- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 26, 2008

PHILADELPHIA

Before Game 3 of the World Series, Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter urged Phillies fans to “be on their best behavior” as their team faced the Tampa Bay Rays.

Why set the bar so low?

What exactly is the best behavior of Philadelphia fans? No automatic weapons? Limiting your beating of opposing fans to one a game? Cursing at a lower decibel level?

As the series shifted to Philadelphia, the city’s fans became part of the story. They are a legendary lot with a reputation of being so passionate that it sometimes borders on criminal.

These are, after all, the fans who once threw snowballs at Santa Claus.

When Mayor Nutter issued his behavior declaration, I am sure he had visions of some Rays fans floating in the Delaware River with cowbells tied around their necks.

How would a Tampa Bay fan prepare to see a World Series game in Philadelphia? Hang out at their local Waffle House on a Friday or Saturday night? That might give them a clue.

The phrase “crime of passion” could have been coined at a Phillies game or, worse yet, an Eagles game, where they once established their own jail inside Veterans Stadium for football games (they had one at Lincoln Financial Field but did away with it several years ago).

The Rays, who play in the sensory deprivation tank known as Tropicana Field, claim they are not intimidated by the Philadelphia fans. They may not speak for their families, who likely will see and hear things in the stands at Citizens Bank Park that they have seen or heard only on episodes of “Cops.”

“Listen, I grew up here,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who actually grew up two hours northwest in Hazleton. “I read the newspapers growing up, so I know what goes on down here. And we have National League coaches that played here. So we’re very aware of the National League environment here, and I think it’s great.

“I’ve always been entertained by Philadelphia fans in general, whether it’s the Eagles, the Flyers. … I used to watch them on TV, Channel 17, for years,” Maddon said. “I have a lot of respect for the Philly fan because he’s so into his group. I know they live and die by it. It’s religious.”

It’s actually more like religious fanaticism.

Five hours before the start of Saturday’s game, with the wind blowing hard outside on the streets, Philadelphia fans were already huddled inside of McFadden’s, the bar inside Citizens Bank Park.

One group of fans in their mid-30s sat at the bar and lamented the glory days - the early 1980s, the golden era of Philadelphia sports.

“We grew up when Philadelphia sports was in its prime,” said Andy Chonofsky, 36, of Cherry Hill, N.J. “We had the Phillies in the World Series in 1980 and 1983 and winning it in ‘80. We had the Eagles going to the Super Bowl for the first time and the 76ers winning the NBA championship.

“But for the Phillies, it’s just one World Series championship in their entire history,” Chonofsky said. “Yet they have these fans that are so passionate and vociferous. They have a championship fan base now with no championship to go with it - yet.”

Chonofsky, by the way, unsolicited, defended the snowballs Eagles fans threw at Santa Claus.

“He was a last-minute substitute that thrown out there,” Chonofsky said. “He was a bad Santa. We wouldn’t throw snowballs at a good Santa.”

His friend, Gerald Lauria, also 36, grew up in Cherry Hill but now lives in Tallahassee, Fla.

“People there are surprised when they find out I’m a Philly fan,” Lauria said. “They think I’m too sophisticated and intelligent to be a Philly fan.”

It’s an understandable assumption.

It may well be the stuff of lore, but a game experience here can be frightening. One of the bloggers who writes about the Nationals, Nats320, wrote about how he was threatened and accosted by fans here during the last weekend of the season against the Nationals. It was bad enough that club officials contacted the blogger and said they would investigate. And that was for the 161st game of the season against the Nationals. Imagine a World Series atmosphere.

It might be in the best interest of humanity for the Phillies to win this series.

“It will let all the air out of the balloon,” Chonofsky said.

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