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Philly may grease poles ahead of the Super Bowl. Eagles fans don't care

The last time the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl was in 2018, defeating the New England Patriots.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
Getty Images
The last time the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl was in 2018, defeating the New England Patriots.

Many cities brace for rowdy celebrations after a major sports win. But in Philadelphia, one safety precaution has turned into something of a rallying cry - or a dare: greasing the poles.

For the uninitiated, that means using paint rollers to apply biodegradable gear oil to lamp posts and other structures, in order to keep fans from scaling them.

With the Eagles set to take on the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII on Sunday, "Protocols for the upcoming game are being evaluated by the police department including the greasing of poles," City of Philadelphia spokesperson Joy Huertas tells NPR.

"For public safety reasons, the city is not disclosing if/when the poles will be greased," she continues.

Why the secrecy? Perhaps because calling attention to something the city does not want fans to do can have the opposite effect.

"When we hear they're greasing the poles, we hear that as a challenge, like 'Grease them jawns, we're going to come climb them,' " says 29-year-old Sean Hagan. A union carpenter by day, Hagan took a climbafter the Philadelphia Phillies bested the San Diego Padres in the National League Championship Series last fall.

City workers concentrate their greasing efforts at major party intersections, like south Broad Street in Center City Philadelphia. This grand avenue runs the entire length of Philadelphia, interrupted only by the sculpted granite walls of City Hall.

When local sports teams win, Broad Street becomes the beating heart of victory celebrations.

Philadelphia uses biodegradable gear oil to make lamp posts and street signs harder to scale.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / Getty Images
Getty Images
Philadelphia uses biodegradable gear oil to make lamp posts and street signs harder to scale.

Sports victories bring a tough city together in celebration

Last October, Hagan, who had been watching the game at a nearby sports bar, went to Broad Street.

He found a pole that was greased, but was able to scale it all the same, using a garbage can like a step-stool.

"I felt like Stone Cold Steve Austin," Hagan says, referencing the retired professional wrestler. "I'm sitting there slamming beers, had Broad Street cheering me on ... The crowd was raging, it was unforgettable," he says.

Sean Hagan scaled a pole on Broad Street after the Philadelphia Phillies became the 2022 National League Champions.
Sean Hagan / Provided by Sean Hagan
Provided by Sean Hagan
Sean Hagan scaled a pole on Broad Street after the Philadelphia Phillies became the 2022 National League Champions.

Philadelphia Police arrested Hagan after he climbed down, and collared a few others who took celebrating to new heights that night. A judge later dismissed the charges against him.

Hagan says celebrating a sports victory feels like a rare occasion for a city with serious problems - such as poverty and gun violence - to blow off steam.

"[It] seems like crime stops for the day. You know, everybody's tuning in and really tuning out all the negativity," he says.

With that in mind, Philadelphia officials try to tamp down the most destructive forms of celebration, without restricting all forms of mild lawlessness.

"Be safe. Just be safe. Just think about what you're doing, where you are, and don't get hurt," Mayor Jim Kenney told reporters before the NFC Championship in January.

For that match, the city also upped its preparations. It blocked off streets surrounding City Hall, and erected barricades to keep crowds in the street and away from buildings or lamp posts.

The City of Philadelphia is expected to release its gameday preparations before Sunday

This cut down on pole-climbing, but did not eliminate it entirely.

Other forms of passionate celebration erupted. A seven-piece brass-heavy ensemble known as Snacktime blocked traffic to parade up Broad Street. There were large fireworks displays - which are not legal within the city limits - and widespread drinking in the streets, flouting the local open-container ordinance. A man surfed the crowd, shooting Jello shots from a slingshot.

While mostly safe, some Eagles fans were injured when a bus shelter they climbed on top of collapsed.

All of this was just a preamble for the Super Bowl. The City of Philadelphia is expected to release more information about its gameday preparations before Sunday.

But this big game isn't in Philly, it's in Glendale, Arizona, outside Phoenix. Local college student Grace Del Pizzo made a guide on TikTok for any Philadelphians who may be coming to the game and itching to get off the ground.

"You're not going to have much luck climbing a palm tree because those are massive. But because we live in the desert, that means every other tree is tiny. So if all the light poles are taken, they're available," she quips.

It's no Broad Street, says Del Pizzo in the video, but it'll do.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laura Benshoff
Laura Benshoff is a reporter covering energy and climate for NPR's National desk. Prior to this assignment, she spent eight years at WHYY, Philadelphia's NPR Member station. There, she most recently focused on the economy and immigration. She has reported on the causes of the Great Resignation, Afghans left behind after the U.S. troop withdrawal and how a government-backed rent-to-own housing program failed its tenants. Other highlights from her time at WHYY include exploring the dynamics of the 2020 presidential election cycle through changing communities in central Pennsylvania and covering comedian Bill Cosby's criminal trials.

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