Commentary

Philly fans share one big sports day

Updated: November 2, 2009, 1:55 AM ET
By Elizabeth Merrill | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Before the empty bottles of Yuengling pile up under the Mike Schmidt statue, before the night devolves to boozy hiccups and four-letter insults, the day starts out genuine and pure.

A man sits on the 9:09 a.m. Amtrak from New York to Philadelphia, carrying two coveted game tickets. John Bartholdson is a New Yorker now, but he has so many Philly stories. He was 9 when he watched a mop-topped Tug McGraw pitch the final strike to win the 1980 World Series. He calls it the greatest moment of his childhood. Bartholdson has lived in New York for about 15 years, but still makes sure his boys -- ages 4 and 2 -- know their allegiances.

[+] EnlargeJohn Bartholdson
Elizabeth Merrill/ESPN.comPhillies fan John Bartholdson rides the train from New York City to Philadelphia for Sunday's game.

He heads out the door early Sunday for his hometown, the center of the sports universe, and his sons yell out two things.

"Go Eagles!"

"Go Phillies!"

That's the way it is when you're from Philly, Bartholdson says. Loyalty never dies. He is wearing a Phillies hat and holding a backpack with a ratty old Jeremiah Trotter jersey inside.

At 1 o'clock, he'll be watching his Eagles play their hated division rivals, the New York Giants. Then, across the street at 8 p.m., Bartholdson has tickets to Game 4 of the World Series, Phillies vs. Yankees. It's one of the most frenetic days in Philadelphia sports history, and it will be a traffic nightmare and an all-day cocktail party. And by the end of it, clouds will give way to darkness and temperatures will dip into the 40s and the Yankees will win Game 4 with a three-run ninth inning. But one thing is certain, Bartholdson says: Philly will show up, stay all night, and two stadiums separated by one road will be rocking.

"This could be a day where 40 years from now, people will be telling people, 'I was down there. I went to both games,'" Bartholdson says.

"You're not down there on the field making the plays, but you have a chance to be part of something special."

Outside Lincoln Financial Field, before kickoff

It's going to be a long, strange day, and the workers in the yellow jackets know it. One events services guy, who asks not to be named, is checking people in when some Eagles fans start randomly hugging him. It surprises him, not just because Philly fans aren't exactly the warm-and-fuzzy type, but 12 hours earlier on Saturday night, they watched the Phillies lose to the Yankees in a rain-delayed Game 3.

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AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarEagles and Phillies fans tailgate outside Lincoln Financial Field.

They should be in a bad mood, he says. They're overly polite today.

"I don't know if it's a full moon or what," the worker says. "Everybody's spirits today are incredible."

The vibe is palpable, unique to any other busy sports Sunday, for two reasons: First, the stadiums are within stumbling distance of each other. And then there's the fact that it's New York and Philadelphia, which are separated by 90 miles down the Jersey Turnpike. Philadelphia Eagles fans hate two things -- the star in the middle of the field in Dallas and just about anything Giants-related.

The man in the yellow jacket gets off work after the Eagles game, and maybe that's a good thing. All of the potted plants that line the street outside the stadium already are littered with beer cups, and it's barely lunch time.

"When the alcohol starts kicking in," he says as he puffs on a cigarette, "things are going to get crazy."

One minute, 36 seconds after kickoff

OK, it is crazy inside the stadium. Donovan McNabb is running all over the Giants' defense; Andy Reid's team looks like a world-beater. Third play of the game, little-used fullback Leonard Weaver goes 41 yards for a touchdown. The fireworks fill the early-afternoon sky, and a few minutes later, the Eagles are quickly up 16-0.

Green and red. The colors are all over the Linc on Sunday: green Eagles jerseys, red Phillies hats, and the football team, it seems, loves the display of unity.

After the game, Weaver says he sensed a special energy in the air all day.

"Oh yeah, you felt it," Weaver says. "Fans were getting psyched up."

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park, Third Quarter

The signs say no parking on the grass, but nobody seems to be paying heed. Tailgaters plow into the leaves and the wet earth, past the young men throwing footballs. Here's the strange thing about FDR Park, which is about three blocks down from the stadiums: It costs twice as much to park for an NFL regular-season game ($25) than a World Series game ($12). Doesn't really matter. Philly fans will pay it.

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Elizabeth Merrill/ESPN.comEd Sosar, left, Brian Petrone (in Yankees cap) and Jason Koback tailgate before Game 4 of the World Series.

