The Burgh vs. Brotherly Love
As a town in the center of Pennsylvania, State College is the front where the verbal and bragging-rights battle between the state’s two biggest cities, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, is most heated. Hostilities reach their zenith during hockey season when the Penguins and Flyers play, especially if they meet in the playoffs. Still, the never-ending competition between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia has transformed from a simple sports contest to a no-holds-barred sibling rivalry between the two Keystone State cities.
From colleges to food and everything in between, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia fans each believe their city will always come out on top.
Sean Dalton, a Penn State alum, is one such fan. Growing up in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, located just 20 minutes from Philadelphia, Dalton always loved The City of Brotherly Love. “I think due to geographical location it is a matter of what I have to think. Cultural norm if you will,” he says.
This closeness to the city made Dalton a Philly sports fan at a young age. “My first hat I ever owned was a Phillies hat,” he says. “I think the Phillies are my favorite team because I am a fighter in the sense of never giving up on anything, so I identify with them.”
Like a true Philadelphia fan, Dalton also roots for the Flyers, 76ers, Eagles, and the Union. He tries to watch at least a portion of every game featuring a Philly team.
Though he thinks the rivalry between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh runs deep, he doesn’t have a hatred for Pittsburgh. But, of course, some friendly banter always takes place during the sports seasons.
“Playoff time is always interesting. I do welcome the rivalry, though,” he says. “I would say don’t wear a jersey if you will be in an area that is highly populated with the rival’s team, unless you can take harassment well. But again, it’s all welcome. It keeps things interesting.”
Penn State senior Corbin Rogers of Pittsburgh takes a different approach — the competition between the two cities causes him to passionately dislike anything that is Philadelphia related. From a young age, Rogers bled black and gold.
“When I was around two or three, my dad babysat me by planting me in front of the TV when the Penguins were making their multiple Cup runs in the early ’90s. From what I’ve been told, I would immediately stop crying and go into a sort of trance looking at the players play,” he says. Rogers’s love for the Burgh and its sports teams only deepened as he grew. Since 1994, he has attended more than 200 Pirates games, five Steelers games, and 24 Penguins games. As a fan who has watched the rivalry intensify for more than 20 years, he thinks the two cities tend to hate each other.
“The interstate rivalry has been ramped up over the past few years because our sports teams have been winning championships. When we do play each other, the atmosphere is stifling, with dirty glares for all,” he says. “It can get heated. I’ve seen fights and beer thrown.”
Greg DuBois, owner and operator of Damon’s Grill & Sports Bar in State College, says that though the rivalry in Happy Valley may run deep, he has never had to deal with anything more than the typical sports trash talk. He attributes this to the fact that both teams are well represented at the sports bar. What also may help is that DuBois likes Philadelphia, but his wife, Kerry, Damon’s banquet manager, roots for Pittsburgh, causing both cities’ teams to have comparable TV time.
This draws fans of both cities to Damon’s, especially during hockey season. And because his sports bar isn’t oriented exclusively to Philadelphia fans, Dubois hears many arguments in which Pittsburgh fans use the history of their teams to back up their claims of superiority.
“I just think that Pittsburgh fans needs to stop using things that happened well before they were born,” he says with a laugh.
But for fans like Rogers, the winning legacy of Pittsburgh coupled with the recent championships helps to explain why his city is better. With three Stanley Cups, six Lombardi Trophies, and five World Series titles for Pittsburgh compared to two Stanley Cups, no Lombardi Trophies, and two World Series titles for Philadelphia, Rogers feels the numbers speak for themselves. For him, this legacy left by powerhouse Pittsburgh teams is the best part of the interstate rivalry.
“I mean, look at the numbers. Quite the difference if I say myself,” he says.
But even with his dislike for Philadelphia sports, he hasn’t let it affect his friendships with people he knows from the City of Brotherly Love.
“There is a mutual respect for each other since we’re already friends, but it has been testy if our teams play,” he says.
Unlike Dalton and Rogers, Sarah Kovalesky, a Penn State sophomore, is split down the middle when it comes to the rivalry between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Her parents grew up in Western Pennsylvania, but now live in Collegeville, just 45 minutes from Philadelphia. Because of this, she grew up watching both cities’ sporting events. When it comes to her favorites, nothing can compare to the Phillies. She attends as many Phillies games as she can, as she loves watching baseball and keeping up with the players.
