'700 Level for Life'
Words: Steve DiLodovico
“Fuck the Giants, fuck the Mets, fuck any New York team that’s ever walked the face of the Earth. Fuck the Yankees, motherfuck the Jets, the Giants, the Rangers, the Islanders, the Knicks. Fuck any team that’s not from Philadelphia.”
The words are heatedly falling from the outspoken mouth of Philadelphia’s own DJ/Producer and ravenous, fanatical devotee: Stress the Whiteboy. Sitting in the comfortable confines of the lab known as ChopShop Studios in the thick heat of an August afternoon, Stress (like any other sports nut from the Killadelph) is eagerly anticipating the start of the 2010 Eagles season. A quick glance around the converted garage that serves as his studio reveals a lifetime of collectible memories: everything from KISS dolls to Misfits paraphernalia to Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and Sixers memorabilia is housed in Stress’s Langhorne headquarters. Stacks and stacks of old Hardcore and Hip Hop records dominate the room. The walls are covered with framed albums from the likes of The Bad Brains, Murphy’s Law, Cro Mags and tons of other Hardcore giants. A framed chunk of the legendary CBGB stage (given to him as a present from Murphy’s Law frontman Jimmy G.) hangs there as valuable and inspiring as any painting hung on a museum wall. Stress beams as he talks about receiving the prized gift from his old friend. Stress’s own gold record, awarded for the remix work he did with Gym Class Heroes, hangs next to these valuable artifacts. And, everywhere, the room is littered with the insignias of the various teams that represent Philadelphia. Stress has two guiding forces in his life: music and Philly sports.
Stress is the quintessential Philly fan; a curious and maniacal breed unlike any other fans in the world. Just mentioning something like rich history and tradition in the city of brotherly love gets Stress all hyped and animated and jumping out of his seat with stories. Philadelphians are beyond passionate when it comes to their long-suffering (and, for the most part, championship-starved) teams. They are notoriously brutal, vociferous, and sometimes ugly and violent.
Consider this: the old Veterans stadium (the South Philadelphia home to the Phillies and Eagles from the 1971 to 2003) was the first stadium to have its own in-house courtroom for speedy sentencing of rowdy Illadelphians caught breaking the law. The Vet was where Eagles fans once threw snowballs at a guy dressed in a Santa suit. The Vet was where Phillies fans threw D-batteries at a ballplayer that refused to sign with the Phils after he was drafted. The Vet was also home to the infamous 700 level.
“This is how I learned football,” recounts Stress. “True story: ‘Hey dad, what are you doing?’ I asked one Sunday. He replied: ‘watching football.’ I asked: ‘can I watch football with you?’ His answer: ‘sure, sit down. First thing you’re gonna’ learn about football is to hate this goddamn team.’ It was the Cowboys.”
And that’s how Philadelphia sports work. It’s a tradition often handed from fathers to sons and daughters in the bleakest depths of December or in the rejuvenated hopes of spring training. But, before a Philadelphian learns the fundamentals of tackling or the intricacies of the infield fly rule, one trait is instilled that is far more important and vital to the makeup of a Philly sports fan: hatred. From the earliest age you learn to despise the other team; any and every other team that stands in the way of Philadelphia’s success. Before dribbling, before skating, before catching that first pop-up or Hail Mary pass there is the unabashed hatred. It goes beyond friendly rivalry and into the murky depths of cheering for career and life-threatening injury. That’s Philadelphia. They don’t just want to see you lose: they want to see you humiliated and injured.
“We are the closest things to American hooligans in professional sports,” Stress describes with a chest thumping full of pride. “We will fuck you up. I know this is going to sound Neanderthal-like but I am a total advocate for sports violence. During the game, I have no problem if someone on the other team has their career ruined. I have no problem with that. Once they get off the field I feel sorry for them, but, in the game, if they lose their career because of our team, that’s fine with me.”
So what is it that gives the fans in the Illadelph such a notorious reputation? What drives their thirst for blood and turns them into howling lunatics whenever the uniforms are donned?
