’d eventually show up after the first period.)
Does it really matter? Brief boos before “O Canada” wouldn’t even crack the top 10 list of Philadelphia fan transgressions in history—or even that day, which included a brawl between Flyers fans Rangers fans outside Geno’s, where “brawl” is defined as “a guy in a Rangers jersey gets sucker punched while a bunch of people stand around and watch.”
Anytime someone does something bad at a Philadelphia sporting event, be it boo right before a national anthem or run onto the field, Philadelphia fans flinch and wait for the worst. To soften the blow, Philly fans say it’s only a few bad apples who do things. They say it’s overblown. They point out the transgressions of fans of other teams. Yes, Philadelphia fans really do cheer when other teams’ fans get into trouble.
This is silly. If the national media still brings up throwing snowballs at Santa—a fairly harmless and, let’s be clear, hilarious event in our city’s history—the city is going to have a reputation for sports fan lawlessness until the end of time. Why bother? We shouldn’t embrace the Philadelphia fan stereotype—yes, too many people are drunken louts at games and they sometimes make it less enjoyable (especially for women), but it’s really just a matter of who you happen to sit near—but there’s no reason we have to fight an unwinnable battle against a stereotype. Hell, maybe we are the worst and we deserve it!
In the meantime, let’s just be happy Philadelphia sports fans were the only beloved city institution whose members fought and embarrassed themselves over the weekend.