All About Philly’s Love Affair With Sports

With franchises in every major league, it’s easy to get in on all the pro team action.

When it was founded in 1883, Philadelphia’s pro baseball team was known as the Quakers, but it soon morphed to the Philadelphians (circa 1884) and then to the Phillies. Today, the city’s sluggers are the oldest, continuous, one-name, one-city franchise in U.S. pro sports. And they’re emblematic of a city that’s as proud of its athletes as its homegrown cheesesteaks and American history.

“Philly isn’t a good sports town, it’s a great sports town,” says longtime resident Sharon Humble. “We have such a variety of professional teams. Plus fans have so much heart and enthusiasm. They really make their voices heard to inspire their teams.”

Whatever the season, the City of Brotherly Love loves to play. Here are some ways to see games and explore sports around town.

Games

To cheer on the Phillies, head to Citizens Bank Park, the circa-2004 stadium in the South Philadelphia Sports Complex (also home to Eagles’ home base Lincoln Financial Field) and the Wells Fargo Center NBA and NHL arena. The baseballers take on teams in the LEED-certified stadium. You can also tour the ballpark. Highlights include the dugout and the plush club levels. Root for the Philadelphia Union Major League Soccer team at Talen Energy Stadium in nearby Chester, along the Delaware Riverfront.

Philadelphia Union’s Michee Ngalina

Looking the Part

Fan shops stocking gear abound around the South Philadelphia Sports Complex. But Shibe Vintage Sports offers 1950s-style Phillies caps and T-shirts saluting the nearby minor league team the Reading Pretzels. And local artisan boutique Philadelphia Independents specializes in made-nearby pint glasses and shirts starring its goofy sports mascots the Phanatic (a fuzzy green bird that reps the Phillies) and Gritty (the furry orange ambassador for the Philadelphia Flyers NHL team).

Shibe Vintage Sports

Fan Clubbing

“You have not tailgated until you’ve done it at the South Philly sports complex,” says local tour guide and Rocky Balboa impersonator Mike Kunda. “The food alone is amazing.” Before games, you’ll find much of the chowing and chugging going on at the Xfinity Live! complex, where hotspots include 1100 Social for cocktails, Latin-inspired food and outdoor fire pits. Humble recommends Chickie’s & Pete’s Sports Bar. “Their atmosphere is upbeat and energetic and their crab fries [French fries avored with Old Bay and served with cheese sauce] are out of this world,” she says. Plus, there’s PBR Philly where beer and sports enthusiasts gather in country-western surrounds with a mechanical bull.

A Power Punch

Philly boasts its share of famous, real-life athletes, including basketball legends Allan Iverson and Wilt Chamberlin, the latter honored by an 18-foot-tall statue outside the Wells Fargo Center. But the city’s best-known sports figure is arguably fictional, one Rocky Balboa. The underdog boxing great played by Sylvester Stallone in eight movies—starting with “Rocky” in 1976 and continuing through “Creed II” in 2018—left-hooked his way out of poverty and into American legend. Rocky hails from North Philly, and scenes from the original movie and its multiple sequels were filmed locally, famously including Stallone training on the 72 steps at the front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and running through the streets of the Italian Market.

Rocky Statue

“Rocky is the very best in us, if
we just allow ourselves to try. He’s Cinderfella,” says Kunda, whose private Yo, Philly: Rocky Film Tours drive fans to sites like Rocky’s love interest Adrian’s gravesite. The trips, highlighted by Kunda’s spot-on Rocky riffs, end near the iconic museum steps, where
an outsized statue of the “Italian Stallion” stands. “My clients bound up the stairs, then punch the sky like their hero,” says Kunda. “I’ve had grown men and women break down in tears standing where he did.”

Jennifer Barger
About the author

 

Jennifer Barger is a Washington, D.C.-based travel and design writer who spe...