Wednesday, September 29, 2010
The Best Fans
ONE LUMP OR TWO. For those who are thinking, "Not another sports post," this one is actually about the Tea Parties, not Philadelphia.
But it starts with Philadelphia. There have been two great stories boiling in the City of Brotherly Love this week. The Phillies, obviously, clinching their fourth straight division title in the National League, while the world of snotty sportswriters headquartered in New York is finally --after all this time -- acknowledging that they're definitely, absolutely for real as a great baseball team.
The other story has to do with Michael Vick. I'll get back to that.
But first, here's the Tea Party angle. The MSM "narrative" about Philadelphia sports fans has remained unchanged for decades. Many of you who don't live here probably believe it because you have no reason not to. It's all you've ever heard. Philadelphia fans are crude, violent, drunk ingrates who turn instantly on their teams when the results are not acceptable in terms of the instant gratification mindset that afflicts this benighted city. They threw iceballs at Santa Claus, ran Donovan McNabb, one of the elite NFL quarterbacks of the past decade, out of town, and have always behaved with a kind of thuggish sullenness that makes them the embarrassment of sports fans the world over. Does that about cover your own view of the topic? Thought so.
I call it the "angry white man" narrative. It's been applied to Philadelphians for decades and it's been applied to Tea Parties since they first emerged on the scene. Problem is, it's no truer of Philadelphians than it is of tea parties. And vice versa. It's just an easy way for the MSM to characterize people they don't like.
And it's parochial as hell. Which is why the Philadelphia instance is so pertinent. Because the Philadelphia instance is all about New York. And guess who the chief rivals of New York teams in the National League and the National Conference of the NFL are? The Philadelphia Phillies and the Philadelphia Eagles. The Phillies have made it a practice in recent years to humiliate the New York Mets, and the Eagles have hectored the New York Football Giants for decades at least. (If you've missed the story of how Eagles linbebacker Chuck Bednarik nearly killed Giants halfback Frank Gifford, you're the only one.) The difference between their fans is a coin flip. They're both northeastern cities. The fans boo quickly, loudly, and vociferously because they care so very very much. The fans are blue collar -- they're not the yuppies of the Redskins, Patriots, and Forty-Niners, the oil barons of the Dallas Cowboys, or the hippies of the Denver Broncos fan base. They're, well, the same kind of folks that are attending tea parties.
And exactly the same demographics apply. The center of MSM sports journalism is -- TA DA -- New York. Objective are they? No. No more than they are with national political issues. They're, uh, New Yorkers first and foremost. Better, smarter, just plain superior. Even if our two NFL teams both play their games in New Jersey. Probably why they're not as cool as we are.
Which explains the Tea Party coverage. Completely. Same parochial mindset. We're New Yorkers. Everybody else is full of shit.
What's the twist here? Maybe the rest of you can learn something about America from Philadelphia sports fans. Don't sigh. Listen. Learn. Most of what you think you know just ain't so.
Philadelphia fans are loyal. The Eagles are always sold out. Not so rare in the NFL. But so are the Phillies. Sold out, I mean. For over a hundred straight home games. Only the New York Yankees have sold more tickets this year, but New York is three times the size of Philadelphia. And nobody can explain the huge Phillies contingent that shows up at every road game the Phillies play. It's inexplicable and awe-inspiring. But there they always are.
Philadelphia fans are knowledgeable. One of the key dramatic moments in the 2008 playoffs involved an at-bat by a pitcher. He fouled off pitch after pitch and finally broke the spirit of C.C. Sabathia. The fans were on it the whole time and, arguably, made the eventual game-changing walk happen. Philly fans know their baseball.
Philadelphia fans are complicated. Cartoons aren't complicated. Philly fans are worse than complicated. They're committed, conflicted, and agonized. (Tea Party anyone?) I've been listening to SportsTalk in Philly for the past week, and for a city that wants a Super Bowl win so desperately, the callers -- and the hosts -- are a divided bunch. They had good reason for wanting to be done with McNabb. In nine years, McNabb never did what Vick did last week. Score a touchdown with four seconds remaining in the fist half. (The tea partiers have always been accused of being racist because they don't like Obama.) Eagles fans weren't racist for disliking NcNabb. He never really liked them, and they wanted so much to like him that a typical Eagles crowd was a sea of Number Five jerseys. I guarantee there will be cheers aplenty as well as boos when McNabb take the field for the Redskins next Sunday in Philadelphia. But he never had the Unitas, Manning, Elway touch. He couldn't bring you back at the last second to a victory. Never could. Never did. The fans remember that too. Even the ones who cheer.
Vick can bring you back. And all over the radio, the fans don't know how to feel about that. Apparently, there's something more than winning they care about. Not all of them obviously. Some are gung-ho. But by no means all. They call in, a whole spectrum of moral vicissitudes. Upset by the betrayal of Kevin Kolb. Able to root for the Eagles with Vick but not for Vick. Lifelong fans but unable to watch an Eagles game at all. Able to root for Vick and the Eagles but finding a hole in their hearts, a twinge of conscience as they do so.
And hardly any haters. Again I'm reminded of the tea partiers. They're not simple-minded, most of them. They don't like the situation. They don't want Vick to go back to prison. They want him to find his own personal redemption. But they'd also rather have an Eagles team that didn't make them feel dirty to watch.
Something about congress maybe. Not to mention the White House.
Maybe ESPN should lighten up on Philadelphia. And maybe the MSM should lighten up on the tea partiers.
Just a thought.