From Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-piece to the Eagles’ “Philly Special” downing Tom Brady’s New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, Philadelphia has had its share of iconic sports moments. In the process, its diehard fans have earned the reputation of being some of the rowdiest, meanest, and worst fans in the country.
Fans of the Eagles and Phillies, in particular, consistently ranked as the worst sports fans in the country. In addition to booing their own players, Philadelphia fans have committed infractions such as intentionally vomiting on an 11-year-old girl, cheering for Michael Irvin’s gruesome career-ending injury, and general rabblerousery. “I would hate us too,” said Philadelphia native Sean McHugh ’25. “[We have] multiple fights, multiple obscene gestures, but it just shows how passionate everyone here is for their teams.”
Passion is a word that anyone who has been involved with Philadelphia sports can identify with. Haverford College Director of Sports Information, Curran McCauley, grew up a fan of Bay Area sports, but concedes that no city can compete with Philadelphia for passion. “They have tied the teams into their identity in a way that most cities don’t,” said McCauley. “I love the Bay Area and San Francisco. of course, but more and more I realize that Philadelphia may be the best city in the United States.”
Some of Dean Jennifer Barr’s fondest sports memories include watching Tug McGraw’s final pitch to win the 1980 World Series for the Phillies on TV and being at the stadium for Kevin Millwood’s 2003 no-hitter on the Barry Bonds-led San Francisco Giants. Her passion translated to a middle-grade novel she wrote, Goodbye, Mr. Spalding, that was a top ALA book in 2019. Philadelphia sports have always been a family affair for her. “The love for Philadelphia sports is deeply rooted in oral family history,” Barr said. “Philly fans are loyal.” That means no bandwagons, just a sports town with families through the good seasons and the bad ones, through the Process in hopes of reaching a Product.
Haverford registrar, and former Philadelphia Eagle blogger, Jim Keane grew up with Philadelphia sports and knows there’s nothing else like them. “My opa would shuffle his feet so much watching games on TV that he put holes in the carpet,” said Keane. Whether the Eagles, Sixers, Phillies, Flyers, or Union, Keane always has had two feet in the door for Philadelphia sports. He’s been through soaring highs and cratering lows with his teams over the years but recognizes that the spirit of the city is to get back up. “The Flyers’ mascot is named ‘Gritty’ for a reason,” he notes.
Perhaps the identity of Philadelphia sports fans comes from the city itself. Philadelphia is stereotypically tough. It is the city of Rocky— blood, sweat and tears, working hard. It’s a working class town with a lot of pride, and its residents transfer their pride into the exalted professional sports teams. “The identity [of Philadelphia sports] is a lot like the identity of the city, resilient and tough but really just passionate and prideful at the end of the day,” says McCauley. That passion can’t be seen in any other city. While sports in cities like New York often take the back burner, Philly sports are on the mantle. “On SEPTA yesterday random people [were] shouting out Phillies score updates every few stops. You don’t get that everywhere,” said McCauley.
Say what you want about their etiquette, but Philly fans are always fully invested in their teams. “Philadelphia is a big city but not as big as New York in the north, and not as important as Washington, D.C. in the south,” says Keane. “I think this tends to create an inferiority complex.” Philadelphia is used to being the little brother to its other Northeastern rivals, but not when it comes to sports.
Philadelphia fans have mastered the underdog mentality. “We are imperfect, just like the teams and the players we root for,” says Keane. “Any team’s or player’s struggles represent and mirror our own.” From Super Bowl wins all the way down to historic baseball droughts, sports determine the mood of the city. There is a “culture of being let down, or at least of losing,” says Keane. That creates a pessimistic attitude, but one that creates a feeling of needing to prove itself.
Life for Philadelphia sports fans hasn’t always been sunny, but it has been as of late. The Eagles are the lone undefeated team in the NFL at 6-0 (that said, this could mean that the new tradition of punching horses after playoff wins will come back to life). The Phillies are in the World Series. The Union, in a record-setting season, are in their second straight Eastern Conference final. Say what you want about Philadelphia sports, but they are pretty good right now. “It’s so easy to root for teams like these,” said McHugh. “I got adopted into the cult.” Eagles fans are conspicuous at any game, home or away. In Week 5 this year in Arizona, they turned up in numbers that were able to audibly boo Kyler Murray and the Cardinals and turn State Farm Stadium into a birds’ nest.
“The palpable negative energy at games is something I didn’t really understand the first few times I went to games down at the sports complex. Why are you booing your own players?” McCauley says. Philadelphia does have a colored history of treating successful ex-players poorly, and there is no better example of that than DeSean Jackson. Jackson, the fourth leading receiver in Eagles history, saw his jersey be burned by fans after he got cut from the team. “But I think that shows the passion and how much they care, in a way. There are definitely bad apples, but as a fanbase I don’t think they are the worst at all,” says McCauley.
While outsiders see Philadelphia fans’ behavior as rambunctious or unruly, some argue that their loudness is a testament to their loyalty. Barr attributes the negative image of Philadelphia sports to the media. “Philly fans are fun and faithful, and if they are loud or passionate during a game, I actually think that makes them among the best fans in sports,” says Barr. No matter which way you cut it, it can be agreed that Philadelphia fans are loud and proud.
Despite their reputation, the Philadelphia faithful don’t care what you think. In fact, they embrace it. “THAT’S RIGHT! WE ARE THE ABSOLUTE WORST!” says Keane in an email interview. “The reality is that Philadelphia fans are no worse than any other fan base. In fact, we’re much better than EVERY other fan base that has ever existed in the history of Sport. Period.”
McHugh put it best, with typical Philly bluntness: “People see us as cocky. F— those guys.”
Thoroughly enjoyed the interesting article on the history of football at Haverford. Thank you ! Well done !