Philadelphia is known as the city of brotherly love, but you would not know it from the way opposing teams and fans are treated when they visit. The Eagles, and more accurately Philadelphia, and their fans have a rep as being the worst in the country. Whether or not that is true is debatable, but the fans of Philadelphia definitely have a checkered past. So much so in fact, that in 1998 the city of Philadelphia created the Eagles Court, which convened in the basement of the then home of the Eagles Veterans Stadium. The city of Philadelphia and their fans may deny their rep, but being the first city to have a courtroom in one of their stadiums leaves no doubt, so own up to it and be proud.
This history of violence started back in 1949. On August 21st, during a Phillies game, fans began to throw glass bottles onto the field. The fans were upset at call being made by the umpires in the game, and this was their retort. The crowd would not yield, and when they ignored pleas over the loudspeakers the game was forfeited. Umpire Lee Ballanfant was hit in the face with a bottle, and fellow umpire Al Barlick took a tomato to the back of the head. Ah, the days when people brought their own tomatoes to throw.
In the 1960’s, the Phillies first basemen was Dick Allen, who was African-American. The fans of the Phillies did not care for Allen and would routinely boo him. Allen became effected by this would write “letters in the dirt” with his spikes to show the fans his displeasure. The response was that fans would throw garbage, fruit and batteries at Allen. When he played first he would wear his batting helmet at first, and earned him the nickname “Crash”. Remember he played for the Phillies…only in Philadelphia.
One of the most famous incidents happened in 1968. The Eagles were in the midst of a losing season, and had the inside track to the first overall pick in 1969, where O.J. Simpson was waiting. The Eagles began to win games late in the season, and in the final home game there was a halftime ceremony where Santa Claus would come out and wave to the crowd. The crowd was already unruly, and the Santa had left the building. They scrambled and grabbed a fan from the stands, Frank Olivo, who was wearing a makeshift Santa outfit and had him go out. The fans began to boo him, and he was pelted with snowballs. He came back in 2003 to a Sixers game in a Santa suit and was once again booed, welcome back.
At an Eagles game in 1989, referred to as Bounty Bowl II, against the Dallas Cowboys fans once again displayed poor judgment and wasteful behavior. The stadium once again had snow that could not be removed, and instead was packed under the seats. The weather was warming up enough that the snow became perfect for packing and molding into ice balls. Fans began throwing these ice balls at Cowboys players, coaches, the referees, as well as the broadcasters…don’t want to discriminate now do we. Then fans began to pour beer on everyone going through the tunnel. The effect was the team banning beer sales for the final home game, as well as their NFC Wild Card game against the Rams. Ice Balls and wasting beer. There is a history of snowballs and the like, but wasting beer…really?
In 1997 during a Monday Night Football game against the San Francisco 49ers all hell broke loose. Just before the opening kickoff an all out brawl broke out, in the 500 level of Veterans Stadium, when five drunk fans attacked and thrashed Scott Reader, who suffered a shattered ankle as well as cigar burns. The reason he was assaulted was because his friend happened to be wearing a New York Giants jacket…heaven forbid. Reader recalled what a guard told him after the beating. ``The guard told me that he was sorry he couldn't help me, but there were five of them and only one of him,'' Reader said. This was only the beginning; the worst was yet to come.
The Eagles fell behind 24-6 at halftime, and Mayor Ed Rendell knew trouble could be brewing. He ordered additional security to a problem area in the upper levels where drinking and pot smoking ran rampant at every game. Unfortunately, things would get worse. The fans were no longer paying attention to the game, and there was a lot more action going on in the stands than on the field. The destructive behavior of that night culminated with a fan in upper level 500, Robert Sellers, firing a flare into a mob of fans on the lower 200 level. His response was that he got caught up in the chaos of the crowd. The night also included other mob activities: over 60 different fist fights, pick pocketing, car thefts, and stolen Eagles merchandise…you know classic Philadelphia behavior.
The result of this was the courts of Philadelphia taking action. Seamus McCaffery was a member of the Municipal Court in Philadelphia, and he spearheaded the development of the Eagles Court, with the support of members from the city council. Due to the history of violence at Veterans Stadium the city created an actual court located in the bowels of the stadium. McCaffery presided over this court, which was open for business during Eagles and Phillies home games. Fans would no longer have to wait to receive their punishment.
The fans of Philadelphia have continued to earn their ranking as the worst fans in the game, so by now it should just be something that is worn with a badge of honor or stupidity…what’s the difference. I am actually proud to announce that the Eagles Court is no longer in session at Lincoln Financial Field, as the effect of the court worked so well that it is no longer necessary, for now.