With the Phillies making it to the NLCS (that’s National League Championship Series for those of you who are just tuning in) this week — and the Eagles going 6-and-0, and the Union* banner across City Hall, Philly fans are doubling down on our sports-related traditions and superstitions, even if they often contradict.
One green-blooded Birds watcher wears all the paraphernalia they can fit on their body. Another won’t wear even a scrap of green. Some watch games with the vocal bloodlust of the Colosseum. Others sit stoic, fearing an escaped smirk might send the Phils into a spiral.
Others still — rabid fans, mind you — refuse to watch the game live at all, believing the direction of their eyes will somehow jinx the team through cathodes, coils, glass — and despite a 7-second broadcast delay. (And these are just the folks watching from home.)
Humans are a superstitious species. I think it serves to bond us. And no matter how thin the causal connection, if enough people accept a belief, it takes on an air of truth. Philadelphians as a collective have taken on a few of these when it comes to sports.
Here, then, four airy truths about the mysterious forces that lead our teams on the road to victory — or defeat.
*As the Philadelphia Union continues to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the team has yet to win an MLS Cup (that’s Major League Soccer’s top spot, friends). Therefore, we cannot confirm or deny the efficacy of the many rituals and rites (and songs and dances) of their foremost fans, the venerable Sons of Ben. However, we would very much like to find out which superstitions work best this season by bringing home the national title.
1. Training, take a backseat to the PECO Crown Lights
In a press release titled, Superstitions Matter, local energy company PECO outlines the “scientific” methodology (their quotes) used to justify not supporting Philly teams with LED messages atop their company’s Center City headquarters.
In 2005, PECO Crown Lights were used in advance of the Eagles losing the Super Bowl. In 2009, PECO Crown Lights were used in advance of the Phillies losing the World Series.
In 2008, the PECO Crown Lights were NOT used in advance of the Philadelphia Phillies winning the World Series. In 2016, the PECO Crown Lights were NOT used in advance of the Villanova Wildcats winning the NCAA National Championship.
Incontrovertible evidence in hand, PECO is “prepared to do its job” to ensure victory for the city. Rather than written messages, the Crown Lights get flipped to a modestly muted display of green. The date of that release is January 19, 2018. And we all know what happens two weeks later.
In Philadelphia, words offend the gods of sport. Colors, however, are acceptable.
Update: According to PECO, this curse was officially (perhaps “scientifically”) broken with the Eagles 41-33 win over the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. Lit-up sports messaging has returned for the NLCS, and it will stay that way. “We will not reevaluate, win or lose,” says Ra’Chelle Rogers, a company communications manager, “We will continue to cheer on Philly sports teams with messages on our Crown Lights.”
PECO, an Exelon Company, has interpreted the will of the sports gods and determined that words are back, baby.
2. Perseverance, get behind parade routes
In 2005, Patriots head coach Bill Belichik (boo!) stands in front of his team to inspire them to confidence and victory.
Think back to our season. No matter what tough spot you’ve been in, in the end, the reason why you won is because you identified the situation, you heard the calls and you did your job.
Philadelphians disagree with that assessment. Job shmob — it wasn’t Patriot eyes, ears, bodies or brains that led them to victory over the Eagles in ’05. It was what Belichik says next.
I want to read you a little something here. I couldn’t believe it, but it’s actually true. It’s talking about the Philadelphia parade after the game … It’s going to go from Broad Street, up the [sic] Washington Avenue, past City Hall, and then down to Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and will end up at the Art Museum.
Belichik weaponizes our celebration planning, and it actually works. The Patriots snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by posting our parade route, spurring their players to adrenaline-fueled rage with each leaked stop. The Washington Avenue? The Parkway? By god, no!
Putting aside the apocalypse that would ensue should a city not do basic logistics planning, Philadelphians came to see the release of parade routes as the source of Super Bowl XXXIX woes.
