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Winter Classic Violence: Philly Sports Fans, Let's not mistake Toughness for Thuggery

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Not in out house!

We have heard these four words spoken by players and fans countless times, in Philadelphia and elsewhere. Around here, it mostly implies that any visiting team is going to have a devil of a time trying to win a game against our team—with our rabid, loyal fans serving as the proverbial extra man.

In Philly, perhaps there is just that little extra measure of toughness thrown in. We pride ourselves on being tough, even if that word has all kinds of confusing meanings and connotations.

To the great majority of Philly Nation, being tough (in a sports sense) means that we demand not only good performance but also maximum all-out effort from our players. We demand accountability, professionalism and gravitate towards those players who seem to share our passion. If that makes us quicker to boo or otherwise vent—even against our own players, coaches and owners—so be it.

Unfortunately, to that small percentage of losers, morons and cretins who also populate Philly Nation, being tough means to instigate fights with fans of opposing teams who dare to wear the other team’s jerseys and root against us in our house. Photo: bustedcoverage.com

Or, evidently, on our streets.

Which brings us to the National Hockey League’s Winter Classic, which Philly had the opportunity to host this past Monday. The Flyers faced off versus the New York Rangers at Citizen’s Bank Park. The NHL has not gotten everything right, but the New Year’s Weekend games played outside—before a big crowd, and usually on top of a baseball field—has been a boon for the league.

By all accounts, Philly did a great job hosting the festivities, which also included an alumni game between retired members of the Flyers and the Rangers two days prior. The biggest story of the hockey weekend was the return of the prodigal son, former franchise superstar Eric Lindros, to Philadelphia and his symbolic truce with all-time Flyers legend (and his former, adversary as general manager), Bob Clarke.

The Flyers alumni won their exhibition game 3-1, and the Rangers scored a 3-2, comeback win  in Monday’s real game. Still, all was quite right with the hockey world and with the Philly sports scene…until a stomach-turning, horrific event unfolded a couple hours later, a couple miles away.

As I write, it’s six full days later; I’m not exactly breaking any news here. There is a good chance that you have read about, heard or seen video of the altercation that took place outside Geno’s Steaks. The word altercation may be way too civil. What follows, if you can stomach it, is a full-out assault by at least three men (I only use that term only for chronological accuracy) wearing the Flyers’ orange and what looks like a fourth in a black top against two men wearing Rangers’ jerseys.

Warning:  This video is graphic and disturbing:

 

Per reports from multiple sources, what happened prior to the assault was this: One of the orange-clad morons thought it would be a great idea to pay a homeless, “squeegee” guy to spray at least one of those two Rangers fans with his bottle. You can see what happens next.

This is not a fight, but a full-out aggravated (criminal) assault started, essentially, by the man wearing the Flyers No. 28 (extreme apologies to the ultra-talented, classy Claude Giroux) who cold cocks the gentleman wearing the Rangers’ No. 24. From there, we see the scumbags landing numerous shots to the man when he is already down on the street, and three men getting in their shots against his friend. Of course, the man was badly injured, and could have been left for dead.

While we do not know everything that may have precipitated this assault, what more do we really need to know? Unfortunately, we have seen other senseless, brainless idiots like these four assailants at local sporting events or at bars surrounding them. Clearly, these subhuman pieces of crap exist at almost every stadium in the nation, but this incident is yet another black eye to Philadelphia and its fans.

This assault of criminals wearing team regalia precipitating a fight and then ganging up on another fan outside an iconic Philadelphia restaurant is a cold, hard slap in the face to every true Philadelphia sports fan. Anybody who watches something like this without trying to intervene or at least call 9-1-1 for help, and anybody that excuses this as just a fight between two groups of fans should be deeply ashamed of themselves.

Of course, this senseless, cowardly, heinous assault is the antithesis of the passion and toughness for which generations of Philly fans should be proud.

