Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Super Bowl Clash of the Cultures the Rivalry between Philadelphia and Boston, Ongoing Long before Football Was a Thing

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Super Bowl Clash of the Cultures the Rivalry between Philadelphia and Boston, Ongoing Long before Football Was a Thing

Article excerpt

Last month, the Rev. Peter M. Donahue, the president of Villanova University on Philadelphia's Main Line, insisted that the organist play "On Eagle's Wings" at Mass before the NFL conference championship game.

This did not escape the attention of John J. Brennan, the former chairman and CEO of the Vanguard investment group, who has roots in both places competing in the Super Bowl. Vanguard's headquarters is 25 miles west of Philadelphia, whose Eagles are underdogs in the big game. Mr. Brennan grew up eight miles north of Boston and 40 miles from Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, the oddsmakers' choice.

"I'm living in Super Bowl Hell," says Mr. Brennan. "I love the Eagles but I'm a Patriots originalist."

He's one of the few with even a trace of ambiguity over this clash between two East Coast places with colonial heritages, powerhouse universities, sprawling medical complexes - and sports fans outsiders regard as utterly obnoxious. "My Philadelphia friends think that Boston fans are spoiled," says Mr. Brennan, "and my Boston friends think they deserve their success."

Says Jonathan Papelbon, the baseball closer who pitched in both cities, first for the Red Sox and then for the Phillies: "There's real passion in both cities, but Philadelphia fans are really in the game and not so much in Boston." That's one curveball that won't be received warmly in Boston, where Mr. Papelbon threw the strikeout that won the World Series for the Red Sox in 2007.

In truth, the enmity between the two cities goes back centuries. In America's Federalist period, Boston was an Anglophile redoubt while Philadelphia was Francophilic. Boston was the source of pre-Revolutionary agitation, Philadelphia was the second capital of the United States. Benjamin Franklin had roots in both cities and left them both 1,000 pounds sterling and, knowing a bit about compound interest, instructed the cities that they could touch about half only after 100 years and the remainder in another hundred years. Boston invested its money better than Philadelphia. So much for Deflategate.

E. Digby Baltzell, the fabled historian and sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote of "the hegemony of Boston and New England in the development of the American mind" and "the pulpit culture of rigid Calvinism" that prevailed in early Boston, while arguing that Philadelphia was "the city of egalitarian individualism, where all had the right to choose their own gods and their own ways to wealth without interference from pulpit or class authority."

And he somehow found significance in the fact that Williams College, in Western Massachusetts, placed 420 alumni in the Harvard Law School between 1924 and 1934 while Swarthmore College, outside Philadelphia, placed only 43 - while Swarthmore far outpaced Williams (and Amherst and Bowdoin) in sending high-productivity leaders into the sciences. Perhaps it is significant that Massachusetts has contributed five presidents (I'm including Calvin Coolidge, born in Vermont, and George H.W. Bush, who was only born in Massachusetts but is more identified with Texas) to the one produced by Pennsylvania (the lowly James Buchanan).

None of this makes any difference to the Super Bowl, of course, but outside the gridiron the rivalry between Boston and Philadelphia may strike most Americans - and surely those beyond the Appalachian regions - as the narcissism of small differences. Or at least a whole lot of narcissism.

William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, gave Philadelphia its label in 1682, confecting a place name out of "the city of brotherly love. …

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