Terry Francona knows Philadelphia sports fans. He managed the Phillies for four seasons and remembers when local enthusiasts slashed his car tires on Fan Appreciation Day at Veterans Stadium. He remembers a tender moment a few years later, after he was fired, when he was hanging out before an Eagles game, helping a photographer pal who was taking photos of the Eagles and 49ers.
“I was carrying extra cameras for my photographer friend,’’ Francona recalled. “And we were in the end zone before the game started, watching the players get loose.
“And all of a sudden, a chant starts in the stands behind us. The whole end zone section was chanting, ‘Tito sucks!, Tito sucks!’ This was a few years after I had been let go there.
“It was kind of funny. The football players, I think they all thought the fans were chanting ‘T-O!, T-O!’ [for Terrell Owens]. Finally one of the Eagles linemen came over to me and said, ‘Hey, that’s you they’re getting on, isn’t it?’ ’’
No doubt you’ve heard about the notorious Philadelphia fans. They pelted Santa Claus with snowballs. They cheer when a guy on the opposing team gets carted off on a stretcher. City workers routinely smear Crisco on lampposts to discourage fans from climbing them when a Philadelphia team threatens to win a championship.
Johnny Most called Philadelphia “the city of brotherly hate.’’ Philly fans are more angry and profane than fans anywhere else. The fact that Eagles supporters are starved for a championship only makes them more menacing and formidable.
In this space, I routinely ridicule fans and cities of upcoming Patriot opponents, mocking the pitiful goobers from the yahoo towns, harpooning a chorus line of tomato can fans from tomato can cities.
Not this week. I fear Philadelphia fans, and have no interest in defending myself from an Eagle-ordered fatwa.
In this spirit, I reached out to Francona (now the manager of the Cleveland Indians) to get his take on Philadelphia fans and how they compare with Boston sports buffs. Francona is uniquely qualified to comment. He endured the full Philadelphia experience before his eight seasons putting out fires at Fenway Park.
“Both Boston and Philadelphia fans are unbelievably vocal,’’ Francona said. “In Philly, they want you to win, but you’d better throw strike one. They were frustrated then and I probably felt the brunt of that.
“In Boston, they’d give you a headache once in a while, but they wanted their team to win so badly. It was the only place I’d ever seen where when you called a kid up from Triple A, everybody already knew about him.
“After working in Philly and Boston, people would say to me, ‘Where are you going to go next?’ and I would joke with them and say, ‘Beirut.’ ”
The Phillies were young and bad when Francona was their manager from 1997-2000.
“They had to keep moving my parking spot at the stadium so I could sneak out the door,’’ he recalled. “People were getting aggressive.’’
When he returned to Veterans Stadium to scout the Phillies for the Indians a year after he was fired, the Phillies assigned a security guard to sit with Francona in the stands behind home plate.
“They’re nuts,’’ said Francona.
In February of 2005, with a Red Sox World Series ring in his pocket, Francona was driving south on I-95 to spring training when he recognized a caravan of SUVs and double-wides festooned with Eagles logos, all heading north. Realizing these were sour Eagles fans, driving home after losing Super Bowl XXXIX to New England in Jacksonville, Fla., Francona started honking his horn and gleefully flashing his middle finger.
“I probably flipped off about 10 of them,’’ admitted the manager.
“They care just as much in Boston as they care in Philly, but there’s probably a little more edge in Philadelphia,’’ he said.
In the second half of the Eagles’ NFC Championship rout Sunday night, crazed Eagles fans chanted, “We want Brady! We want Brady!’’
It reminded me of the 1985 NBA playoffs when Larry Bird missed a game with a sore elbow and Cleveland fans chanted “We want Bird!’’ as the Cavaliers beat the Celtics to extend the series.
“They want me?’ They’ll get me. With both barrels!’’
The next night Bird scored 34 points with 14 rebounds and 7 assists as the Celtics eliminated the Cavaliers at the Richfield Coliseum.
Philly fans should know better than to taunt Brady and the Patriots. The Eagles have never won a Super Bowl.
“And they probably won’t this year either,’’ said Francona.