It’s one of the ugly sides of Philly fandom. And now it’s landed in court.
As a former longtime Eagles season ticket holder, I often have people ask me if I think it’s OK to wear the opposing team’s apparel to a game. First, a confession. I have never been inside Lincoln Financial Field. But I saw some things in the 700 level of the Vet that still make me shiver.
My answer is always short and simple. Don’t even think about it.
I think Neal Auricchio might agree with me.
He’s the hockey fan who was beaten unconscious outside Geno’s Steaks in South Philly after last year’s Winter Classic. And what did he do to deserve such treatment?
He had the temerity to wear a Rangers jersey. The Flyers had just lost to the New Yorkers on the outdoor rink set up at Citizens Bank Park After the game Auricchio and a friend stopped for a sandwich at the legendary South Philly steak joint.
That’s where he encountered a drunken Dennis Veteri. The Glassboro, N.J., man apparently didn’t care for Veteri wearing a Rangers jersey. You can pretty much guess what happened next. And you’d be correct if you believe alcohol had something to do with it.
Auricchio was beaten and kicked. A videotape of the incident went viral. Now Auricchio is suing Veteri, as well as the South Philly Bar and Grill, where the suit alleges Veteri rang up a $226 tab just before his run-in with Auricchio.
I always defend Philly fans. I believe we are the best fans in sports.
But I will tell you there is an element to fans here that is downright scary. Forget wearing the other team’s colors. I’ve had near encounters just trying to get out of the parking lot. Dare slide your car in front of a group of guys headed for their cars and see what happens. I’ve always said just getting out of the parking lot is one of the more dangerous parts of going to a game in Philly.
Maybe things have changed at the Linc. I certainly hope so. All I know is that anyone wearing the other team’s colors up in the 700 level of the Vet was taking their life in their hands. I saw more fights than I can count. I saw one opposing fan whose celebration after his team scored was deemed a bit much felled by a full can of beer that hit him right in the forehead after being flinged from some point up above.
Occasionally as we were tailgating out in the parking lot, I would see an older gentleman and his wife walking into the game. They were always smartly dressed. One day I approached them with a simple question: “Where do you sit?”
I wouldn’t for one second consider taking my wife up to the 700 Level back in those days.
Is beer a part of this? Absolutely.
But I really think there’s more to it, especially here in Philly.
Fan is actually drawn from fanatic. There’s a fine line there when being a ‘fan’ crosses the line into something a bit more sinister.
Alcohol has a way of blurring that line.
Just ask Neal Auricchio.