“There is no city more knowledgeable in sports than us. That’s why everybody hates us,” concludes Stress. “We have career gamblers here. They bet lines all day long so you better believe we know what’s going on. Philly was always known as a numbers town. That had a huge impact on people’s knowledge of the sports.”
Philly sports fans are tougher than the weather and tougher than their years of futility would have one believe. The weather in Philly can be brutal and extreme. That blistering cold gets in the blood and it does something to these fans. It agitates them, makes them insane. And this insanity is not limited to home games, either. Invading hostile territory is their specialty and they represent no matter where they go. Even on the road Philly fans aren’t afraid to fly their colors.
“In Detroit I beat some dude with a trash can, at a Lion’s game,” Stress recalls, laughing dementedly with his brother and Hip Hop producer on the come-up, Sev-One, at the memory. “The Birds beat the Lions that day. I was there with all my boys and my brothers. We were walking and some guys were giving my brother some shit about the Dirty Watters jersey he was wearing. It got crazy. I took on three dudes; two ran and one came after me. I picked up one of those blue trash cans they have at the stadiums and I beat him right across his face. That’s what we do. Eagle fans can wear a jersey anywhere and bring it. That’s how we are.”
Stress carries an indelible reminder of this life-long passion carved in his flesh. He is a walking testament to the obsessive devotion Philadelphians live every single day of their lives. A tattoo bearing the words “700 level for life” adorns his shaved head and it rests alongside a myriad of Philadelphia-themed tattoos.
“The 700 level was the highest level of old Veterans Stadium and the craziest shit went on up there back in the day. The Vet was probably the shittiest stadium to play football in, but that was our home and our advantage. Sitting up there you have a sense of pride in who you are and where you come from. They are blue collar people up there and that’s where I come from. If you dared to wear another jersey you best believe you don’t go up there. Even today, at the Linc, they’ll still beat your ass, but you were getting fucked up if you did that in the 700 level. It’s just the way it was.”
The 700 level of the Vet was a no-man’s land of drunken revelry and barbaric brawling. The antics that would often occur there on a Sunday afternoon became the stuff of legend. Stress proudly displays the tattoo, along with an image of Ben Franklin and several others that represent Philadelphia, because it is a reminder of who he is. But it is the declaration of “700 level for life” that is the most telling.
“The first game my dad took me to was in the winter. It was so cold. We were playing the Bears. I never went to an Eagles game before. I remember my dad talking to a strange guy before we went in to the stadium, turned out to be a scalper. We went in and we were sitting as high up as you can possibly go. The entire section was wearing hockey masks, like Jason in Friday the 13th. It was crazy. Those were the only seats my dad could afford and we sat all the way up top with the crazies.”
Stress has a lifetime of stories like that. With the help of his younger brother he recalls some pretty hairy moments watching Eagles games.
“Cowboys, Eagles: it was cold as shit out. We head into the game after tailgating for a while. We see two Eagles fans with a Dallas fan. Now, I bring Giants fans to games, but I tell them ‘Yo, you don’t wear a jersey. You’re on your own.’ I can’t fight 50 people! So, we’re walking and we see the three guys and we’re chanting ‘asshole, asshole.’ The Dallas guy thought it was all cute. And we’re thinking ‘oh shit, it’s about to get crazy,’ but we keep walking. Next thing you know, BOOM! A bottle goes flying and someone yells ‘Fuck you Dallas motherfucker!’ and the kid starts to realize this is for real. He goes after the bottle-thrower and they’re about to square off. Out of nowhere this five-foot tall guy in a Santa suit and McNabb jersey comes flying at the guy in the Dallas jersey and knocks him the fuck out. And he’s looking around like ‘who’s next?’ He looks at the Eagles fan and lays him out. This midget in a Santa suit knocked two dudes out cold. Greatest thing I ever saw: he was a little dude and he was boxing!
