There’s an old joke that used to float around eastern Pennsylvania when I was a kid, and I know it by heart. Along with knowing who Jim O’Brien and Jerry Penacoli were, this joke is a test of your local cred if you grew up between 1980 and 2008, the two times the Phillies won the Series.
Anyhow, it goes like this:
Q: What’s the difference between trash and a New Jersey girl?
A: Trash get’s picked up.
Now, sure, that joke is not fair. That is unless by “trash” you're talking about the Kevin Smith film, “Jersey Girl”.
It is our version of regional humor, and gets at the fact that we like to poke fun at our neighbors, like any Americans do. But it’s not necessarily a Philly joke, I don’t think, because when I first heard it I was at summer camp up in the Poconos, and I learned this gem from camper kids out of Staten Island, New York.
Most people I know in Philly actually like New Jersey for many things: its shores, its comfortable combination of suburbia and proximity to the cities, and its good Italian food. The reasons are not too different from why Chicagoans trek to Packer-fan-infested Wisconsin. There's a lot to love during ordinary time.
Yet, with sports in flux, it is not --to borrow a calendar term from my Catholic upbringing-- ordinary time.
We can share jokes about New Jersey but besides that, Philadelphians have little in common with New Yorkers. Especially this time of year, when the NHL Playoffs make us as cordial as drunk Cubs and Sox fans after the Crosstown Classic.
In Big Fan, Oswalt plays a Philly-hating Giants fan who is obsessed with New York Giants football. So much so that it hurts.
When it comes to sports and sports fan rivalries, that’s a-whole-nother set of trash. In fact, New Jersey, the land that sits by default between New York and Philadelphia is a wasteland of sports trash talk that never gets picked up. We both poke fun at New Jersey and leave NJers nasty notes, but that doesn't make us friends.
Tied at three games a piece, tonight the New York Rangers are up against Ottawa, a team that shouldn't even be making it a contest. The Rangers, probably the best and most consistent team in the regular season, are the #1 seed in the East. And you can bet your ass that Flyers fans will be cheering for Ottawa --not just because we don't like them-- but because seeing New York eliminated will improve the Flyers' chances of getting to the Stanley Cup Final.
Even better, the Penguins are gone and everyone is happy about that, while the defending champ Boston Bruins were eliminated last night by the Capitals.
Unfortunately, however, the Blackhawks phoned it in against Phoenix and so there will be no 2010 rematch between the Hawks and the Flyers. Fans in Philly would have loved the rematch, plus the chance to build another rivalry.
Yet it isn't just hockey that gets cities riled up.
In the excellent film Big Fan, starring Patton Oswalt, you get a sense of how bad New Yorkers dislike Philadelphia during sports seasons, and specifically how some hate Eagles fans even more. I always think that the rivalry between team’s fans makes the competition ever sweeter.
New Yorkers, however, are snappy dressers.
What I am getting at is that fans naturally do what they do best. Cheer their team and talk trash about the neighbors. What sport is on the TV or at the stadium doesn't matter. Chicagoans are no different in their fervor for the home team. They may be more polite (just slightly so) but the energy is still there. And that is a healthy thing.
So if the Rangers and the Devils both choke tonight then, unfortunately, it's back to civil discourse on the East Coast for a while. We'll try to win it for us, and maybe for the East. Until then, Rangers fans, we’re respectfully yours.
But wait. There’s always baseball season, isn’t there?
Andy Frye writes about sports and life and tweets throughout the day on Twitter at @MySportsComplex. Where he comes from “a-whole-nother” is actually a word.
Photo credit: First Independent Pictures