Wednesday, April 07, 2010 |
First of all, the Santa Claus incident happened in 1968. We can let it go. Besides, it had more to do with the quality of Santa (A last minute stand-in who appeared to be drunk and egged the fans on) than anything else. The Santa, Frank Olivo, thought it was a joke. The fans thought it was a joke. The only person who didn't see it that way was Howard Cosell, and a fleeting moment of levity became the foundation of a tumultuous and sometimes brutal reputation, thanks to ABC.
But you know what people don't talk about? It was the last game of a miserable season, where the Eagles went 2-12, it was 22 degrees with 30 mph winds and 15 hours of snow the day before. The game was meaningless, miserable, and to be honest, nobody would have cared if they'd ended it at halftime. And still, 54,000 fans showed up. That's this city.
Philadelphia loves winners. But we don't hate losers, not really. Richie Ashburn's name is spoken with reverence usually reserved for martyred saints. We'd have voted Brian Dawkins in with a landslide if he'd run for mayor. We take Allen Iverson back like an abused ex-girlfriend who thinks she can change him. No, we don't hate you if you don't win (example: Rocky was way better than Rocky II). We hate you if you don't care. We want you to live and die and celebrate and suffer with your team as much as we do, and if you don't, we let you know how we feel about it.
That's why some players hate playing here. We expect you to fulfill your potential. Do so, and you're a shining golden god. Just ask Chase Utley, Julius Erving, or Bobby Clarke (playing version, not the GM). You don't, and you can expect the same treatment given to Scott Rolen or Eric Lindros.
And when it comes to our treatment of opposing fans, I'd assert that it's largely overblown. Sure, there have been unfortunate incidents, and if you come to an Eagle's game in the other team's gear, you're either very, very stupid, or very, very big. But go to Lambeau Field in a Bears jersey or Fenway Park in a Yankees hat and see if anything different happens. And of course we hate New Yorkers, who seem to think that numerical advantage confers some sort enlightened status that the rest of the country should be in reverent awe of.
If Piotr Nowak lives up to his reputation, his team should have no problem endearing themselves to the Philadelphia faithful. Fans aren't stupid. We know the troubles most expansion teams have. And Philadelphia soccer fans have waited so long just to have a team, they're not going to lose patience with the whole club over a couple of routine growing pains. Nowak has already shown himself to be decisive with players who aren't good enough. After a performance bordering on the pathetic in his first game, defender David Myrie was tossed like last week's leftover tuna casserole. After being sent off in the same game, midfielder Toni Stahl was sent to Harrisburg, to play with the USL-2 City Islanders. Nowak's laying down the law, and his approach, given time, should win plenty of admirers amongst Philly fans.
Philadelphia is a passionate sports town, but there are plenty of cities who care deeply about their teams. However, you take an anecdote like the infamous Santa story, add in a national media based in the market where most of our main rivals come from, and top it off with a healthy dose of Philly fans liking the bad boy reputation, and you've got the makings of plenty of good stories, truth be damned.