PHILADELPHIA—Sunday night, Center City was not for the easily rattled. But on the whole, Philadelphia acquitted itself well after the Eagles won the Super Bowl, far better than anyone expected—if by “well” you mean no one died and if by “better than expected” you mean that no horses were harmed in the making of this celebratory riot.
After the heart-stopping final minutes of the game, the populace here poured into the streets. A dull roar could be heard echoing through the skyscraper canyons of downtown. It was like nothing I’ve ever heard, although I imagine foreign correspondents who’ve covered urban insurrections probably have a sense of what I’m talking about.
Fireworks exploded between the Gilded Age–era office buildings. Cellphone reception was impossible. Suddenly the streets were a mass of human bodies, many of which seemed intent on scampering up any object taller than four or so feet. Everyone yelled E-A-G-L-E-S enthusiastically, methodically, and practically without cessation. It felt, in short, extremely Philly.
But how Philly, exactly, were Philadelphia’s Super Bowl celebrations? This is a city, after all, that has a notorious sports culture, one whose reputation for goofy destruction might be up there with European soccer hooliganism.
Before we declare Sunday evening the most Philly night ever, we ought to be rigorous in our analysis. To aid you in sifting fact from sensationalist Twitter jokes, I have compiled a discrete list of five categories with which to rate Philadelphia’s metaphorical and very literal trip up the greased lamppost.
Property destruction and other devilry
When the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series, the revelries reached such a Dionysian pitch that the city suffered a bit of a PR black eye. The headlines were full of fire, violence, and flipped cars. 76 people were arrested.
Ever since, the possibility of a post–Super Bowl win riot has been discussed in hushed tones. If that’s how the fans reacted to a Phillies win, the reasoning went, imagine if the Eagles go all the way! The resulting conflagration, it was popularly thought, would have effects comparable to those of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
But despite the national and international media perverse obsession with the dark side of the city’s festivities—“Looting and rioting rock victorious Philadelphia,” the BBC breathlessly reported Sunday—the actual results on the ground weren’t so bad.
The Philadelphia Police Department reported only four arrests. “There were zero burned cars,” the department’s press representative announced in an email, responding to rumors that fire had claimed several automobiles. Twitter report of inebriated celebrants riding ostriches and police horses were both debunked as well. A gas station was looted in South Philadelphia, true, and the windows of the Macy’s building and several other Center City chain stores were smashed. Many light poles and, bafflingly, traffic signals did not survive the night.
“Those investigations continue,” writes the mayor’s press representative, Mike Dunn, in an email. “I don’t have an exact number. Still minor stuff.”
Philly Rating: Kind of Philly.
Philadelphia sports culture’s bad reputation—that time a fan apparently induced himself to vomit on a child, the much-discussed tradition of hurling batteries at those who displease—was bolstered by a couple incidents earlier this season when Eagles supporters vented their enthusiasm on the steeds of the constabulary.
“We don’t start punching our policemen’s horses like that when they win a game,” one baffled Bostonian told the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Julia Terruso, when she was sent to take the rival city’s pregame temperature. “I could see if you lose a game, but you win a game and you’re still sucker punching horses? I mean, maybe I could see if you were playing the Broncos … ”
The incidents (yes, it happened twice) quickly became a part of the city’s lore, and not in a way that made fans proud.
So this time, after the Big Game, fans sought to rectify their relationships with law enforcement’s equine contingent. There were reports that, as mounted Pennsylvania State Troopers pressed into the crowd, a rousing chant of “Don’t punch the horses” went up.
One fan, who is still mercifully nameless, went further. He so thoroughly abased himself that he literally ate the excrement of a patrolman’s steed. One can only assume he meant this in the spirit of reconciliation, the ultimate act of degradation to show that Eagles fans have well and truly atoned.
Philly Rating: Barely Philly—although the fact that we have this category at all is Extremely Philly.
In victory, Philadelphia sports fans are known for their love of climbing things. (Other favored behaviors include huffing cigarettes, chanting boisterously—about which more later—and excessive hoagie consumption.)
The city is aware of this propensity for alighting atop the highest scalable structure. In recent weeks officials have tried slicking the lampposts of Broad Street with Crisco and motor oil in an effort to deter climbers.
Neither material worked, and on Sunday night, it wasn’t only lampposts that were climbed with abandon. So to were the gates of City Hall (with a keg), trees, subway entrances, bus shelters, the Ritz-Carlton’s awning (RIP), dump trucks, fire trucks, police vans, billboards, and statues depicting Philadelphians of historic note.
An earlier Slate article on police scanner reports of the evening suggested that this pastime ended in tragedy for some fans. But the police tell me that they have no information on hospitalizations available at this time. At the very least, no one appears to have died. So, we have that going for us.
Philly Rating: Very, Very Philly.
Vocalizing enthusiastically in unison with other human beings is one of life’s great pleasures. Philadelphians are also exceptionally prone to it. The bar where I spent my Saturday evening broke into chants of the Eagles’ fight song 15 times over the course of four hours. On the trolley ride to work Monday morning, it happened again. E-A-G-L-E-S, indeed.
But Sunday night, the crowds went to it with a will. The fans spent much of their exuberance on rousing chants that, reports indicate, included denouements of our vanquished foes—you haven’t lived until you’ve heard hundreds chanting “Fuck Tom Brady”—and praise of our quarterback’s apparently impressive appendage.
Philly Grade: Extremely Philly
Finally, words must be spared for Philadelphia’s neighborhood parties. Mobbing City Hall and Broad Street are time-honored traditions, but smaller neighborhood celebrations are just as important. This is the city, after all, that issues more block-party permits than any other in the country. (As of 2013, the city was issuing 8,000 a year in comparison with 2,500 in New York and 5,000 in Chicago.)
The most famous is the meeting place at Cottman and Frankford avenues in Mayfair, where Philly Weekly’s Max Marin captured real life footage of a man shimmying in a full-body neon green stocking.
My quiet neighborhood erupted too and, according to chatter Monday morning, there was a full brass band—with tubas and everything—that played at the intersection of 48th Street and Baltimore Avenue. The man leading Eagles chants on my trolley informed his fellow commuters that the parties in his Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood of Eastwick raged late into the night too.
To get things started, my fellow commuter instructed, all you have to do is play Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” at full volume. It is, he informed us, 10 minutes and 25 seconds of a party.
Hoarse from chanting, he then hopped off the trolley, but not before informing everyone that he loved us all. We love you too, man.
Philly Grade: The Most Philly
One more thing
You depend on Slate for sharp, distinctive coverage of the latest developments in politics and culture. Now we need to ask for your support.
Our work is more urgent than ever and is reaching more readers—but online advertising revenues don’t fully cover our costs, and we don’t have print subscribers to help keep us afloat. So we need your help. If you think Slate’s work matters, become a Slate Plus member. You’ll get exclusive members-only content and a suite of great benefits—and you’ll help secure Slate’s future.Join Slate Plus