In losing Phillies great Darren Daulton, we are finding ourselves as Philly sports Fans

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And so Darren Daulton has passed.

With his passing, we lose a truly loved “Philly Guy”. No, Dutch wasn’t born here, but he was MADE here. With his passing, we’ve lost a special kind of athlete – and a special kind of person. Losing Dutch has made me think about how beloved he was by Philly sports fans, but more importantly, WHY he was so beloved.

So this isn’t a column about Darren Daulton, God bless him. At least not directly. It is really about the dichotomy of the average people who are mourning his passing, the all- too-often misunderstood Philadelphia Sports Fan.

Philly Sports Fans, I have suffered, bled, cried, occasionally cheered – but have ALWAYS defended you. No, not blindly, only when fair. However, it turns out that it is, in fact, fair much more often than many would like to admit. So, for this journey, lend me your ears – because I’ll always have your back.

Let me start by relaying a famous story.
One of the great sound bites in the NFL films library involves Philadelphia and Bill Parcells. The New York Giants were warming up for a 1989 game at veterans Stadium and a large group of eagles fans had gathered behind the visitors bench to, shall we say, welcome them to South Philadelphia. Parcells, the Giants head coach, glanced over his shoulder at the fans. Finally, he turned to Lawrence Taylor, is all pro linebacker and said “you know Lawrence they call this ‘the city of brotherly love’ but it’s really a banana republic.”

It just so happened that Parcells was wearing a wireless microphone for NFL films that day, so his comment about the Philadelphia fans found its way onto network television. Thus, it became part of the genesis of the notion that the Philadelphia Sports Fan is a scary, angry 500 lb. monster foaming at the mouth – manners and sportsmanship be damned. Parcells comment – along with that time a fan shot a flare gun off during a Monday Night Football game against the 49ers at the Vet that went clear across the field hitting a seat that was (thankfully) empty, and the infamous snowball “attack” on Santa Claus (more on that later), and the famous court that was held in the bowels of the Vet with Judge McCaffery presiding during the Eagles home games so the fans could receive their legal justice right on the spot – all helped build up the notion that typical Philly Fan is, in fact, that foaming monster.

There is no doubt, Philadelphia is a tough city. But it is also a wonderful city, with its rich history and its thriving communities of arts, and now millennial gentrification and still proudly serving as the cradle of American freedom.

Sure, it is also still a hard knocks kind of place. It is a blue-collar, row house town where most folks scuffle to make a buck. And rooting for the home team – loudly, passionately, sometimes angrily – is part of what defines us as Philadelphians.

While other towns have their Yankee clippers and galloping ghosts – here, it is concrete Charlie Bednarik, the ’93 Phillies (complete with “Macho Row”), and the Broad Street Bullies.

Brotherly love? Yes, there is some of that, but don’t push it. Don’t walk into an Eagles game wearing a Cowboys jersey and expect a warm greeting. It just doesn’t work that way – nor should it.

Philadelphia may not be a banana republic, as Bill Parcells claimed, but it isn’t all that kind or gentle either, especially when it puts on its game face. But that’s OK. The fans here are tough, but they are knowledgeable. They support their teams, but they will not tolerate it when players give less than their best effort. They have been called “boo birds,” yet no fans embrace their teams more lovingly then the Philadelphia fans when they feel the players have given all they have to give, even in defeat.

It is what we learn from our fathers, grandfathers, brothers, sisters and mothers. It is what we learn from basically anyone from this area who was ever anyone of consequence in shaping our lives. We are taught hat in this blue-collar tough town when a player earns our respect through hard work and hustle, well, then they have it forever, like Darren Daulton. I can remember my father sitting me down and explaining to me the inns and the outs of what a true hard-working sports athlete is and why they should have our respect. Similarly, I recall being taught that the player doesn’t try hard wastes his talent, and is just seemingly looking for a pay-day, then he does not necessarily deserve the same level of gratitude from me. And I agreed, without much convincing. I believe I was onboard with that notion because I saw how hard my father worked, and his father, and all those in my community around me. And that was and still IS Philadelphia.

The whole notion of being a Philadelphia fan – fiercely loyal, but also fiercely opinionated – was passed down to me in such a way that I could not imagine a life without it. The winning, the losing, the elation, the disappointment and – of course – all the debating that goes along with it. If you are like me, it is an essential part of who you are somewhere deep down in your soul.

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 they leave their hometown, and are questioned about said incident.
However, if there’s one thing that people outside of 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.

I went to a national Public Relations conference in my corporate life about five years ago to represent my company. This conference was held in New Orleans. At some point when you grab a few beers with some of the other folks representing their companies from places like St. Louis, San Diego, and (if memory serves) another Midwestern, laid-back city, you begin to talk sports – as sports fans are wont to do at a sports bar.
“Philly sports fans are the worst,” someone will inevitably say to me. “You guys booed Santa Claus.”

OK, let’s address this once – and so help me God – for all. But we will address the TRUTH behind the story. 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 (but I angrily digress).

By the time December 15 rolled around, Eagles fans were miserable, and that misery was compounded by the fact that Franklin Field (which is where the Eagles called home during that time) 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. In his stead, some hapless season-ticket holder named Frank Olivo happened to be in the stands wearing a Santa suit, the team begged him to stand in. After agreeing, 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, even going so far as to say, “I was about 175 pounds and the beard fell off. I was a lousy Santa, and I would have booed myself!” 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 in the first place.

There has got to 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 (nor, of course was I).

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. To all the Philly Haters, eriously, it’s time to find some new material.

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 last year, 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 of last season, 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 team 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 personally witnessed at Citizens Bank Park or Veterans Stadium over the years.

In complete fairness, there are plenty of sports fan-bases 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 south of Philly and you’ve got the University of Maryland basketball fans that react to wins and losses alike by rioting, looting, setting fires, and whacking a cop in the face with a wooden board. Across the country for decades, 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 a few years back, 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 outfielder Jason Heyward.

Is some of criticism levied towards Philly fans valid? Sure. They’ve booed their own players for reasons that haven’t been appropriate, they’ve cheered the injuries of opposing team’s players, and sometimes they throw things. But is the CBP parking lot the venue for spontaneous Roman gladiator fights, like some other baseball towns in recent years? Hell no.

The next time I tell someone I’m a Philly Sports 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.”

We love our own, if they simply play hard, and acknowledge us. This is something Daulton understood. It is why he referred to us as “family” at the ballpark a few years back. And one thing, we will NEVER do in Philly is turn our back on family. And that is why I’m both proud to be a Philly Sports Fan, and why I am going to miss Dutch so much – because when we lose one of our own, we mourn. And Daulton was not just a former player who put his big-league time in here; he was one of us too.

He often would say he was “proud” to be a fan of Philly sports. Simply put, he truly understood us, unlike the unwashed masses that cling to lazy phrases whose time has come and gone.

We were proud of you too, Dutch, and hopefully we all realize we can be proud of ourselves too.

 

 

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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