Commentary / Union

On Philadelphia sports loyalty

Photo: Daniel Studio

Things got a little crazy in Philadelphia on Sunday night after the Eagles won the Super Bowl for the first time in team history. With that said, things would have got a little crazy in Philadelphia on Sunday night if the Eagles lost the Super Bowl for the third time in team history. For better or for worse, the only difference between those two situations would have been the attitude and demeanor of the mob.

Philadelphia has a reputation for taking it’s sports very seriously. As misrepresented as the story is most times it’s told, “Philly booed Santa” lives on because it tells a fundamental truth about Philadelphia fans. They’re going to show up, they’re going to be loud, and they’re not going to take it easy on anyone. Including themselves.

As high as Eagles fans are riding right now, it’s undeniable that the life of a Philadelphia fan is not an easy one. The Eagles throughout their history have consistently fell short of winning that first Super Bowl. And the miraculous improvement of the Sixers has propelled them all the way to a lofty eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The Phillies are probably the most consistent team in town, which is to say they’re usually not good enough. And while the Flyers have some historic highs they’re also perfectly capable of failing to impress.

So when it comes to finding reasons to be hard on your own team, Philadelphia fans are spoiled for a choice of flaws to talk about. And yet, the conversation is never about empty seats. Because even when the teams are bad, Philly shows up. It doesn’t matter if the Phillies have a 100 loss season this summer, you’ll still see plenty of people around town with Ps on their cap.

To an extent, the Union have enjoyed a similarly unearned loyalty. While this team has yet to win an MLS playoff game and attendance has declined over the years, it’s never been bad. The team is still able to attract lucrative sponsorships and sites like this exist where writers of varying degrees of professionalism talk about the team and the game. Readers find these sites, too, even during the off-season. This fanbase is as loyal as any other in Philadelphia and that’s no small praise.

So at some point this summer, when the Union have once again found new and exciting ways to disappoint us, we’ll be asking ourselves a lot of questions. How did they let this happen? How could we not see this coming? When will we sign a left back? But maybe we should be asking bigger questions. Like why Philadelphia as a city allows it’s teams disappoint us with such regularity. It certainly does make the high points like this weekend exceptional, but it also seems like less than we should be willing to accept.


  1. But the atmosphere in parking lots…

  2. The problem is simple and as you stated it – because we show up. Philly fans are loyal to a fault, so the owner’s motivation is not always strong to change if they keep selling seats. I don’t blame the general public for not buying tickets to games (that doesn’t mean they’re not fans, btw) because that can help send a message, but I do appreciate the passion of the fans here. This is a great sports town and we are not rewarded fairly, and our attitudes reflect the imbalance.
    I’ve been to MLB, NHL, MLS or NBA games in Boston, New York (& NJ), Washington, Baltimore, Orlando, Chicago, Cleveland & Atlanta and the only one that comes close to Philly is Chicago. The rest of those cities bail fast if the team is awful.

  3. el Pachyderm says:

    Jay Ajayi commenting about being an Arsenal fan and how Philadelphia fans remind him of football fans in England… tells a worldly sports fan everything they need to know about this city.
    ….. Sam Bradford’s shoulder pads…I mean, we line item everything. EVERYTHING.
    We will eviscerate. We will build statues to those worthy. The Philadelphia fan IS Rocky Balboa.
    I expect Doug Pederson will become Zeus yet nit picked at every turn next year.
    The only untouchable will always be, Nick Foles… who embodies everything the reluctant hero is.
    How this all relates to this Philadelphia Union….. well they are the underdogs.
    “…see, I’ll know for the first time in my life, see, I weren’t some bum from the neighborhood.”
    Only time will tell if this franchise can go the distance too. Hopefully not 50 years.

  4. We have been conditioned since birth.
    The 70’s saw the great Flyers teams. Since then, they have been completely snakebit, as evidenced by the greatest goalie of the era dying in a car crash when the team was favored for the Cup. Then there were the dark days before Crazy Eights got our hopes up, just to crush us.
    The Phillies won in ’80, then perpetually stunk, until their Original Leicester story in ’93 (without the finish). 2008 was wonderful…and followed up by horrendous mismanagement, returning us to the depths where we find our comfort.
    Fun Fact: The Phillies have lost more games than any other professional sports franchise. In any sport.
    The Eagles were always kinda good…but you knew they weren’t good enough. The best chances were screwed away: 1) by weather (Fog Bowl), and 2) by puking (Thanks #5).
    The Sixers are my #2 team in this city, behind the Union. It explains my sunny disposition…
    They have been atrocious since ’85. Barkley was never going to be enough. Iverson was a fun run, but he had a YMCA Rec team around him that was never going to help him. Now we have a team full of promise, but……
    This is Philly. We are not used to winners. So when the Union suck for the entirety of their existence, they fit right in. Hopefully they’ll have a flash of competitiveness, but based on history, it will be fleeting.
    My optimistic side is hoping that the Super Bowl win will start a Boston-like turnaround, where everyone gets a turn at winning now. Except hopefully we include our soccer team, since NE coudn’t pull that off.

    • You forgot the “fat man” after the puking.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      In fairness, one could argue times are turning already.
      2008 Phillies.
      2017 Eagles.

