Why are Philly fans the way they are? Look to a snub that dates back 220 years

When the U.S. capital moved to Washington, the famous inferiority complex took root.

Phillies fan Tony Penecale at spring training in March 2021

Phillies fan Tony Penecale at spring training in March 2021

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo
shamusclancy

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The worst thing to happen to Philadelphia sports fans was not an Eagles NFC Championship Game loss or Joe Carter’s home run in 1993, but something that occurred 221 years ago.

On May 14, 1800, Philly lost its status as the nation’s capital.

With the creation of the District of Columbia, Philadelphia was no longer the center of the country it had helped birth. Declaration of Independence? Here. First Continental Congress? Here. But no longer. Though locals lobbied hard, the city wasn’t helped by the disastrous 1793 yellow fever epidemic, and the effort failed.

The federal government kicked Philadelphia in the groin, split town, and left the most historic city in the United States reeling. The turn of events seeded an inferiority complex that informs our character to this day.

It’s the anger that manifests when a driver is screaming at a bike rider trying to share a lane on Walnut Street in Center City. It’s apparent in the refusal to move parked cars so we can have something like a normal street sweeping program. And it’s definitely what comes out when a Cowboys fan has the gall to walk into the top level of Lincoln Financial Field and gets pelted with insults and items from the concession stand.

“Sick and tired of being sick and tired” might as well be the official city motto. I took six years of Latin in my schooling. I don’t remember a single thing from it, so maybe someone could translate that and fancy it up. It would go perfectly with the city seal, which features someone looking like they’re loitering outside Wawa.

Sports has rarely been able to lift Philadelphia out of the funk. Instead, it often contributed.

In 1968, the Eagles were on their way to a disastrous 2-12 season when the team let some drunk idiot fan on the field in a Santa costume. Yes, snowballs followed. Philadelphians were dealing with decay in a post-industrial America, searching for Sunday respite from the national nightmare of the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War. There was nothing to latch onto besides the sports teams. Those teams just all happened to be hilariously terrible.

The Phillies are the only team in the history of sports to have 10,000 losses. Chester A. Arthur was president when they made their 1883 National League debut as the Philadelphia Quakers. In nearly 140 years since then, the Phils have won the World Series twice. The Marlins, a divisional foe, have only been around since 1993 and already have two championships.

The Flyers live in a time warp where they still think it’s 1975. The Eagles, setting aside what now seems to be a fluke Super Bowl run, are the personification of crushing disappointment.

The Philadelphia squad with the most titles is one many people don’t even know existed: the Philadelphia Athletics. They have five titles and haven’t played in the city since 1954, when they left Shibe Park for Kansas City. That was before they settled in Oakland, where they proceeded to win the World Series four more times.

Philadelphia sports fans today are used to the national media demonizing us. We’re considered rotten, destable, barely human creatures who love puking on kids at baseball games and screaming at mild-mannered “Minnesota nice” folk.

We want the respect we deserve. Oh, some kids from Westchester, New York, want to come see the Liberty Bell on a class field trip? Get lost, bozos! Go home and stare at the felt pennant on your bedroom wall that lists the 27 years the Yankees won the World Series. Tell your parents to take the train into Manhattan to order a $27 martini.

Philadelphians inherit the city’s collective chip on its shoulder from birth. It is not our fault we are how we are. Blame the refs? We can better blame the forces that stole the U.S. capital from us that fateful day two centuries ago.