Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “A man walks into a bar …” You’ve heard that one? How about this one: “A man walks into a bar … in Philadelphia on Sunday, September 21, 2008.”
The bar’s walls are covered with a good dozen large flat screen televisions and Eagles and Flyers memorabilia. It’s a Sunday in the fall, so, of course, football is of interest to Philly and non-Philly fans alike. A man (who we’ll call “The Phan”) purposefully arrives early, around three o’clock, to save a table with a good view of a television.
“Which television is the Phillies game going to be on?” The Phan asks.
“The Phillies?” The bartender looks The Phan up and down. “Are you serious?”
The man, dressed in a 1987 game-worn, Glenn Wilson, Columbia blue, batting practice jersey, shrugs at the bartender. “They’re in first place.”
The bartender takes a deep breath. “Okay, fine. Look, I know you’re a local here, so I’ll put the Phillies on television number …” He studies the barroom. “Number 11.”
The Phan shrugs, says thanks and makes his way over towards television 11. It’s the smallest TV in the place, tucked in the corner where the out of town football games are scheduled to play. At least it’s J.Roll’s number, The Phan thinks. He got his photo with Jimmy back in 2005 in Spring Training, when players like Jimmy Rollins would casually hang out with fans after games. Back then, J.Roll still had Jermaine Dupri hair and rocked a gigantic Blackberry cell phone clipped onto the belt holding up his super baggy jeans.
The Phan smiles at the attractive waitress, orders a beer and studies the bar menu. The sports fans begin to make their way in. Some dressed in green; others in black and yellow. After all, today’s a classic, Eagles-Steelers, Keystone State match-up. All the male patrons, dressed in NFL gear, give The Phan a look. A few snicker. One says, “Phillies? C’mon!” They haven’t had enough beer yet to say much more.
The Phan’s girlfriend eventually joins him, wearing a pink camouflage Phillies hat, which he had given her as a spur-of-the-moment gift at one game the prior 2007 season. Hardly any ladies ever sport women’s fitted Phillies jerseys as of September 21, 2008.
Coverage for both games -- Eagles and Phillies -- begins at four o’clock. In Miami, Jamie Moyer takes the mound for the Phillies, who entered the day with a half-game lead on the New York Mets in the National League East with just seven games to play. Donovan McNabb starts at quarterback for the Eagles.
The games begin, and The Phan notices he and his lady have this corner of the bar, by TV #11, all to themselves. Eagles fans are standing doubled-up deep behind the bar to watch Week #3 of the NFL and not the first-place Phillies with just seven games to play. There’s not a single Phillies item up on the walls. He looks at the menu: Eagles specials every Sunday; no mention of the Phillies whatsoever.
The Phan shares a vegetarian appetizer with his girlfriend. Because, as Jules (played by Samuel L. Jackson) explains in Pulp Fiction, if your girlfriend is a vegetarian, that basically means you’re a vegetarian, too, even if you sure love the taste of a good burger.
In the third inning, at Dolphin Stadium, Chase Utley gets the scoring going, homering to deep right center field off of Marlins starter Chris Volstad, scoring Jimmy Rollins and sparking the Phillies to a 2-0 lead.
In Philadelphia, the first quarter of the Eagles game ends, uneventfully, with the Steelers leading 3-0.
Eagles fans pass by the corner table on their way to the bathrooms and outside for a smoke. “Phillies? Are you serious?” The passing laughter and heckles get louder now, more confident with beer.
In the fourth inning, J.Roll hits an RBI single, knocking in Carlos Ruiz. No one -- absolutely no one -- in the bar would know who/what “Chooch” means if The Phan were to yell this out right now.
Eagles running back Brian Westbrook gets injured early in the second quarter. McNabb connects with Westbrook’s replacement, Correll Buckhalter, for a touchdown. The two teams exchange field goals, and the first half ends with the Eagles leading 10-6. McNabb is banged up on the final play of the half at Lincoln Financial Field.
Now, with even more beer, the heckles and laughter from Eagles fans get louder. “Phillies?! C’mon!”
One bar patron dressed in green is not as ruthless. “Yo, man. You’re watching the Phillies? How they doing?”
The Phan gives the Eagles fan an update.
“Cool, man. Awesome. What jersey is that?”
The Phan explains the story behind his jersey.
“Glenn Wilson?” The Eagles fan clearly doesn’t know who Glennbo is yet remains impressed that the jersey is game-worn.
The Phan’s girlfriend orders a vegetarian wrap of some kind (maybe with pears, brie cheese or beets); The Phan orders some wings (extra hot). The beers keep coming.
The Marlins collect a run in the sixth inning off of Moyer and another in the seventh off of reliever Chad Durbin, making it 3-2 Phillies after seven innings.
