Philadelphia, city of windswept champs, cuts loose

Posted: October 30, 2008

THEY WAITED 25 long years, and then they waited three more soggy, windswept, frigid nights for a sports-crazed city to finally end a losing streak that had been the stuff of legend.

And when lights-out reliever Brad Lidge registered the last out at 9:58, Philadelphia erupted with the full fury of repressed joy as fireworks exploded over South Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Phillies are world champions.

And the Curse of Billy Penn - if there ever was a curse of Billy Penn - is dead and buried, a spike driven through its heart 26 hours and 2 minutes before Halloween.

Catcher Carlos Ruiz had barely leaped into Lidge's arms when thousands of people poured into the unseasonably cold and raw streets of the city - flooding Broad Street in Center City and intersections throughout the city with a sea of throbbing humanity, people hugging total strangers, flooding Modell's outlets for Phillies regalia, jumping up and down, and howling into the long night.

Thousands of jubilant fans crowded Broad Street near Spruce moments after their team clinched the World Series. They chanted "Let's Go, Phillies" and screamed their heads off, drunk with pure joy.

As the wild night wore on, however, fans grew rowdy and violent as fires were set in the middle of Broad Street near City Hall and in trash bins, and newspaper boxes were lit ablaze; some cars - even police cars - were flipped over or vandalized around the city, and a Center City luggage store was looted.

Police presence initially was heaviest outside Citizens Bank Park, which was lined with a solid wall of bike police as thousands of fans milled around, while mounted police took up a position near the McFadden's sports bar.

Around 10:40, seven or eight of the celebrating fans rocked and knocked over a light pole near the stadium on Pattison Avenue, causing cops to cordon off the area. Aboout 20 police cars arrived an hour later to disperse the crowd.

About 11 p.m., paramedics treated a woman for intoxication just outside the entrance to Lincoln Financial Field. At the time, it was the only emergency incident around the stadium. One cop shrugged, "It's nothing the stomach pump wouldn't take care of."

At roughly the same time, just southeast of the ballpark on Darien Street, a rowdy crowd flipped over a Ford Explorer SUV that had a Tampa Bay Rays bumper sticker. A couch was set afire next to the SUV. Another man jumped on top of a police car, and there was glass all over the parking lot.

On Broad Street, looters broke four windows and the plush double doors at Robinson's luggage store, and a case with wallets and counters were smashed. Police found men inside, and beer cans and luggage strewn about. Nearby, two SEPTA bus shelters were also destroyed.

At Broad and Callowhill streets near the Inquirer and Daily News Building, a Daily News editor's car was flipped over by a mob. When a police officer showed up to take a report, his cop car was flipped over and vandalized as well.

Around 12:30 this morning, two yellow school buses filled with police officers arrived at Broad Street near City Hall and began dispersing some revellers with nightsticks, and several were arrested. A similar scene was taking place near Broad and Shunk, where bottles rained down on cops trying to extinguish a small fire.

At 1 a.m., the greatest unrest appeared to be along Sansom near Broad, where more trash bins were set ablaze while windows were smashed at a Commerce Bank branch. A block away, the crowd was trying to tip over a police bus, and several people were struck by nightstick-wielding officers. There was an unconfirmed report of injured officers at Broad and Spruce.

But there were no reports of serious injury or significant numbers of arrests. The vast majority of fans were out to party, not to cause trouble.

Women perched upon the shoulders of young men hooted into the chilly air, while the crowd below swarmed with vendors selling World Series T-shirts. Fireworks buzzed and crackled from every corner of the city, as some fans scaled the lampposts on Broad Street.

Nearby in Center City, a fire truck from Ladder No. 5 was taken over by hundreds of people at Broad and Sansom streets, as people were climbing on the statues, flowerpots and windowsills at the Union League.

A blonde on a man's shoulders obeyed the chant of the crowd and lifted her Phillies uniform and displayed a leopard-skin bra, then a brunette did the same. The two women then climbed onto a lamp post at Broad and Sansom and began kissing each other to roars of approval.

Fans will get a chance to do this all over again tomorrow with a massive parade that begins at noon at 20th and Market streets.

"Phillies fans have been waiting 28 years for this day," said Mayor Nutter. "We deserve this win. I can't wait to share this day with Phillies fans from across the city, state, and even [the] country."

The crowds partied like it could be another 25 years before it happens again. The city's last sports title was in 1983, when the Sixers beat the Lakers. The Phils' previous championship was 1980.

"I never thought I would get to see this," said Michael Stracciocini, 28, of South Philly. It might be another 100 years before we see something like this again."

In Mayfair it was a spectacular stream of speeding cars with half-naked and screaming people hanging out of windows. Celebrating fans spilled out of their homes, flooding the streets, as they ran alongside cars, high-fiving and screaming. Beer cans decorated the streets and sidewalks as small fireworks crackled, adding more sound to the madness. At nearby Franford and Cottman avenues, TV helicopters showed crowds that resembled Times Square at New Year's.

Feverish Phillies fans packed into Stokes Sports Bar on 16th Street and Oregon Avenue in South Philly, where one of the biggest headaches for cops was "knuckleheads" climbing lamp poles.

Bar owner Anthony Stokes, a lifelong friend of John Marzano, a South Philly native and former Major League player who died this year, yelled out, "This one is for Marzano!" when the Phillies won. "I wish John could be here to see this. The last time he was in here, he told me the Phillies would win the World Series."

Inside the bar, Dave Conroy, 40, a member of the Pennsport String Band, banged cymbols together. "This is utterly amazing. It's a wonderful, wonderful thing to be a part of."

Amid the craziness in the streets, it was also a night for fathers and sons, and for grandfathers and grandsons. "We finally won it all," said Bob Markley, 77, of Cherry Hill, a retiree from the advertising department of the Inquirer who stood with his grandson Matthew, 13.

"They deserve it. They played hard, and it's been a long time coming," said Markley, who grew up in West Philadelphia.

"Joe Carter ruined my childhood," said Derek Call, 22, of Downingtown, referring to Carter's homer that won the 1993 World Series for Toronto over the Phils. "Tonight Brad Lidge saved it."

Herb Weinstein, 68, a financial consultant from Rydal who was wearing a 1980 World Championship jacket, said: "In 1980 I was there with my fathe - may he rest in peace - and my son. And now I'm here with my two grandsons. I am so happy, I couldn't have scripted it better."

During the thrilling one-hour and 20-minute finale - with bitter, sub-freezing weather that you might expect for an Eagles' playoff game, not the Phillies - it was like a sunny day for fans who'd waited so long for a championship.

"Snow flurries couldn't chase us away tonight; six inches of snow couldn't chase us away," said Lt. Patrick Armstrong, one of four Margate firefighters back at the windy top of the centerfield bleachers.

A stone's throw away from the ballpark, an impromptu party broke out inside the Wachovia Center - where the Sixers had just lost their season opener to the Toronto Raptors - among fans watching the Series finale on 20 TV screens inside the arena's AT&T Pavilion. Fans stood 20 and 30 rows deep, drinking half-priced draft beers and whooping, high-fiving and even hugging with every Phillies' hit.

After the last out, fans from the basketball arena merged with the throng from the ballgame, as numerous people were shaking-up champagne bottles and spraying. One guy was bare-chested wearing shorts and boots, drinking a bottle of sparkling wine.

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