It's five hours before the baseball game, and Ed Sosar is sitting in the park at a picnic table with two of his buddies, eating a cheesesteak sandwich. He's nervously plotting out the night.

"I'd gladly trade an Eagles loss for a Phillies win," Sosar says.

He doesn't have any say in the matter, especially since the Eagles are cruising. But baseball is just about all that is on Sosar's mind.

How big of a Phillies fan is Sosar and his buddy Jason Koback? Well, Koback is a teacher, and on Friday, he sketched a giant image of legendary Phillies radio play-by-play announcer Harry Kalas -- after school hours, of course. He proudly takes the sketch out of the car Sunday, and sets it on the picnic table. They have five more hours and a half-dozen more beers to figure out what to put in the white space beside Harry's face.

They love Kalas, who died in April. They never leave a game early, even if it's a blowout, just because they have to hear a recording of Harry singing "High Hopes" after the final pitch.

Koback is rambling about the Phillies when the fireworks go off in the sky up the street. The Eagles have just scored again. The buddies yell to a fan who has the game on the radio, and ask who scored the touchdown.

"McCoy," somebody says.

They go back to their food and beer and wisecracks.

"Look at that," Koback says. "We don't even need a ticket to know what's going on."

Jetro all-day event parking, 4 p.m.

It could've been worse. Yes, the traffic is bumper-to-bumper, and at one point just after the Eagles game, an elderly woman working the parking lot adjacent to the Linc is so nervous worrying that a 10-car pileup is about to happen that she repeatedly says, "Oh my God. Oh my God."

But the real transportation disaster was averted on Saturday, when the Philadelphia transit system's biggest union agreed not to go on strike. Had the union walked out just before the World Series, bus drivers, mechanics and subway and trolley operators would've stayed home.

And parking outside the stadiums would've been even more nightmarish.

By the time the Eagles finish a dominating 40-17 victory against the Giants, the football fans are filing out and the seamheads are inching in. As the green-clad crazies spin out of the concourse, a chant starts from the upper rafters.

"Let's go Phillies!"

Outside Citizens Bank Park, 7:30 p.m.

Scott Schoenberg holds up three fingers into the cold Philadelphia night, searching. He needs three World Series tickets and is convinced that the good people of Philadelphia will judge him by the size of his wallet, not the Yankees logo on his chest.

[+] EnlargeScott and Jason Schoenberg
Elizabeth Merrill/ESPN.comYankees fans Scott (left) and Jason Schoenberg try to find tickets outside Citizens Bank Ballpark on Sunday. All they got were insults from Phillies fans.

Several Phillies fans already have commented on Schoenberg's wardrobe, by the way, and his face and just about every other one of his body parts. But Schoenberg is undaunted. He paces up and down the street, then stops by the giant Mike Schmidt statue, and asks again. "Tickets?"

On Saturday night, he watched the Yankees win for the discounted price of $300 a seat.

On Sunday night, he scoffs when a guy in an Eagles jersey tries to sell him upper-deck tickets for $500.

Luckily, Schoenberg and his brother Jason work in advertising, not sensitivity training. Every turn around the stadium brings more taunts. Whenever a Phillies fan gets too mean, Schoenberg counters with a "It'll all be over soon, bro."

One Phillies fan gets so angry at Schoenberg, who's still smiling and holding up three fingers, that he lets out an expletive-laced rant.

"Why don't you stick three up your a--?" the fan says.

Schoenberg laughs. At least the guy was creative, he says.

The game is starting, and he's been going at it for two hours. The voice on the speakers says this is the first Phillies game to be played in November. Schoenberg braces himself against the cold and takes another spin down the street.

A bit of back-tracking

Let's go back to that 9:09 a.m. train, because there is something worth noting: It's coming from Penn Station in the heart of New York City, yet most of its occupants are wearing Phillies gear.

Are Philadelphians just that much more loyal? Or just have less to do? It seems that on Sunday morning, The City That Never Sleeps has hit the snooze button. Maybe they're confident that the Yankees have the World Series in hand. At least two Phillies fans on the train say they hate that New York smugness, and their puffed-out, pinstriped chests.

Just after 10 a.m., as the train passes the "Trenton Makes, the World Takes" sign, Bartholdson's cell phone rings, and it's a buddy who's headed to town on the 10:05 train. He says there are plenty of New York stragglers traveling with him.

"It's yet more evidence," Bartholdson says, "that New Yorkers are soft."

Elizabeth Merrill is a senior writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at merrill2323@hotmai.com.