In 1863, during The Civil War, Robert E. Lee invaded Pennsylvania. When word reached Philadelphia, they didn’t really feel fear or the need to do much to prepare. A historical mix of toughness and attitude, which is a quintessential Philadelphian response. To this day, that still describes the demeanor of Philadelphia.
We’re proud of throwing snowballs at Santa Claus, batteries at ball players, and shooting flares into crowds. We’re proud of being hellish fans. Drinking is so heavy at Eagles’ games that there is a district judge in the bowels of the Lincoln Financial Field who metes out justice to the inebriated and unruly. Yet, we also have each other’s backs.
It’s a city of neighborhoods and even more so, it’s a city of neighbors. It’s a place where you can still knock on someone’s door and ask for a bottle opener or for help changing a flat tire. This isn’t Southern hospitality, but this is The City of Brotherly Love, meaning you keep it in the family. You look out for one another and really no one else.
There is also an inherent strangeness to the city. It is home to the oldest folk parade in the United States, the Mummers Parade. Tens of thousands of people dress up around the city essentially as extravagant clowns and Philadelphians take to the streets to drink and celebrate the New Year.
It’s something you have to see to understand. However, if you’re not from Philadelphia and you find yourself on Broad Street on New Year’s Day, you might think you entered another dimension; one full of dancing lobsters, feathered jesters and out of tune string music.
When the Eagles won the Superbowl this year, fans not only embraced the title of “underdog,” they literally became it. Wearing dog masks and barking at competitors. When they won, the Eagles’ starting center, Jason Kelce, led the parade of fans in singing the Philadelphia Union fight song:
We’re from Philly, Fucking Philly, No one likes us, We don’t care, No one likes us, No one likes us, No one likes us, We don’t care!
Before the Superbowl, poles were preemptively greased with Crisco in an effort to keep celebrators from climbing them, but it’s hard to stop an underdog on their way up. During the celebration, people were shooting fireworks into the air and standing on top of cars and hotel overheads, breaking them down and essentially destroying the city they were cheering for.
When a keg dropped over a seven foot metal gate, my brother turned to a cop who was standing next to him and asked if this was all okay. I don’t blame him for the stupid question, he’s been living in Boston for five years. The cop looked at him and with a shrug said, “This is for The Birds. This is for Philly, so yes it is, but also no.”
It’s one of the most historical cities in the United States, but a fictionalized character of a boxer is more idolized than Ben Franklin, William Penn or any other figure who actually lived there, including George Washington.
Philadelphians identify with Rocky so much because the city is as important a character in the movie as the fighter himself. Rocky wouldn’t be Rocky if there was no Philly. He wouldn’t exist. Only Philadelphia could breed such an underdog story and only Philadelphians could have such pride in a fictional character that they treat him as though he were real.
Philly doesn’t expect your frills. It doesn’t care.