Being tough (in a sports sense) is about packing stadiums for sometimes miserable teams in often inclement weather and not leaving until after the clock hits 0:00 or the last pitch is thrown.

Being tough is about recognizing the same qualities in the Philadelphia athletes, whether they are underdogs (Vince Papale), good players (Rod Brind’Amour) or superstars (Brian Dawkins) who give the kind of passionate, all-out effort that we hope define us.

Being tough is about making “life” miserable for opposing quarterbacks, pitchers and foul shooters with the game on the line. It has nothing to do with harassing fans who have the audacity to show up in our stadiums or our streets, wearing another team’s colors.

As a lifelong Philadelphia sports fans, I know what it is like to sweat or freeze my tail off watching and rooting for our teams. I know about the type of passion—sometimes over the top and way out of proportion—that causes whole weeks to be affected by what the Eagles do on a given Sunday. I also get that the very sight of a Cowboys, Rangers, Mets or Celtics jersey—among others—is somewhat revolting.

It is great to be surrounded by other passionate fans wearing our colors and rooting their lungs out beside us at games. It is a little unnerving to watch a big game next to a Cowboys fan. But, someone please explain to me how our collective sense of pride and self-esteem is so insecure that we are threatened by rival fans in our stadiums and bars, and (apparently) our streets.Photo: undergroundsportsnetwork.net

Philly, when did it become a badge of pride to harass (and I’m not talking about good-natured, borderline trash talking) opposing fans, regardless of their size, numbers, age or even gender?

Just when did we adopt this “not in our house” bullcrap that I hear espoused—not only by the lowlife punks that perpetrated that assault—but by radio talk show hosts that populate our airwaves.

I, more than occasionally, hear and read things like “Well, they should have known better than to wear a Rangers/Cowboys/Giants/Mets jersey at our stadium.” Are you freakin’ kidding me? Yes, I would also advise someone not to wear a hated opponent’s jersey around here, but it is one thing to give advice and quite another to imply that what befell those two men was in any way precipitated by them. We need to rid ourselves of this mentality. That’s not toughness; it’s clueless, insecure, brainless posturing.

And yes, this kind of fan behavior goes on in many stadiums across the country, but it hits closest to home for me and many others when it happens in Philly.

The black eye that Philly received after the Winter Classic incident went viral hurt even more when we learned about the identity of the Rangers fan who took the brunt of the punishment and was hospitalized with severe injuries. His name is Neal Auricchio Jr., a police officer from Woodbridge, New Jersey.

Do you want to talk about tough? Officer Auricchio, 30, fought two tours of duty in Iraq, returning to war even after a sniper in Fallujah blew apart one of his calf muscles. His second tour of duty started the day after he graduated from the Woodbridge Police Academy. Among other things, he has won the Purple Heart for his heroism, served his community honorably as a police officer and even served as a volunteer fireman. Oh yeah, he is also a new dad.

And then, we have the four punks who only saw the Rangers jerseys, which triggered whatever kind of sick, perverted, cowardly and vile reaction in what masquerades as their brain. I am all for second chances, and perhaps what is captured on the video is not the totality of what these miscreants are all about. They deserve second chances, and their second chances should come after they are (hopefully) apprehended, prosecuted, tried and imprisoned for a good, long stretch.

 

Philly, let us remember the true meaning of being tough, as I tried to define above—something to be proud of—which is not to be confused with thuggery, assault, hooliganism and all the other crap that soils our reputation.

 

I can only hope that if any of us see an alleged Philly fan, or group of fans, taunting, or threatening another—and we’ve all seen this countless times—let us remember that sickening incident outside of Geno’s last Monday.

 

Rise to the occasion and tell these morons—in no uncertain times:

 

Not in our house!

 

Matt Goldberg is a lifelong and passionate Philly sports fan, author and sportswriter who often writes about the lighter side of sports and life. A frequent columnist for Philly2Philly.com, his website can be found here.

 

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