William Penn hates your Philadelphia sports loving guts.
He hates them because, in 1983, a contract
was signed to construct Liberty One Place, the tallest building in the city of Philadelphia.
During the city’s humble beginnings, a gentlemen’s contract promised that William Penn’s statue atop City Hall would remain the tallest point in Philadelphia. More than 300 years later, this unwritten contract was broken with the construction of Liberty One Place at 1650 Market St., towering 397 feet higher than Penn’s hat. Penn previously reigned supreme, perched at the top of City Hall, overlooking the city he designed in 1682.
This only matters because Philadelphia loves its sports. Philadelphia has not won a major sports championship since Liberty Place became the tallest building in the city. Up until the contract signing, the previous 10 years brought Philadelphia four major sports championships.
In the past 24 years, it’s had zero. Some may blame this eerie coincidence on bad ownership, management, coaching, players or “just one of those things.” Others call it the “Curse of William Penn,” the ramifications for disrespecting the city’s founder by breaking a gentlemen’s agreement. For some, this shiny blue tower of offices and expensive shops is blame enough for Philly’s 24 years of sports-losing heartbreak. Whether you believe in the curse or not, you know the heartbreak. They’re all instances where the city had every reason to win. And if you’ve lived in Philadelphia long enough, you’ve got your own piece to the 24-season puzzle of spectacular failures. In that respect, no other city has ever gone as long without winning a championship.
Trent Tattar, a junior broadcast major who hosts “Broad & Pattison,” a sports talk show on Temple’s WHIP radio remembers when he was last let down.
“Last season the Phillies had a series in Washington, D.C. The game didn’t start until 11:30 at night,” Tattar said. “I sat with all Phillies fans, and it was the loudest a couple thousand fans could get. We had an opportunity to take that game, and we lost 4-2, and I’ve never felt so burned. I was driving home at four in the morning with some buddies and we stopped at a Denny’s and talked for an hour about how this isn’t going to ever happen.”
But through the losing, fans have found reasons to come together. There’s a reason Philadelphia remains emotionally invested in its sports, or at least this was the angle that producers Rob Marcolina, Mikaelyn Austin and Dan Borkson took when filming the recent Philadelphia Film Festival documentary, “The Curse of William Penn.”
“It’s almost a comfort,” Marcolina said of the curse. “It legitimizes the struggle, and gives it a face.
“A key point worth investigating in the past 24 years without winning a championship is the support of the fans,” Marcolina continued.
“One thing that resonates is that our fans are dedicated and passionate. The normal depiction is just wrong. It’s not even close. The biggest thing they say is negative; throwing snowballs at Santa. That was like 40 years ago. We’re passionate and tell you what we think. We’re in your face, but we’re not bad fans.”
Austin, a converted Philly fan six years in the making, grew up in San Diego. She noticed a difference in the fans’ attitude and connection with their teams in Philadelphia.
“Honestly, I’ve never been in a city more ridiculously obsessed about their sports teams than in Philly. What I keep saying is not only being here, but in the body language during interviews, people on the streets, fans at games, the build up to championships and loss; it’s like a family member to them. Sports are not an aspect of the city’s culture, but a defining aspect of the culture.”
NFL Films senior producer and Temple alumni Ray Didinger doesn’t believe in hexes or curses, but agreed with Austin’s perspective on Philadelphia fans. He sympathizes with the fans, saying they do what they can by coming to watch and support their teams. If they support
them week after week, don’t blame the fans for getting mad, he said.
“It’s a strong connection, like a family,” Didinger said. “But let’s face it, there’s screw-ups, and you go through periods where you get mad at them, you call them names and shout at them. But when it comes down to it, you don’t turn your back on them. I think that’s one thing people on the outside don’t get.
“In the case of Philadelphia, the year after the Super Bowl, fans were still coming out,” Didinger said of the Eagles’ 2004-2005 6-10 season. “They were still watching games on TV; still following the team. The fact that the team was losing – people were still coming out, and came out last year. They’re there. These are people who have been through the losing streak. Their fathers went through it. They know what hard times are, but it doesn’t discourage them.”
Marcolina agreed that Philadelphia fans are underrated.
“We should be exalted,” Marcolina said. “The Eagles won their last championship in 1960, and they’re followed like no other team in the country. Why? Why would we do that when we haven’t won?”
Temple men’s basketball coach Fran Dunphy
grew up in the Philadelphia area, and has been coaching in the city for over 25 years.
“I think there’s as much passion here as in any other major metropolitan area,” he said. “But there is great passion here and we all want to win. We live and die with our teams.”
With the Phillies starting off the season as one of the worst teams in baseball, the annual aggravation has begun. The fans will continue to cry foul and blame the usual suspects.
“Fire the manager!”
“Trade Burrell, he’s a bum!”
“We want Sal Fasano!”
The pain is what makes Philadelphia fans strong, four teams deep. The city is just pulling for that one hero of a team to finally make it. And, no matter the score, we’ll always have six seasons of “Rocky.”
Chris Zakorchemny can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.