Publish date:

Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia Which is a better sports town? Two SI writers from those cities square off


A brief geographical refresher: Pennsylvania's greatest sports
city sits between the Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers,
whose confluence forms the Ohio, sort of the way the confluence
of Terry Bradshaw's pass and Jack Tatum's shoulder begat the
Immaculate Reception--the transcendent Pittsburgh sports moment.

What would that moment be for Philadelphia? I'll go with Tug
McGraw's celebration after the Phillies won the 1980 World
Series, partly because it marked the club's sole title in 120
years, and partly because of the telling backdrop: The field was
ringed with mounted police and dogs. This is the primary
difference between Pittsburgh and Philly--in the Steel City the
athletes don't have as much reason to be afraid of their public.

Pittsburgh is 300 miles of Pennsylvania Turnpike removed from
that Philly-New York-Boston corridor of toxicity. In addition to
the memory of Pops Stargell, Pittsburgh's franchises have a
charming, mom-and-pop appeal. The Steelers were propelled to
greatness by Art Rooney, arguably the most beloved owner in NFL
history. The Eagles were propelled toward mediocrity in the 1980s
by owner Leonard Tose, whose gambling losses ($40 million-plus)
make William Bennett look like a piker. The Pirates had Hall of
Famer Roberto Clemente, who died while flying relief supplies to
Nicaraguan earthquake victims; the Phillies had Hall of Famer
Steve Carlton, known as much for his misanthropy as for his left

In addition to being the cradle of great quarterbacks--Johnny
Unitas, Joe Namath, Joe Montana and Dan Marino, to name
four--Pittsburgh kicks Philly's backside when it comes to
championships. The Steelers have won four Super Bowls, the Eagles
zilch. The Pirates have won five World Series, the Phillies one.

It all comes down to personal taste. Having lived in both cities,
I come down opposite W.C. Fields. On the whole, I'd rather be in


In Philadelphia, where I live, the only time you hear car horns
honking is after an Eagles victory over the Cowboys or Giants or
Steelers, who play, as every Philadelphia schoolchild knows,
somewhere in the Midwest. Maybe Pittsburgh is not as far west or
as white-bread as Green Bay, but it's out there. ¶ Pittsburgh
sports fans claim We Are Family, the Sister Sledge disco anthem
of the 1970s and theme song of Willie Stargell's Pirates at the
old Three Rivers Stadium, as their own. Please, take your song
and your sisters, go to one of your many rivers and have a good
time. We in Philly will keep playing God Bless America, sung
for years by Kate Smith before the Flyers went out and
distributed pieces of the Rangers or Bruins or Penguins along
the glass. The fat lady sang for us.

(By the way, not that we brag about it, but Sister Sledge is from

I know it's a tradition in Pittsburgh to go to Primanti Brothers
for a sandwich before sporting events. They put French fries
between the slices of bread. Clever! How has that tradition not
caught on in other places? Pregame in Philadelphia, we get a
juicy cheese steak at Pat's or Jim's or Geno's. But if you find
yourself in Paris or Rome or London, you can find a Philadelphia
cheese steak there, too. Enjoy!

When free agents tour my city, they are sometimes shown the steps
of our art museum, where Rocky trained for his fight against
Apollo Creed. Maybe Apollo was from Pittsburgh, I don't know, but
Rocky Balboa was definitely a Philadelphian. Also, Wilt
Chamberlain grew up in Philadelphia, Connie Mack managed in
Philadelphia, Donovan McNabb plays in Philadelphia. My so-called
friends in Pittsburgh like to remind me that Philadelphia fans
booed Santa Claus. Hey, I've got news for you guys: Santa Claus
is make-believe! As is your city's claim to sports supremacy.