In Philadelphia, the gods of sport condone parades, but condemn the early release of route specifics.
Another update: Joy Huertas from the Office of the Mayor says (rather coyly), “Championship parades are coordinated by the city’s Office of Special Events. Planning, both internally and externally, begins when it begins.”
3. Execution, make way for the Bear Market
Okay, this one is causal in the opposite direction. Consider the following set of numbers: 1929, 1980, 2008, 2022.
What do these have in common? An economist would tell you they’re equivalents of the Black Death. The Great Depression (1929-39), The Great Economic Downturn (1981-82), The Great Recession (2007-09), The Great What The Hell Is Going To Happen (2022-?).
A sports enthusiast in Philly might have a different answer, though. In 1929, the Athletics win the World Series. In 1980, the Phillies win the World Series. In 2008, the Phillies win the World Series. And, in 2022 (god willing), the Phillies … Let’s not jinx ourselves.
Therein lies the rub. Forget that financial crises, like, say, the Panic of 1837, existed before baseball. At first glance, it does appear that victories on the diamond presage economic catastrophe for the rest of the country.
Most bow-tied economists would scoff at this and point to “actual” factors like “inflation,” “interest rates,” “corporate earnings,” and other unintelligible terms. You can’t deny that some dates do line up, and that this year, as the Phillies burn brighter, the U.S. economy grows dimmer. Should we take home the Commissioner’s Trophy, god have mercy on our souls and wallets. “Fair trade,” says the guy with a Phanatic tattoo on his face.
In Philadelphia, the gods trade victory for coin — in the form of runaway inflation and shitty interest rates.
4. Team solidarity, William Penn is your new master
I saved the most well-known of Philly superstitions for last. Because nothing tops Billy Penn — both figuratively and literally.
In life, William Penn was revered for democracy, religious freedom, and the pursuit of peace. In death, he is known to be a tad petty about his placement.
For more than a century, Philadelphia had a height limitation that prohibited any building from exceeding the height of Billy Penn’s hat, which sits atop City Hall as a gift from the French government.
In 1987, that height limit was finally breached by One Liberty Place.
That nonchalant explanation was made by then Senior Executive Vice President of Comcast, David Cohen. In reality, the ghost of Billy Penn, or the aforementioned sports gods of Philadelphia, were deeply angered by this “final breach” and sought their vengeance on the city by making Philly-based athletes play poorly for 20 years.
Further throwing shade on our beloved founder’s effigy, One Liberty Place gets topped by the Comcast Center in 2007. But unlike non-superstitious companies, Comcast does not disregard the beliefs of its people so lightly. The media giant recognizes that some things in life are bigger than all of us. And taller than those should be Billy Penn.
From the time that height limitation was breached, no Philadelphia professional sports team won a national championship. So I said, why don’t we put a statue on the top of the Comcast Center and once again restore Billy Penn to his rightful place as the highest location in Philadelphia? says Cohen.
Was the Comcast statue equal to that of the 26-ton Franco offering atop City Hall? No. It was two feet tall — basically the height of a few soup cans. And was that statue stolen? Yes, it was. But did Comcast replace it with another? Yes, with a 5-inch version. Which is really more of a child’s figurine than a statue, but this is one of those times that size doesn’t matter.
Because the statue … ette was erected, or just placed firmly and glued, on top of the Comcast Center in 2007, and the Phils promptly won the 2008 World Series. Curse broken.
When the Comcast Technology Center once again eclipses Penn’s hat in 2017, iron workers have the wherewithal to place another Monopoly-sized Billy P, thus ensuring that our beloved sports teams would win everything each year since. In Philadelphia, the gods have decreed that no one must sit higher than the king (or governor, in this case).
There we have it. Four superstitions, four explanations, four reasons to feel just a little better when something so important to all of us is entirely out of our hands.
Let’s go Phillies!
Let’s go Birds!
And Sixers and Flyers!
And whatever our lacrosse team is called!
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