Because of her upbringing, Kovalesky was used to the rivalry clash that occurs in State College. But instead of partaking in the competiveness, she just finds the entire situation funny and a bit much. She does believe the atmosphere in town chills a bit during sports seasons though.
“It can be tense and rather interesting when the two cities play each other, especially when it comes to hockey,” she says.
Steve Hughes, who grew up in New Castle, also finds that the rivalry between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia is sometimes pushed a little too much. He believes it to be mostly a hockey rivalry due to the fact that the Penguins and the Flyers play in the same division.
“I see Pittsburgh fans as a proud people who, until they run into a Philly fan, wouldn’t have an initial problem with them. But it’s the brashness that rubs me the wrong way,” he says, referring to Philadelphia fans.
While at Penn State, Hughes had a few Philadelphia friends who had this “brashness.” Their Philly spirit and hatred for the Pens has caused a lot of disagreements.
“They love to instigate and probe for a fight in hockey,” he says.
Hughes does his best to leave sports out of these relationships. He says he doesn’t want to miss out on a great friendship just because he loves Pittsburgh sports.
“The sports rivalries do impact the friendship. I try to be understanding when they struggle in hopes that they will be there for me when my teams are down. I’ll root for their teams just so my friends can be happy, but when the chips are down, I want us to win,” he says.
He feels that Philly fans hate Pittsburgh because of the fair-weather fans that simply like the Penguins when the team wins. He also believes the current rivalry exists because of hockey playoff rivalries that date back to the 1980s and 1990s. But when it comes to baseball and football, Hughes feels it is more of a respectful interstate rivalry.
“I understand their desperation to win a Super Bowl because I have the same desperation for the Pirates [to win a World Series]. It’s been a struggle,” he says.
And though he may not always agree with the rivalry, growing up 50 miles from
Pittsburgh has made Hughes a lifetime fan of the Steelers and the Pirates. To him, nothing can beat Steeler football. “The grit, the hustle, the blue-collar playing mentality of Steelers players, and the idea that the players struggle to make the team makes the Steelers great,” he says. “But most of all, the team plays hard and it’s always the way football was intended. It’s hard hitting, violent, and with little regard for each other’s well-being. It’s not like Philly stuff where they pass 40 times and run 10. That may be exciting, but it doesn’t win titles.”
He also believes the rivalry depends on each fan’s generation, as both cities’ teams have been successful over the years.
“The Eagles have been very competitive and have come close to winning a Super Bowl. The Pirates have a long history of success, but have 19 [consecutive] losing seasons. The Phillies have won the World Series in the past 10 years. The Steelers have won a Super Bowl twice and the Eagles only made it there once in the past 10 years,” he says. “If there is superiority on the playing surface [for Pittsburgh], it’s because of the city’s success in winning championships. We lap them in that category.”
Being able to partake in this rivalry in State College was something Hughes enjoyed, though it was difficult to deal with at times.
“The fans are chomping at the bit to just sling hate at each other. It’s tough because the fans are so passionate on both sides, but you have to learn to work in groups with these people, stand behind them in coffee lines, and sit next to them in a packed room of 300 people,” he says.
Because of the deep United States history that is associated with Philadelphia, Hughes respects the city as a whole. He would even like to visit someday.
“I would love to go for the history and to watch a Phillies game. That would be special,” he says.
Though the Burgh-and-Philly rivalry runs deep, fans understand that the cities are comparable, even similar.
“There is a lot of emotion and passion which creates viewing pleasure amongst the teams and my friends,” Dalton says. Though he has never visited Pittsburgh, he does respect those who come from the city. He says that all those he knows from there have always been great individuals.
And though he may not always like Philadelphia during hockey season, Rogers does respect the tradition of the city. “I think in general, we are the same. Traditional values, diverse communities, and strong family bonds with other citizens. We are passionate people,” Rogers says. “But a Philly cheesesteak couldn’t hold its own against a Primanti Brothers’ sandwich.”