BOSTON — In the “City of Champions,” where if it’s January, the Pats are in the playoffs, no one takes a second look at the guy walking around downtown in a green Eagles cap.
To be fair, Brad Tessler had his earbuds in, intently listening to a WIP-FM sports-radio podcast, so if F-bombs were being hurled his way, he wouldn’t know. But he sincerely doubts it. The banker, who grew up in Willingboro and now lives in the Boston area, explained what your typical New England fan thinks of Philly and its team:
“During the season it was like, ‘You guys are winning games, isn’t that cute,’” he said. Even the pummeling the Eagles gave the Vikings has prompted nothing close to fear nor loathing. “People were like ‘You guys looked really good.’ That was it. I don’t get the sense of urgency or angst or amazement. Winning is just expected here.”
“Not really sure what to say,” said the bartender serving up a creamy clam chowder at Legal Sea Foods on State Street, when asked what he thought about the underdog Eagles. “We don’t face you guys very often.”
While there’s been some banning of iconic Philly goods in Boston, and vice versa, bakery smack talk is about as far as the pre-game vitriol from Pats fans has gone.
The collective shrug could have something to do with Boston’s sports domination. Over the last 15 years, the city has won 11 major championships, and the Patriots are sizing up their sixth ring since 2002.
Parades aside, Bostonians also see some of themselves in Philadelphians — deep Revolutionary history, a rivalry with New York City, an inclination for slapping dates on old buildings and tons of brick.
“Philadelphia and Boston are practically brothers,” said longtime Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen. “Philly is Boston with cheesesteaks. Both cities have Napoleon complexes and inexplicable accents that no actor of any merit can pull off.”
At the Eire Pub in Dorchester, a neighborhood bar once visited by President Reagan, opinions about Philadelphians flowed as the night wore on. When it comes to sports, the cities share a reputation for having some of the most faithful — and obnoxious — followers.
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“Your fans are f — ing crazy,” even by Boston standards, Richie Coughlin said. “We don’t start punching our policemen’s horses like that when they win a game. I could see if you lose a game, but you win a game and you’re still sucker punching horses? I mean, maybe I could see if you were playing the Broncos …”
Coughlin runs a valet services for hotels and restaurants, and for two decades he’s been coming to this Irish bar, where Boston sports memorabilia hangs on wood panels and a pint of Guinness goes for $4.75.
This sparked a conversation among regulars about Philadelphia’s worst hits — snowballs, batteries, babies getting yelled at. But it’s all relayed with a kind of veiled respect from one legion of crazed fans to another.
“I think Philly fans are like our fans here,” said John Stentson, the Eire’s owner. “They just love their team and we certainly know. We were starved for a World Series in 2004 and we were probably pretty stupid when the Yankees kept beating us before that. We just mellowed out because we started winning.”
Upton Bell, former general manager of the Patriots, whose father founded the Eagles, agreed.
Bell, who now works as a commentator, recalled a particularly bad 1972 Patriots opening day against Cincinnati when he was general manager. The team was terrible and fans were throwing bottles at players and shouting obscenities. He called the state police who came in with police dogs to get things under control.
“It’s easy to pick on Philadelphia, they’ve developed this reputation,” he said. “But Philly is twice the size of Boston, how many people actually represent that attitude?”
Now Boston has so many parades that City Hall might consider making it a standing budget item. Fans under the age of 18 can’t remember a time when Boston did anything other than win. Older fans who knew what it was like to live with loss are embracing a calmer assurance now that the Pats just keep finding ways to win.
In a way, the attitudinal shift echoes Boston’s own changes. Parts of South and East Boston and Dorchester, once emblematic of a grittier, meaner city are gentrifying. Richard’s Barbershop near Dudley Square, where George Halfkenney got his haircut Wednesday, was long considered to be in one of Boston’s poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods. Now, there’s a cafe selling matcha green tea and candied almonds a few blocks away and new developments on the rise all around.
“Boston’s changing, some of it good, some of it not so good.” Halfkenney said. “I think we don’t have quite the same edge.”
Halfkenney, 47, has loved the Pats since he was a kid but calls the success “a little ridiculous.” He even admitted, in a low voice so others wouldn’t hear, that he “wouldn’t be too upset” if Philadelphia took it this year. “You won’t, though,” he quickly added. “We’ve got Brady.”
For Tessler, the Philly fan living in Boston, that kind of expect victory attitude is a foreign concept. “Boston fans are passionate, don’t get me wrong,” said Tessler, a banker with Santander. “But when you win that much, the stakes are so much lower.” Tessler, who has beaten cancer twice, said right now, with his Eagles so close to a Super Bowl ring, is the moment when he’s felt most alive.
“The chemo and the surgeries, it’s not like I go through it to watch the Eagles make it to the Super Bowl,” he said, “But to be honest with you, part of me goes through it to see the Eagles make the Super Bowl.”