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Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia
Austin Murphy
August 25, 2003
Which is a better sports town? Two SI writers from those cities square off
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August 25, 2003

Pittsburgh Vs. Philadelphia

Which is a better sports town? Two SI writers from those cities square off

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A Brief Geographical refresher: Pennsylvania's greatest sports city sits between the Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers, whose confluence forms the Ohio, sort of the way the confluence of Terry Bradshaw's pass and Jack Tatum's shoulder begat the Immaculate Reception—the transcendent Pittsburgh sports moment.

What would that moment be for Philadelphia? I'll go with Tug McGraw's celebration after the Phillies won the 1980 World Series, partly because it marked the club's sole tide in 120 years, and partly because of the telling backdrop: The field was ringed with mounted police and dogs. This is the primary difference between Pittsburgh and Philly—in the Steel City the athletes don't have as much reason to be afraid of their public.

Pittsburgh is 300 miles of Pennsylvania Turnpike removed from that Philly-New York-Boston corridor of toxicity. In addition to the memory of Pops Stargell, Pittsburgh's franchises have a charming, mom-and-pop appeal. The Steelers were propelled to greatness by Art Rooney, arguably the most beloved owner in NFL history. The Eagles were propelled toward mediocrity in the 1980s by owner Leonard Tose, whose gambling losses ($40 million-plus) make William Bennett look like a piker. The Pirates had Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, who died while flying relief supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims; the Phillies had Hall of Famer Steve Carlton, known as much for his misanthropy as for his left arm.

In addition to being the cradle of great quarterbacks—Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Joe Montana and Dan Marino, to name four—Pittsburgh kicks Philly's backside when it comes to championships. The Steelers have won four Super Bowls, the Eagles zilch. The Pirates have won five World Series, the Phillies one.

It all comes down to personal taste. Having lived in both cities, I come down opposite W.C. Fields. On the whole, I'd rather be in Pittsburgh.

In Philadelphia, where I live, the only time you hear car horns honking is after an Eagles victory over the Cowboys or Giants or Steelers, who play, as every Philadelphia schoolchild knows, somewhere in the Midwest. Maybe Pittsburgh is not as far west or as white-bread as Green Bay, but it's out there. � Pittsburgh sports fans claim We Are Family, the Sister Sledge disco anthem of the 1970s and theme song of Willie Stargell's Pirates at the old Three Rivers Stadium, as their own. Please, take your song and your sisters, go to one of your many rivers and have a good time. We in Philly will keep playing God Bless America, sung for years by Kate Smith before the Flyers went out and distributed pieces of the Rangers or Bruins or Penguins along the glass. The fat lady sang for us.

(By the way, not that we brag about it, but Sister Sledge is from Philadelphia.)

I know it's a tradition in Pittsburgh to go to Primanti Brothers for a sandwich before sporting events. They put French fries between the slices of bread. Clever! How has that tradition not caught on in other places? Pregame in Philadelphia, we get a juicy cheese steak at Pat's or Jim's or Geno's. But if you find yourself in Paris or Rome or London, you can find a Philadelphia cheese steak there, too. Enjoy!

When free agents tour my city, they are sometimes shown the steps of our art museum, where Rocky trained for his fight against Apollo Creed. Maybe Apollo was from Pittsburgh, I don't know, but Rocky Balboa was definitely a Philadelphian. Also, Wilt Chamberlain grew up in Philadelphia, Connie Mack managed in Philadelphia, Donovan McNabb plays in Philadelphia. My so-called friends in Pittsburgh like to remind me that Philadelphia fans booed Santa Claus. Hey, I've got news for you guys: Santa Claus is make-believe! As is your city's claim to sports supremacy.