If you happen to find yourselves anywhere near a house of worship this weekend or if you have a quiet sanctuary of your own that's handy, please take a few moments to send up a prayer for Norv Turner, the Redskins and Washington-area fans who venture forth tomorrow to the home of the Eagles. They will be in Philadelphia -- or as the Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., puts it, the "city of brotherly thugs."
My concern is not the on-field activities scheduled to take place in Veterans Stadium. Besides, reporting on the artificial-turf battle is within the domain of Sports editor George Solomon and his writers. The actions to be most feared are the sickening and disgusting stuff that occurs in the stands. Philadelphia's professional sports fans are the worst on earth.
Even with that well-earned reputation, about which more will be said later, they managed to sink to a new low five Sundays ago when the Dallas Cowboys played the Eagles. If the National Football League had a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct by fans, the Philly crowd would have been ejected from the stadium.
Picture this: As Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irving lay motionless on his back on the 39 yard line -- as horrified players from both teams prayed for his recovery, as the stretcher was driven on the field to remove a player with a restraint on his neck and the possibility of a wheelchair for life in his future -- Philadelphia fans cheered.
That's right. They applauded, but not out of respect. They erupted with glee when he first went down; they got even louder when they realized that a possibly paralyzed Irving had been put out of the game. An embarrassed Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell said, "This, in terms of bad taste, was as bad as it gets." The mayor wasn't speaking for everybody, however. Said one unrepentant fan and caller to a Philadelphia all-sports radio station the next morning, "My only regret is that the stretcher Irving was on wasn't a coffin."
Philly sports fan meanness didn't start with Irving's near-disaster. They have a long-term intimacy with despicable behavior. Here, courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer, are some celebrated moments in Philly sports fan history:
" Sunday, Dec. 10, 1989: Fans, players and officials were pelted with ice and snowballs during an Eagles-Cowboys game.
Sunday, Nov. 23, 1997: Municipal Court Judge Seamus McCaffery presided over the inaugural `Eagles Court,' [set up inside Veterans Stadium], sentencing 18 arrested fans to fines that ranged from $158.50 to $300 for disorderly conduct.
Monday, Nov. 10, 1997: During a nationally televised Monday night matchup with San Francisco, a fan sent a flare soaring across Veterans Stadium, and a large number of fights and acts of intimidation -- many directed at fans in 49ers jerseys -- were reported.
Tuesday, April 7, 1998: The Phillies' home opener was halted in the bottom of the fifth inning to allow the Veterans Stadium grounds crew to clean up rubberized refrigerator magnets that fans received as welcoming gifts, then hurled onto the field.
Saturday, April 17, 1999: The Eagles selected Donovan McNabb with the second pick in the draft. A contingent of Eagles fans, organized by the local sports talk-radio station to rally for their candidate, University of Texas running back Ricky Williams, booed and jeered the selection.
Tuesday, Aug. 10, 1999: A pair of D-cell batteries were heaved from the Vet's upper deck toward St. Louis Cardinals centerfielder J. D. Drew, a former Phillies first-round draft pick who refused to sign with the team."
So pray for Daniel Synder's charges. And while you're at it, say a few words in behalf of those brave Washington fans who plan to show up in Veterans Stadium donning burgundy and gold. Fist and beer attacks on fans wearing an opposing team's colors have been known to happen in the city of brotherly louts. Remember a few years ago when they went after the Redskins mascot in a bathroom?
A friend in Philadelphia called to offer me two seats and a VIP parking ticket for tomorrow's game. I told him that my wife, Gwen, and I would come, only if I could bring along the 82nd Airborne Division.
Go to Philly if you must. But as we used to say in my old neighborhood, "Fair warning is fair play."
They're beasts up there. Bear in mind that this is the same bunch of fans who, during the time of the year when the holiday spirit descends on the land and peace on earth is proclaimed everywhere, actually sat there and booed Santa Claus.
Yeah, they did!