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'There's no excuse for what we did'

Philadelphia fans criticized for reaction to Irvin injury

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Posted: Thursday October 14, 1999 07:21 PM

  Michael Irvin Insult to injury: Philly fans hit an all-time low in poor sportsmanship by booing an injured Michael Irvin. AP

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- They brawl, boo and hurl batteries and snowballs. Philadelphia fans have earned their reputation as among the most surly in sports.

By cheering Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin as he lay motionless on the turf Sunday with a neck injury, the fans brought the city's reputation for boorishness to new lows. It disgusted even those who thought they had seen it all in the "City of Brotherly Love."

"Unspeakable, even for us," proclaimed a headline in the Philadelphia Daily News.

The latest act of civic embarrassment unfolded during the Philadelphia Eagles' 13-10 victory over the Cowboys.

The 33-year-old Irvin landed awkwardly on his head after catching a pass from Troy Aikman in the first quarter. He lay motionless on the artificial turf for nearly 20 minutes while medical staff attended to him.

Many fans in the crowd of 66,669 cheered when they realized Irvin was hurt, and again when paramedics wheeled a stretcher onto the field. Many also cheered respectfully when he was placed in an ambulance, but the damage was done.

"Some people need to grow up and find some inner peace, because there is no peace in watching somebody suffer," said Irvin's teammate, Emmitt Smith.

"This, in terms of bad taste, was as bad as it gets," said Mayor Edward Rendell, an avid sports fan.

What makes Philly fans so foul? More than any other sports city -- even New York -- Philadelphia is known for fans who can be rude, raucous, passionate and sometimes, way out of bounds.

"I couldn't believe they cheered when Michael Irvin got hurt," said Donovan McNabb, the team's No. 1 pick who was nearly booed off the stage by Eagles fans attending the draft. "You don't know what to expect from them."

Michael Zellman, an 18-year-old fan from Philadelphia, said he won't attend Eagles games anymore.

"If you're not wearing the right jersey, you're guaranteed to get beat up," Zellman said.

Fans are so rowdy that a municipal judge holds court during games to charge offenders on the spot.

"If I want to go to a game, I go to another city. I go to New York or Baltimore," said a 78-year-old fan who insisted on not giving his name. "I don't want my name to go on anything that has to do with this city, the way these people act."

One theory for the fans' behavior is the longtime failure of their teams. The Eagles haven't won an NFL championship since 1960. The 76ers of the NBA had the worst record in league history when they were 9-73 in 1972-73.

The Phillies have lost more games than any team in baseball history. They also blew the pennant in 1964, squandering a 6 1/2-game lead with 12 to play with 10 straight losses in 1964.

The fan reaction to Irvin's injury was widely criticized in the city's newspapers and on talk radio Monday. One caller to WIP sports radio said some fans no longer see athletes as real people.

"Entertainment and sports have come so close together that people are losing their grip on what's entertainment and what's reality," he said.

Philadelphia's list of embarrassing moments is getting lengthy.

On Nov. 10, 1997, a fan shot a flare gun across the field into the stands during a nationally televised Monday night game against the San Francisco 49ers. Fans pelted national TV broadcasters with snowballs during a Cowboys-Eagles game in 1989. Santa Claus was booed and pelted with snowballs during a game between the Eagles and Minnesota in 1968.

This year, fans threw batteries at St. Louis Cardinals outfielder J.D. Drew, expressing their anger that he didn't sign with the Phillies after they drafted him in 1997.

No one is safe. Mike Schmidt, one of the best third basemen in baseball history, was booed for much of his career with the Phillies.

"Ron Jaworski told me one time that he had completed like 14 passes in a row, and on the 15th one he had an incompletion and they booed him," said Randall Cunningham, the Eagles' star quarterback from 1985-95.

Irvin, who stayed overnight in the spinal trauma unit of a Philadelphia hospital with swelling in his spine near the base of his skull, was released Monday and flew home. The Cowboys are optimistic he'll play again this season.

"There's no excuse for what we did," Rendell said.

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