SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Maybe you heard on this show and others the Philadelphia Eagles play the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl tomorrow. Eagles fans are considered passionate, devoted and often words we can't say here unless we're quoting someone in the White House. Aaron Moselle from member station WHYY tried to find out if Philly fans are really as insufferable as their reputation.
AARON MOSELLE, BYLINE: It all dates back to December 1968 - the final game of a dismal two-win Eagles season. The Santa Claus the team hired for a halftime pageant didn't show up, so they improvised. Glen Macnow - a sports radio host in Philly - describes what happened.
GLEN MACNOW: They managed to pull a 21-year-old kid out of the crowd in a Santa suit - little drunk, little scrawny. He marched across the field, and some Eagles fans decided to send some snowballs his way.
MOSELLE: A national reputation for having out-of-control fans was born. Three decades later, the Eagles installed a courtroom in the basement of the team's old stadium, where a real, live city judge handed out fines for disorderly conduct. That judge, Seamus McCaffery, says a lot of the incidents were soaked in alcohol.
SEAMUS MCCAFFERY: It went to urinating on the sidewalls. It went to rowdy, abusive behavior to the point where police were intervening just before blows occurred.
MOSELLE: But McCafferey says, despite everything he saw, he doesn't think Eagles fans deserve a bad rap.
MCCAFFERY: I'm hard-pressed to believe that other stadiums don't make their fair share of arrests for public intoxication - things along those lines.
MOSELLE: He's not wrong. Back in 2011, three fans were hospitalized after a violent San Francisco 49ers game. New York Jets fans have made a halftime ritual out of asking women to flash them. And yet Eagles fans continue to be held up as some of the country's worst. National media swarmed when the city tried and failed to stop fans from climbing street poles after the NFC title game by greasing them up.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The Action Cam on the scene here with the police department employees there in South Philadelphia with a big can of Crisco, applying it to metal utility poles.
MOSELLE: Fans of the city's hockey, baseball and basketball teams are considered just as notorious. It's why Mark Liftin refuses to go to Eagles games with his friends from Philly.
MARK LIFTIN: Eagles fans kind of take it a step further than most other fan bases. They kind of wear their reputation as being a little psychotic as a badge of honor.
MOSELLE: Liftin - a New York native - says he's also experienced rowdy Philly sports fans firsthand. At a baseball game years ago, Liftin says Phillies fans spit at him for wearing a New York Mets hat and that a teenager slapped him. Macnow - the radio host - says he doesn't condone that kind of behavior, but it does bother him that Philly fans, especially Eagles fans, are so routinely maligned. And yet he says the country will never change its mind about them.
MACNOW: Our grandfathers carried this. Our fathers carried this curse. We're going to carry it. And I expect my kids are going to carry it forever. Oh, you Philadelphia fans. It's just the way it's going to be.
MOSELLE: Fans may find that easier to take if the Eagles win their first Super Bowl on Sunday. For NPR News, I'm Aaron Moselle in Philadelphia.
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