It’s been nearly a decade since a Philadelphia team last won a championship — and, at least from the perspective of our signposts, subway cars, and storefronts, that’s not entirely a bad thing.
While Sunday’s Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis is anyone’s game, its outcome here in Philadelphia may be more predictable.
In short, said Robert Carrothers, an Ohio Northern University sociologist who’s studied sports riots, “We expect violence.”
“The model I use predicts that riots will happen more often after a win than a loss,” he said. “But I talked to some colleagues from Philadelphia who said, ‘No, it’s going to happen either way.’ ”
After all, this city has a long, beer-soaked, even bloodstained history of temporary, victory-induced, car-flipping insanity. In 1960, fans of the NFL-champion Eagles tore the seats off the bleachers and hurled them at police until they were permitted to storm the field; in 1974 they overturned SEPTA buses in honor of the Flyers’ Stanley Cup; and they celebrated the 1980s Phillies and 76ers championships with all sorts of looting and streaking.
“In terms of sports riots, you’re in worse shape if you win,” said Jerry M. Lewis, professor emeritus at Kent State and author of Sports Fan Violence in North America. So, an Eagles triumph on Sunday could bring next-level mayhem.
Lewis said other key conditions that make a riot more likely include: a close, exciting, down-to-the-wire game (unlike the Eagles’ 38-7 rout of the Vikings to clinch the NFC title); championship stakes; and a team that, like the Eagles, has gone years without winning a Super Bowl.
In terms of who riots, it’s generally young, white men, he said. As to why, that has a lot to do with being part of something big.
“In America, the rioting is a way to identify with the team that wins,” Lewis said. “The rioting becomes a feat of skill: throwing a rock through windows or burning trash cans or upsetting police cars. I have pictures of people throwing rocks and then holding up their hands like they’ve won a victory or a touchdown.”
Researchers call those celebrations riots. Carrothers said he’s also observed a newer phenomenon: consolation riots. “Your team loses and you go ahead and have the kind of celebration you would have had if you won,” he said. He believes media coverage of riots has contributed to that, as has social media. “Everyone knows where people are congregating and more people show up.”
Philly is by no way unique this way, nor the most destructive: Consider, seven people were killed in Detroit during the chaos that followed the Pistons’ NBA title in 1990. Or, in 1993, when fans were responsible for an estimated $2.5 million in damage after the the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens beat the Los Angeles Kings.
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Still, the legacy of Philly’s scrappy fan culture goes back more than half a century. Here’s a brief history of our all-time highs — and the lows that immediately followed.
1960. The Eagles prevailed over the Green Bay Packers in the NFL championship game, and fans sought to storm Franklin Field, as was tradition, and bring down the goalposts. Police tried to hold back the crowd, leading to a melee as fans threw snowballs and ice, glass bottles and jars, even wooden seats they’d ripped from the stadium, nails still protruding. Several officers were injured.
1974. “We’re not exhibitionists, we’re Flyers fans!” teenagers streaking through City Hall courtyard shouted, according to an Inquirer report covering the celebration of the city’s first Stanley Cup victory. It was overall a big year for nudity, which continued as people jumped into fountains and saluted creatively during the celebratory parade. A report noted: “One young man along South Broad Street flashed what old-timers call a ‘moon,’ removing his jeans to reveal a bare backside on which ‘Flyers No. 1!’ was written in black magic marker.”
Ardent fans triggered an innovation for future championship parades: After the parade cars were engulfed by crowds, authorities vowed to switch to floats.
There were also more serious consequences: 100 broken windows and slashed seats on SEPTA buses; 39 people arrested in the city and dozens more in the suburbs; mobs of young people blocking York Road in Hatboro. At Black Horse Pike in Haddon Township, police used billy clubs and dogs to scatter a crowd of 2,000 people and made 22 arrests. Phoenixville police dispersed a crowd with tear gas, while Philadelphia police in the Northeast reportedly resorted to brutal tactics, leaving several dozen hospitalized.
1975. Another big Flyers win, another big loss for SEPTA, which was out $40,000 after vandals destroyed a bus at Broad and Snyder, ripping out the seats, breaking windows and doors, and punching through the ceiling. (Other buses and subways saw lesser damage.) An estimated 10,000 people gathered at Frankford and Cottman; a dozen were arrested. And, again with the nudity. At Broad and Snyder, a reporter noted “the appearance of several nude men standing on the roofs of slowly moving autos.”
1980. In anticipation of the trouble that would follow a Phillies World Series win, Mayor Bill Green appealed to the public for restraint and even arranged for State Stores to close until 3 p.m. the day of the parade. It didn’t really work.
One small victory was that fans left Veterans Stadium intact. Many had feared a reprise of the destruction and looting of Connie Mack Stadium, after a 1970 Phillies victory in the team’s final game there. To be safe, though, police with dogs showed up during the seventh-inning stretch to form a perimeter around the field.
Things heated up again, though, at Kensington and Allegheny, where 2,000 people had gathered by midnight, climbing street signs, punching out traffic lights, and hanging from underneath the El. “One youth fell, only to be caught by the multitudes and carried off on a sea of shoulders,” the Inquirer noted.
Elsewhere in the city, liquor stores were looted, police assaulted, cars overturned, one man fatally shot, and five men arrested trying to break into the ticket booth at Veterans Stadium. Collectively 266 people were arrested, 70 were treated at hospitals, and cleanup costs exceeded $500,000.
1983. The Sixers championship, for a while, looked as if it would be the tidiest celebration in Philadelphia history, given that thousands hit the streets with brooms in hand in honor of the team’s four-game sweep.
After a 48 bus was briefly surrounded, SEPTA pulled all its buses and trolleys off the streets. Teens partied on car roofs, impromptu parades wound through neighborhoods, firecrackers lit up the intersection of Frankford and Cottman. Downtown, looters took $100,000 worth of jewelry from a store window and smashed windows at Athlete’s Foot and Bonwit Teller. About 180 people were arrested, and a man was killed when he climbed aboard a flatbed truck and then fell off.
The clean sweep left behind five damaged cars and about 100 tons of litter.
2008. As the Phillies ended their World Series drought with a big win, Mayor MichaelNutter warned fans in his signature style: “You can be joyous. You cannot be a jackass.”
Philadelphians begged to differ. The revelers turned over cars, climbed light posts, destroyed a bus shelter at Broad and Walnut, uprooted trees, built a bonfire on Broad Street, ripped down stop signs and smashed windows, looting Broad Street stores Robinson Luggage and FYE. In the end, 76 people were arrested and 12 charged with assaulting officers.
As for 2018? That remains to be seen.
The best defense, Carrothers said, is constant — but friendly — police presence. “So it’s not police riding in at the last minute,” he added. He doesn’t think liquor-sales restrictions are practical, and said warning people to exercise restraint doesn’t tend to work.
He initially admired Philly’s “Crisco cops,” who lubed up light poles ahead of the NFC championship. “I thought, ‘That’s a really smart idea,’ until someone asked me if Crisco was flammable.”
Police Commissioner Richard Ross said at a Tuesday news conference that police were ready and had a better plan than Crisco this time.
“We are expecting, obviously, very large celebrations. We are asking the fans to enjoy themselves, which I know they will, but that they do so responsibly.”
Still, with the help of Pennsylvania State Police, the city will have a “sizable contingent of officers,” Ross said. “Clearly, assaults, destruction of property will be dealt with swiftly. … We will not tolerate that.”