Matt Rourke/Associated Press/File
Well, now that we know the Patriots will play the Eagles in the Super Bowl, this is the spot where I’m supposed to write the obligatory, perfunctory “Philadelphia sucks” column.
Except I can’t. Philadelphia doesn’t suck. I love Philly and I love Philadelphians.
Some of my best friends are from or live in Philly.
How can’t you love the only people who swear more than Bostonians?
Philly boys are among my oldest and closest friends. In fact, when we went to Trinity College in Dublin together a million years ago, that’s what everybody called them: the Philly Boys.
They were something of a novelty in dirty old Dublin, before it became rich and fashionable and crawling with American students. The Philly Boys — Mike Swanick, Joe McLaughlin, and Mike Fitzpatrick — were visiting students from St. Joseph’s University in Philly and they swanned around Trinity College like they owned the place. I first became aware of them not at school but at the Guinness brewery.
For generations, poor college students were known to frequent the brewery’s tap room for free samples. But the Philly Boys took those visits to a whole different level. They were there so often that Guinness could have charged them rent. At some point, the Guinness people taped up photos of the Philly Boys at the entrance to the tap room, thinking that might embarrass or deter them. It didn’t.
Now, what the suits at Guinness dismissed as gratuitous freeloading I recognized immediately as that characteristic Philly resourcefulness.
Because they grew up in a relatively integrated place, difference didn’t faze the Philly Boys. At the time, there weren’t that many black people in Ireland, but the Philly Boys somehow knew and were friendly with every black student in Dublin. They were uncanny. They knew everybody and would shoot the breeze with anybody. And because they were from Philly, they were mad into basketball and played on the Trinity basketball team.
One day, while discussing the possibility of going to see Ireland play Scotland in a Six Nations rugby game, I balked, saying the tickets cost too much while pointing out that we were all broke.
Mike Swanick looked at me like I had two heads.
“Who said anything about tickets?” he said.
Of course, the Philly Boys had found an unguarded gate at Lansdowne Road Stadium and we waltzed in like season ticket-holders.
Because they were always broke, the Philly Boys would flash their student IDs at the fare collectors on Dublin buses. It was rare that the fare collectors pushed back. I think they admired their chutzpah.
While Boston can boast the fashion designer Joseph Abboud, Upper Darby, the Malden of Greater Philadelphia, claims as its native son Mike Fitzpatrick, who is, without question, the sharpest dresser in the world.
The garish, orange faux suede shoes that Fitz wore as a student in Ireland were legendary, something the Irish called “deadly.” Young Irish lasses were known to swoon or faint outright after catching a fleeting glimpse of Fitz’s shoes. They were that sharp. You could spot those radiating, size-14 puppies from a quarter-mile away, even in the pea-soup fog that seeped off the River Liffey like a cloud bank.
If we were to drift back to Trinity College, circa 1980, and pair those shoes and the smart cargo pants that Fitz favors these days, well, it would be complete bedlam. Trinity girls would be flinging themselves at Fitz in pure delirium.
After we came back to the states to finish our degrees, the Philly Boys introduced me to Philadelphia. I had grown up on Motown and the Stones, but they made me love Springsteen and TSOP — The Sound of Philadelphia — which was Philly’s own inimitable take on soul and R&B. After listening to TSOP, I was hooked on the lush horn and string arrangements and bought everything by every artist that Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff produced: Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes, the O’Jays, Billy Paul, Lou Rawls, Archie Bell & The Drells.
“I’ll Always Love My Mama,” by The Intruders, is one of the greatest songs ever performed.
And if you have never listened to “Wilson Pickett in Philadelphia,” well, you haven’t lived.
Philly has a lot more than great music. I once stood in a long, meandering line in the freezing cold with my then-young son for more than an hour to get a cheese steak at Jim’s Steaks on South Street. The buzz in the place was better than the Cheez Whiz. Every time we went to Philly, my kid insisted on going to Jim’s, no matter how long the line, no matter the weather.
For nearly 40 years, I’ve been trying to figure out who swears more outrageously: Flyers fans, Phillies fans, Sixers fans, or Eagles fans – and I’ve gotta be honest, it’s a toss up. I was once at a Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park when a kid of perhaps 7 or 8 unleashed an especially crude string of profanities at then-Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth after he struck out. The kid’s father turned to his son and raised a hand – not to smack him, but to high-five him. That is so Philly.
Philly, undeniably, has attitude, and not a few knuckleheads. They used to have an actual courtroom at Veterans Stadium to deal with rowdy Eagles fans who drank more than Shane MacGowan and regularly disturbed the peace and rearranged each other’s faces. The Eagles crowd is slightly better behaved since they moved to Lincoln Financial Field, though there is a strange prediliction for punching police horses and swearing at babies in opposing team’s jerseys among some fans at the Linc.
And, as suggested by the video of Eagles fans pelting the departing Minnesota Vikings buses with beers after the Eagles drubbed the Vikings in the NFC Championship Sunday night, some Philly fans can still get out of hand. Still, the drunken clowns who hurled the beers and some choice language at the Vikings buses are no more representative of Eagles fans than the obnoxious “Yankees Suck” bros are of Red Sox fans. And, in fairness, the Patriots could have used an onsite courtroom back during the Schaefer Stadium days, when fans threw punches more often than Jim Plunkett threw passes.
But this is more about Philly than Eagles fans. I never tire of the place or the people. It’s a confident enough place to re-invent itself while respecting its history. Old City has been remade and is better than ever. They have introduced a bunch of seasonal bars and food shacks along the Delaware River, drawing people from all over and breathing life into a sometimes underappreciated waterfront. It’s something that Boston’s newest neighborhood, the Seaport, might want to consider.
All the while, Philadelphians have remained their insouciant, profane selves. They are pissa.
The Philly Boys all went on to have stellar careers in business and raise fine families. Mike Swanick is a big-shot accountant. Joe McLaughlin runs a big investment management firm. They both still work and live around Philly. Fitz did well in the business world, too. He moved to Boston, got cancer and fought it like hell at Dana Farber, the Brigham, and Beth Israel and, Fitz being Fitz, beat it. Now he lives in California, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Fitz turns up at the Super Bowl in Minneapolis.
And if Fitz somehow does manage to finagle a ticket or, just as likely, finds an unguarded gate at US Bank Stadium, I wouldn’t put it past him to wear those ghastly shoes he wore in Dublin. Knowing Fitz, he’d be liable to flash those bad boys at Tom Brady at a crucial moment, distracting him just long enough to induce Brady into throwing a pick-six.
Like I always say, people from Philly are nothing if not resourceful.
Editor’s note: Since this column was published, it has generated some misconceptions that Kevin Cullen would like to clear up.
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