According to the New York Times, the mild-mannered citizens of Minneapolis are bracing themselves for the hordes of feral Philadelphia Eagles fans invading their city for Sunday’s Super Bowl against the New England Patriots. AirBnB hosts are especially worried that the fans who threw full beer cans at Minnesota Vikings supporters before the NFC Championship game two weeks ago are going to go all drunken Tasmanian Devil in their spare bedrooms.
“If it wasn’t for the entrepreneurial opportunity, of course I wouldn’t want to have the team that just beat us coming into our place,” one renter told the paper of record. “Especially since they’re rowdier than average.”
But are they actually rowdier than average? And what’s average? Sure, Eagles fans have been known to flip off an opposing team’s fans while holding their toddlers’ hands. But I would argue that Eagles fans’ reputation is more myth than fact. (Full disclosure: I am an Eagles fan and yet have never thrown a snowball, punched a police horse, or made an obscene gesture at a child.) Yes, Eagles fans have been documented behaving badly — this is a sport predicated on cheering for men built like SUVs inducing permanent brain damage in each other. But sports fans everywhere behave badly — they just don’t typically become viral news stories. In some ways, this is more a function of the way outlets choose to cover sports now than it is about fan behavior.
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Last year, the Washington Post reported that rising stadium and parking lot violence and other unsavory behavior is a concern for all 32 NFL teams. Between 2011 and 2015, the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers led the league in arrests per game at their home stadium, averaging 24.6. The Chargers were followed by the New York Giants, the New York Jets, the Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers respectively. Philadelphia doesn’t even crack the top five. The stadiums where disorderly fans are least likely to leave the venue in cuffs belong to the Seattle Seahawks, the Chicago Bears, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Houston Texans and the Carolina Panthers. In other words, when you take emotion out of it, data proves that Philly is not the worst — despite the popular mythology.
When reaching for hard evidence that Philly is home to the worst sports fans, a majority of partisans cherry pick their anecdotes. By far the most popular story is that old chestnut about how Eagles fans once threw snowballs at Santa Claus. This is true, Eagles fans did pelt a fan dressed as Saint Nick with snowballs during one particularly miserable game at the end of one particularly miserable season in 1968, literally 50 years ago. But this means Philly detractors’ are still citing an incident where most of the participants have probably passed on to the great tailgate party in the sky.
A more solid argument against Eagles devotees would cite examples of fan malfeasance that actually occurred in the current century, like those dudes who got plastered and then tried to beat up police horses this season, or the fans in a Lincoln Financial Field men’s room who apparently knocked some Vikings fans’ hats into the urinal, plus some other examples I’m not going to list here because I’m not going to do Birds detractors’ opposition research for them.