“We were in St. Louis for a Monday night game, right before the playoffs. We got thrown out of there because we intimidated everyone in the Yacht Club. We scared them so bad that we made them become friends with us. One of my favorite Eagles memories happened in St. Louis. It was the year (’04) we went to the Superbowl. We all drove out to St. Louis. Andy Reid (Eagles coach) sat all the starters. We were sitting in the endzone and everybody hated us. The Eagles were about to get scored on because we were playing all third-stringers. Bulger and the Rams are coming at us; they are like two yards from scoring. Bulger’s calling the play in his cadence and right in it I jump and yell ‘KILL HIM!’ and they jumped. All the Eagles pointed at me! I made them jump. Everybody was yelling at me, but, you know, I gotta do what I gotta do for my team."
“One of the first games I brought Sev to; I remember tailgating in the parking lot. It was a Redskins game and there was a guy trying to sneak in wearing a Shockey jersey. I don’t know what he was thinking. He got hit in the face with beer bottles. Then, later in the same day, a guy drove in with Maryland tags on his car. He parked next to our car and we were giving him shit. It was a white Toyota Corolla. When the guy came out after the game and the entire car was covered in ketchup."
The devotion most exemplified by Philly’s love for its football team, is not limited to the Eagles alone. There are tales of Mets fans being jumped and beaten in the highest level of Citizens Bank Park. Phillies games in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s had their own set of rowdy hooligans who perched atop the Vet in the 700 level. Another legendary spot, located just across form where the Vet stood, is the old Spectrum. The Spectrum was the home of Dr. J’s high-flying Sixers in the ‘80s and, most infamously, it was where those Broad Street Bullies known as the Flyers played.
“The Spectrum was the same way. The higher you went up the crazier it got. Those Flyers games were insane.” Indeed Flyers fans got so crazed one night in 2001 that one overzealous fan, while heckling Maple Leaf’s thug Tie Domi, fell through a loose pane of glass and right into the penalty box. Visiting teams throughout the years of the Spectrum had confrontations with Philly fans.
Even for the most hardened and ebullient Philadelphian, there are deeper connections to their teams than random violence and general mayhem. For many it’s the family tradition that makes every team such an integral part of their lives.
“I cried when the Phils won the World Series in 2008, I really did. It made me think of my dad.” As Stress pulls out a collection of vintage ticket stubs, he chokes up a bit. You can hear the emotion and memory in his voice as he displays these worn artifacts. They are dog-eared and yellowed with age. They are a conduit to the memories of the father he lost so long ago and they are priceless. “These are the games my dad took me to. When I was in high school I wrestled and there was a kid on the team whose father was a doctor. I saved up all my money to take my dad to a game: I bought the tickets off the doctor’s kid. The seats were good, but it still had a 700 level vibe. We watched two guys who came into the game as friends get so drunk that they ended up beating the balls off each other. I remember this and I can almost start crying now because it reminds me of my dad. My dad was a student of baseball; he was a student of the game.”
So many Philadelphians have similar stories. For a lot of them the sports are more than just an escape or a distraction; the teams are like extensions of their families. Even in these days of mercenary-like free agency with bloated contracts and an aversion to any kind of team loyalty, the fans of Philadelphia know their players. They’ve invited these guys into their homes and enjoyed their company on the cruelest of dark winter nights. They’ve lived by them and with them for as long as they can remember. They’ve sweated blood for them in hospitals, bars, projects and mansions across the city. These same strong, familial bonds entwine the sports teams of Philadelphia with their rabid fans and, as a result, produce a family of its own. It’s a family that spans neighborhoods and politics; it crosses racial divides and ethnic traditions and becomes its own, tight entity. It’s a community; a sometimes dangerous and violent community, but one that feels more like a dysfunctional family.
“People will keep their season tickets in their family. There’s a lineage; it’s like the bloodline of Christ. Everyone keeps the tickets in their family for so long. It becomes tradition. Most of us don’t have much, and we will do anything to get to these games. The teams are all we have. Our teams… that’s our face. We love where we’re from, I love where I live, and our teams give us a face.”