CHICAGO - Greetings from the Windy City, where, in an odd coincidence of timing, the Union are in town to play the Fire on the same weekend that the Flyers and Blackhawks are contesting the Stanley Cup Final. I'm here for the soccer game, but the rest of the city has definitely gone all in on its hockey team.
There are Blackhawks flags above the entrances to all the big Michigan Avenue skyscrapers, and I've seen lots of Blackhawks jerseys and t-shirts on the city's subway since I got here this morning.
Hockey fever has spread to the city's newspapers as well. Like the Inquirer and Daily News, the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times are devoting lots of ink to the Stanley Cup Final.
I suppose it's not a surprise that among the coverage is a story bashing Flyers fans. It came in today's Trib, and it was written by columnist Dan McNeil. He also hosts a sports-talk show on WSCR-AM, whch from what I can tell is this city's equivalent of WIP.
The column is titled Philly lives down to its rep, and it's packed full of potshots aimed at the Wachovia Center faithful.
"As their hockey team won the game, changing the complexion of the series, their fans changed nothing, proving they are every bit as loutish, abrasive and disgusting as the image they have cultivated," McNeil wrote in his opening paragraph. "If America needs an enema, the tube should be inserted here."
McNeil recounts a fairly predictable set of anecdotes from what he saw during Game 3 on Wednesday. Most of them were based on a combination of foul language and excessive consumption of alcohol.
I've never been the first person to jump up and defend Philadelphia sports fans when one of them brings our city into disrepute. But I also think that the national media far too often makes stories out of events that happen all the time in cities across America. Piling on Philadelphia is a cheap and easy way to get attention, and every time Philly fans react to the stories, it perpetuates the trend even more.
But in this case, I think McNeil was the one who crossed the line in describing what he saw. For instance, he relayed the story of a Blackhawks fan wearing a Patrick Kane jersey, who was pulled back down to his seat by a nearby fan.
"A woman, perhaps described best by comedian Andrew "Dice" Clay, as 220 unattractive pounds, but with a neatly trimmed beard," is how McNeil described the fan. "If you're considering opening a Lane Bryant store, this is as good a place as any."
Then there was a story of a visiting partisan wearing a Jonathan Toews jersey, who was confronted and threatened in one of the men's rooms by a Flyers fan. Now, I don't mean in any way to condone the Flyers fan's actions. But McNeil proceeded to write the following about the scene:
"Fellow frat-house crackers laughed, as did a couple of dads who were waiting with sons in tow."
That's quite a statement no matter where you come from.
Finally, it's worth noting that McNeil compared Philadelphians to residents of Green Bay, Minneapolis and Detroit. Those cities all have great fans, but McNeil made no mention of Queens, the Bronx or Boston.
(Or Madison, Wisc., or Columbus, Ohio, for that matter. I guess Northwestern's football team would have to be good for that to happen.)
As I said earlier, I'm no great defender of Philadelphia sports fans. But I do think they're among the most passionate and loyal in the country. They deserve praise for their good traits as much as they deserve criticism for their problems.
And as the saying goes, people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. There are quite a few glass buildings in downtown Chicago, and some of them are residential in nature.
So I'll be sure to watch my head when I go out to watch the game tonight.