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Philly Sports Fans Are the Worst. They’re Also the Best

6 minute read

Philadelphia sports fans were always the loudmouths, the louts. Fans of your favorite team can certainly be obnoxious. But at least they’re not like Philly.

After all, Philadelphia fans once booed Santa Claus. During a 1989 game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys in the City of Brotherly Love, spectators at Veterans Stadium pelted players, refs, and broadcasters with snowballs—and the Eagles won. Things got so bad at the Vet that a jail and courtroom were installed in the bowels of the stadium to handle unruly fans. Last year a Phillies fan tossed the cell phone of a Mets supporter out of the left-field seats. GQ once rated the Phillies and Eagles as having the first and second worst fan bases in America, respectively.

But in one of the most surprising turnaround stories in all sports, Philly fans are now rewriting their reputation. They’re emerging as one of the more—gasp—likable fan bases in the game. As the Phillies begin their pennant defense on Monday night in the National League Championship Series against the red-hot Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Eagles, despite a tough loss to the New York Jets on Sunday, continue to soar with their 5-1 record, spectators around the world have good reason to view Philadelphia—yes, Philadelphia—with actual envy.

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I, for one, felt pangs of jealousy last week, when watching Phillies star Bryce Harper discuss his adoration for Philadelphia after smacking two home runs in Game 3 of the National League Division Series, a 10-2 victory over Atlanta. “I love this place,” he said. “Flat out, I love this place. There’s nothing like coming into the Bank [Citizens Bank Park] and playing in front of these fans. Blue-collar mentality. Tough. Fighting every single day. I get chills, man. I get so fired up.” He ducked his head, about to tear up. “Man, I love this place.”

As a New York Mets fan, I can’t remember a Mets player ever speaking so lovingly about us long-suffering supporters. I struggle to remember any athlete getting so emotional about their fans. 

Lucky Philly. We could all use somebody who loves us as much as Bryce Harper seems to love Philadelphia. 

Harper showed up to Game 4 on Thursday night in Philadelphia wearing a baby-blue suit with pictures of the Philly skyline and other landmarks lining the interior. He donned a Phillie Phanatic pocket square. The Phillies beat the Braves 3-1 to clinch the series and move on to the NLCS. “Sometimes, I wonder if he’s pouring it on,” says Sean Tait, a social studies teacher at Father Judge High School in Philadelphia, with a proper dose of skepticism. Remember, we’re talking about Philly here. “But I think he’s legit and means every word he says.”

In 2019, Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies and has lived up to his deal. He won the National League MVP award in 2021. His game-winning home run against the San Diego Padres last season sent Philly to the World Series, when they lost to the Houston Astros.  

Now, he has a chance to lead Philadelphia to their first back-to-back World Series appearances since 2008—when the Phillies last won the World Series—and 2009, when they lost to the New York Yankees. 

“I always watched [Derek] Jeter, and I was like, man, I wish we had a guy like that,” says Tait, who also serves as assistant men’s basketball coach at Delaware Valley University. “I wish we had a guy that got it like that, that played hard every day and came to the stadium every day and was professional.” 

“We have that.”

Philadelphia started rebranding itself this summer, when fans hatched a plan on social media to actually cheer—rather than jeer—shortstop Trea Turner, who signed an 11-year, $300 million deal with the Phillies last offseason, but struggled. Fans gave Turner an encouraging standing ovation throughout an August weekend series against the Kansas City Royals, and he responded to the positive vibes. He went 4 for 12 with two doubles, a home run, and five RBIs. Turner thanked fans for the encouragement on a dozen digital billboards splashed throughout the area. 

This change of heart didn’t come easy. Many Philadelphians wear their fan notoriety “like a badge,” says Tait. “If you listen to talk radio, which I do every day, with this Turner thing some people were like, ‘We don’t do that. We shouldn’t have done that. We’re not that.’ And then there's people that say, ‘No, that was great. We picked him up. Look what we did for him.’” 

“There’s a little confusion,” says Tait, with a laugh. “How do we act when our next superstar doesn’t perform well? What if [Eagles quarterback Jalen] Hurts has a couple bad games here? Are we supposed to cheer him or boo him?” 

It’s certainly easier for a kinder, gentler Philly fan to emerge when the Phils are still alive in the playoffs, and the Birds, who reached the Super Bowl last season, are off to a strong start. After 10-year-old Liam Castellanos watched his dad, Phillies outfielder Nick Castellanos, hit three home runs in two games at Citizens Bank last week, fans offered their assistance to ensure Liam’s presence at future games. 

“PSA: LIAM IS ALREADY HOME SCHOOLED BY HIS NANA,” his mom, Jess Castellanos, wrote on X. “Thank you all for the offers of teaching him, traveling with him back and forth from Florida, and the option of you guys doing his homework for him. But we’re good. He’s here and we’re doing SWELL, happy red October!”  

Meanwhile, Eagles fans have gained a reputation for providing Philly a home-field advantage—on the road. In late September, Eagles coach Nick Sirianni credited Eagles fans for traveling to Tampa to support the Birds during their 25-11 win over the Buccaneers. "I mean, what an advantage. We have the best fans in the NFL," said Sirianni. "I would love to have high-fived every one of them because they made a big difference in that game just right from the beginning."

Some habits, however, will die hard. Philadelphia has a tradition of greasing its lampposts before major sporting events, in a sometimes futile attempt to keep deranged Philly fans from ascending them after big victories. 

Expect the grease to prevail in October. 

“My brother’s a police officer,” says Tait. “And he tells me that’s the best thing they do.” 

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Write to Sean Gregory at sean.gregory@time.com