      • I omit the colleges. And with that in mind, and 9-year gap is still a pretty big time period.
        But your argument could be made that it started in ’08. That loses weight with me simply because of how badly that fell apart. Instead of maintaining a position of strength, the Phillies became a laughingstock VERY quickly.
        I’m hoping the Eagles are a harbinger of better times. Hell, I’ll throw in Villanova if it helps the gods grant us favor!

      • From 1975 until 2010 the city had a team playing for a championship every 3-5 years. In fact 2010-2017 was the longest drought since 1967-1975. Obviously they haven’t won many, so I guess 2 is better than none, but frankly the last 8 years has been completely miserable so that the Eagles just making the playoffs was a huge step forward, let alone a championship.

    • I’d argue the Eagles’ best chance that was stolen away wasn’t by weather or puking, but by injury. That 1991 team was absolutely stacked – except at the backup QB position. Once Randall went down in game 1 with the knee injury, the season was over before it ever really got revved up. That team had an absolutely incredible defense – one for the ages – but their backup QB was a very over-the-hill Jim McMahon.

      • I forgot about that version of the Eagles. That was a great stretch for them…but solidifies the point. Really good…but not quite good enough. Whether it was a talent cap, or situational (weather/injury), the team was unable to capitalize on potential.

      • ’91 Eagles were good and as a Redskin fan it eased my mind that both them and San Francisco missed the playoffs. However, that Redskin team was pretty damn good too so it would not have been a cakewalk for the Eagles at full strength.

        (Redskins 14-2 including a loss to the Eagles in a meaningless last game. 1st in the league in points scored, 2nd in points allowed…and it’s not like Mark Rypien was a world beater at QB).

      • Andy: Yep, I didn’t mean to imply they would’ve won if Randall didn’t get hurt. I guess look at this way: That team somehow managed to go 10-6 even though Jim McMahon started most of the games. It’s one of those “What if” in sports – what if Randall didn’t get hurt that year.
        That defense was one of the top three – one of the football stats sites lists it as the best ever.

  5. The Union really failed horribly in capitalizing on all of the other teams being down.
    They can’t miss this new opportunity to ride the wave of good emotion following the Super Bowl win. They aren’t in direct competition with the eagles for most of the season and should do everything possible to keep the groove going.
    They’ve done a great job starting this on social media, supporting the eagles and showing a connection. Now we just need some players and a coach who will succeed.
    Think about the differences in the two teams. Jeffrey Lurie, not always thought highly of, still tries new things and spends whatever is needed to get the job done. Sugarman… well…. Howie was criticized (rightly so) on many moves, but kept trying to consistently change the team and adapt to the league. ES gives us nothing but BS talk. Pederson takes chances, changes formations, plays an undrafted local rookie running back, overhauls whole gameplans week to week. Jim Curtin changes nothing unless forced to. Nothing. Obviously things are not apples to apples, but the leagues are not so dissimilar in the there is a cap and teams can dramatically change their fortunes from year to year if the commitment is there. If anything, MLS should be easier to do this. ES is clearly operating within constraints and the problems start with sugarman, but Curtin is his own issue as well.
    The moral is, as the sixers also showed, this city is loyal, and while they’ll criticize you, they will be there and will give you some benefit of the doubt when they see the end of the tunnel. The Union do not reward that.

    • Quick note on coaches: Pederson was a QB and is a very tactical coach. He lives and breathes the play calls. That was very clear all year long whether it was Wentz or Foles (granted Wentz facilitated that immensely even when he was hurt).
      As a former CB, Curtin’s grasp of tactics is less than inspiring. If it ain’t a 4-2-3-1 it doesn’t exist. He even tried to claim that we were still in that formation on the few exceptions last year where we weren’t lined up to the ‘Preferred Union System’.

  6. Pete Mazzaccaro says:

    Good piece Jim. I wonder only if the Union have earned that loyalty yet. Sixers, and Eagles have had moment of greatness that inspired fans to hold out hope. And I’d argue that the Sixers did a lot of damage to its fanbase during “The Process,” damage that will only be undone by a really serious title challenge.

    The Union haven’t been around long enough or done enough to have a fan base that is truly loyal. The most fervent Union fans are probably as much a fan of having professional soccer here as they are loyal to the club. And what percentage of fans at Talen are there to bring their soccer-playing kids to a pro game on the weekend? Not to take away from any of that. That’s how it should start. But the Union haven’t shown, in my mind, a level of commitment yet that could earn true loyalty.

    • Steven Turner says:

      Loyalty is a good point. Philly may have a reputation of being a “tough” city and whatever, but we see right through the b.s. Thus far the Union haven’t been entirely trustworthy, so I think they haven’t earned our loyalty. I agree, too, that they failed to capitalize on the down time and have – in a very short time – fell right into the Philly stereotype of letting us down. Every other team came blazing out of a down-time and gave us something to cheer for – ’83 Sixers; ’93 Phillies; ’01 Sixers; ’04 Eagles; ’10 Flyers; & now Eagles (& soon the Sixers). So until the Union make that splash signing or make a real run (or heck just win a cup final at home) they will struggle to earn that loyalty.

  7. I would argue that loyalty is to an actual or implied agreement between two or more parties.
    If your spouse keeps cheating on you, they have not lived up to the agreement, so staying with them is not loyalty but something else.
    Likewise, you could argue that the Union has not lived up the the implied contract of having a competitive team worth spending hard earned money on. Therefore staying engaged is not loyalty, but probably something else.

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