In Defense of Flyers Fans

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Freddy the Flyer
I am a Philadelphia Flyers fan.

Am I going to throw my expensive arena beer on you when your team scores a goal? Am I going to heckle you because of the name on the back of your jersey? Am I going to spew profanities for three periods and two intermissions, including choice comments about the mental status of the Mighty Mites playing hockey before the Zamboni comes out? Am I somewhere between a camp follower of Genghis Khan and an oarsman on a Viking longboat on the civility scale?

To judge by the perceived reception that Flyers fans have on hockey blogs and forums, the answer has to be a resounding “Yes!”:

We all know we do… Who else hates flyers fans. They are loud, annoying, rude and just disgusting. […]

I’ve always thought they were annoying, but the game they had today was awful, lucky me, i was sitting between a bunch of them spilling beer all over the floors and being really rude to other people, they were all screaming at people 5 rows above, banging the glass etc…. maybe I always just get bad impressions of them. But so far every single time I see them they drive me nuts. […]

I hate the Flyers and their fans. Their fans are fat ugly idiots who know nothing about hockey.
(“Who else hates them?“)

Or, from this past Sunday, in the comments of Tarik El-Bashir’s solid Capitals Insider blog on washingtonpost.com, courtesy of “Jill”:

Oh, how I loathe the Flyers and their fans. I hope very few of their fans are in our house for Games 1 and 2, but I just know they will find a way to get their greasy little paws on our tickets. Let’s just hope our boys can shut down the Broad Street Thugs.

And “TimDz”:

Flyer fans are the worst. I was at the old Cap Centre years ago and was taking a leak with my Cap’s hat on (backwards). A Flyer fan knocked it off and made a nasty comment about my choice of teams…
So I did what any good Cap fan would do: I turned from my urinal and completed my business on his shoes. He took a swing at me, drunk as he was, but missed and hit the wall…I pushed him back and left him to defend himself against all my Cap’s breathren…the cops came in and took him out in cuffs…I blew him a kiss as he was lead out.
(“Caps to Host Flyers (Updated)“)

Lovely. But how accurate a depiction of the typical Flyers fan is this rather boorish portrait?

To be sure, the general perception of Philadelphia sports fans is, shall we say, rough-edged, hued with images of Santa Claus being pelted with snowballs and of a basement jail in dearly departed Veterans Stadium crowded with green- and silver-clad drunks, of fans lustily booing the home team in their hour of need and wearing paper bags over their heads during onerous losing streaks. There is passion in the stands, passion in the heart of every Philadelphia fan, sometimes inflamed and sometimes frankly ridiculous, but always present. We care if you win, and we certainly care if you lose.

Some teams would pay to have such committed support; in Philadelphia, it comes with the territory. Legendary Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt noted, “Only in Philadelphia do you have the thrill of victory and then the agony of reading about it the next morning” (Macnow and Gargano, The Great Philadelphia Fan Book, 129). And perhaps with understandable reason: Philadelphia has gone twenty-five years without a major championship (’76ers in 1983) but has had teams in the finals of their respective sports several times since then, all bringing heartbreak and the resultant emotional callouses. We expect disaster even as we require greatness.

None of which, of course, excuses fisticuffs or generally anti-social behavior by Flyers fans—or fans of any other team, for that matter. And yet the overarching theme associated with Philadelphia fans, with Flyers fans in particular, seems to be violence and overall bad behavior, especially while on the road.

There’s no denying that individual Flyers fans have been in fights and acted poorly while on the road and in their own arena. But what causes these incidents to take on a larger significance than similar actions by fans of other teams? Is there some link between the fabled “grit” of the Flyers and their fans that causes this identification? Or do divisional rivalries spur a dislike that takes the form of tarring all fans with a brush applicable to a few?

For every story about an arrogant or aggressive Flyers fan, there’s a story about a Caps fan with a chip on his shoulder or a Sabres fan who stumbled off the bus drunk and stayed that way for seven hours. I’ve seen more poor behavior from people in Verizon Center here in DC who don’t know not to lean forward while the puck is in play than I’ve seen boorish Flyers fans there. But who can argue against anecdotes about some guy whose uncle’s friend got jumped by three Flyers fans in the Cap Center parking lot? Jerks are jerks, jersey or no.

Regardless, Flyers fans are saddled with this negative perception, one I find somewhat burdensome. These are fans whose city has many other strong sports draws for their attention—pro football holds sway in Philadelphia, as in many other cities, and the Flyers are typically relegated to the back of the sports section when the Phillies and ’76ers are playing at the same time. Flyers fans choose to be hockey fans, and when they go to an arena to watch the Flyers play, they are actually interested in the game itself.

As hockey fans, it’s important to realize that we’re increasingly fans of a niche sport, one that appears nationally on a channel devoted to bull riding. If I’m in Verizon Center, filling a seat that one of your fans didn’t buy, spending money on concessions that go to pay your stars, thank me for being a hockey fan. You might be surprised to find that I won’t snarl at you. You might also be surprised that I clap when the Caps are introduced and I still give a cheer for Donald Brashear’s hits and rare but wonderful goals.

I clap louder for the Flyers, but still. I’m a hockey fan. I appreciate a nifty drop pass and a solid check just as much as you do, regardless of jersey. That shared appreciation for this beautiful game links us more than our jerseys separate us. I’m not asking that you like the presence of a Flyers fan in your arena; I’m just asking that we be treated as individuals and as our individual conduct merits.

Besides, the beer at most arenas is too expensive to throw . . .

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