The third quarter of the NFL game ends uneventfully with the score remaining 10-6 Eagles.
Eagles fans continue to playfully harass The Phan and his girlfriend watching the Phillies. The one nice Eagles fan swings by. “How they doing?” he asks. He’s pleased to hear they’re winning.
Third baseman Greg Dobbs leaves the game in the bottom of the seventh inning with an apparent foot injury. In his only at bat, Dobbs’ replacement, Pedro Feliz, proceeds to hit a two-run home run to deep left field, giving the Phillies some insurance with a 5-2 cushion.
In the fourth quarter, Jimmy Johnson’s Eagles defense is tenacious, picking up a safety, Brian Dawkins helps set up a field goal, and the Birds win the game 15-6.
Eagles fans pay their bar tabs and begin to exit, still razzing the two Phillies fans.
The bartender doesn’t switch all the TV’s to the Phillies game. Instead, they remain on the same channel for NFL post-game analysis.
Five Phillies relievers take care of the final three innings, including Brad Lidge, who needs 29 pitches in the ninth and strands two runners. It’s Lidge’s 40th save in as many chances. The Phillies win 5-2. Moyer, 45 years young, the oldest player in the majors, picks up the win, having pitched six innings in 90-degree sunshine.
Coupled with the Braves victory over the Mets, the Phillies extend their lead in the NL East to 1.5 games with just six games to play. The remaining bar patrons watch NFL analysis. No one watched the Phillies game besides this couple, not a single fan in this crowded bar.
The Phan pays his tab and leaves with his girlfriend. A 1987 Columbia blue, Phillies jersey and a 2007 pink camouflage Phillies hat walk through Center City Philadelphia; everyone else dressed in green, black or yellow.
About 40 days later Philadelphia changes almost instantaneously. Two million fans dressed in red -- not green -- lined up and down Broad Street for miles, a majestic sea of red, celebrating the first major championship in the city in 25 years.
Philadelphians wait in lines in the middle of the night to buy instantly-sold out Phillies playoff merchandise at Modell’s. The team begins selling retro, Columbia blue Phillies jerseys to the masses. No one asks The Phan about his jersey anymore, especially because last names weren’t on the backs of authentic batting jerseys in 1987. So his just says “PHILLIES” above Glennbo’s #12.
The bar where The Phan watched Moyer-versus-the-Marlins starts offering Phillies drink specials for all 162 Phillies games in 2009, their walls now covered in all red Phillies memorabilia; the Eagles and Flyers stuff have mostly been removed and replaced. “You have Phillies specials now? I was here during the Eagles-Steelers game last year, and you almost killed me for asking you to put on the Phils game that day.”
The bartender laughs. “Hey, man, I’m not going to deny that. We’re a business. Supply and demand.”
So, now four years later, we can sit back and examine the bell curve in fanhood. Everyone jumped on board, and now the majority seemingly have jumped off. It’s the fall of 2012, yet Phillies merchandise is oddly on sale in a corner in Modell’s, while everyone stocks up on green gear. Meanwhile, the Phillies team -- now finally healthy -- is playing much better of late. And yet it’s questionable, at best, if anyone really cares anymore, as indicated by the Phillies’ home game sellout streak coming to a halt earlier this season.
In November of 2010, The Phan walks into another crowded bar in Philadelphia. He wears a navy blue, Mitchell & Ness, Sixers flat brim hat. He eventually finds a barstool and sits down. A large tall man, The Behemoth, walks up behind The Phan, orders a beer and notices the hat. “Is that a Sixers hat? It takes a lot of guts to wear that in this town.”
The Phan sips his beer, knowing full well that The Behemoth can crush him. “You’re probably one of the same guys who made fun of me for wearing a Phillies hat before they won the World Series in ‘08.” The Behemoth studies The Phan up and down and walks away without a word.
So now, when September 21st rolls around and on Sundays during football season every year, The Phan walks into a bar in Philadelphia. He asks which TV will have the Phillies game on. He waits to see the bartender’s reaction. He orders a beer. He watches the game. He thinks about what it was like before the Phillies won the World Series in 2008.
A man walks into a bar … in Philadelphia on Sunday, September 21, 2008. Stop me if you heard this joke before: Do you remember where you were on September 21, 2008 with seven games remaining in the regular season? No. Seriously. Do you? Because I remember where I was.
Lee Porter is the man/phan who compiled the first ever beer spreadsheet of Citizens Bank Park. He is the writer/producer of the original, comedy Web series MY RUINED LIFE, which was recently nominated for Best Web Series by FirstGlance Film Festival. Lee always cheers on the Phillies, even when it conflicts with football, and raises a glass every September 21st, remembering what it was like … before/bephore.