The Fury of Philly
Every city celebrates college sports success the same way. Initial delirious celebration gives way to naming a child after the heroes. The in-game chants and baby-making bizarrely go hand in hand.
What separates fanbases is the way in which they handle setbacks, failures.
Big 10 fans internalize the frustration. Burying such silly anger seems the wise move. West coast, predominately LA-area fans shed the irrelevance of the loss. ‘What difference does some sport make to me?’ Texas-area fans focus on what the 50th best high school quarterback in the state is eating for brunch. Northeastern supporters vent loudly and then return to work despite the snowfall.
But Philly fans are different. Oh my, they are different. The Fury of Philly is unmatched in the world of college sports.
In the angst-ridden gymnasium of the University of Penn, two unranked, largely disregarded Atlantic –10 programs battled in what might have been the best college basketball game of 2009. Despite multiple buzzer beating shots by Rhode Island, St. Joseph’s won 92-86 (3OT).
St. Joseph’s was hosting a high-scoring Rhode Island group on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Descending faster than the snow outside were the insults from the observing bleachers.
Countless boos. Anyone not wearing St. Joe’s white was a potential target of the venom. During a first half timeout an inaccurate timeout contestant drew the ire of the attendees. After he missed layup after layup, during his one shining moment, the boos filled the arena better than Rick Majerus fills a sweater.
Within the context of the actual game the fierce-tongued Philly faithful assaulted all three of the referees, the opposing coach, the game itself, and even their own point guard.
Do not mistake the anger as lack of support, though it certainly disguises itself as discarding disgust. Philly fans just expect more and are not at all shy about letting their representatives know.
Facing URI, St. Joseph point guard Tasheed Carr drew the most criticism. By failing to initiate a respectable offensive flow, Carr earned shape-shifting hatred. Sometimes the hate took the form of audible groans, while other times it became mean-spirited insults.
The reason is because a player is not just a performer or a source of entertainment. To be an athlete in Philly you represent the entire city of Philadelphia. Along with that responsibility comes the burden of high expectations and zero patience.
Just ask Donovan McNabb.
The problem with Carr, as fans saw it, was methodical sometimes lethargic, plodding play with the ball in hand.
In actuality, once they gained a sizable 40-25 first half lead, the entire Hawk roster sluggishly sat on its perch content to nap its way to the finish line.
Largely led by their iron-willed coach Jim Barron, URI fiercely clawed back. His on-court personality resembles the craggy rocks off the coast of Rhode Island. Hardened and weather-worn but never completely weather beaten, Barron has a venomously intense style of communication.
Rhode Island, who presses full court the entire game, disrupted St. Joseph’s enough to draw a five second inbounds violation with just 36 seconds left. The half-packed arena erupted in indignation. One man in particular wore his school colors (scarlet) on his steamy hot face.
The teeming fans were instantly angry as a caged ferret.
From that moment on the referee guilty of the perceived infraction was maliciously verbally assaulted.
The obvious, “You suck!” became a popular line. But more innovative attacks like, “You walk like a duck!” likely resonated more with the beleaguered official.
The red-faced fan even referenced other games in which the referee had blown calls. “That is the kind of call you make in the A-10 tournament for Xavier!” he spewed.
When Coach Barron collected his technical foul with 1:54 left in 3OT one “mild-mannered” lady opined, “He has some problem with his mind.”
The technical foul less a turning point than a white flag of forfeit. After numerous comebacks and inspiring efforts Rhode Island was throwing in the towel. They caught the runner in front of them in the marathon of a race, but just could not overtake him.
Tournament Effect: Rhode Island has an outside shot at an at-large berth. They need to start winning the tough road games, but currently have no bad losses. Providence, after countless Big East battles could become that bad loss though. The Friars nipped the Rams 66-65 in the intrastate battle.
St. Joseph’s has an NBA-player, Ahmad Nivins in their midst, but likely not an NCAA tournament in their future.