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Super Bowl preparations in Philly involve greasing down lampposts

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

With the Eagles taking on the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl this weekend, Philadelphia is gearing up for possible victory celebrations. A lot of cities host big championships, but how many have to grease the lampposts to keep ecstatic fans earthbound? NPR's Laura Benshoff reports on how Philly tries to manage folks who treat safety precautions like a dare.

LAURA BENSHOFF, BYLINE: With the Eagles on a winning streak, the city of Philadelphia didn't waste any time preparing for the NFC championship game a couple weeks ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: The police department will be greasing down those poles.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Philadelphia police say they're planning to grease the poles.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Police confirm officers are, in fact, greasing them poles.

BENSHOFF: That means using paint rollers to apply biodegradable gear oil to lampposts and other structures in order to keep fans from climbing them. The city doesn't grease every pole, but the ones on Broad Street, close to City Hall, get lubed up. That area becomes the beating heart of victory celebrations when local sports teams win.

SEAN HAGAN: We hear greasing the poles, we accept that as, like, a challenge, right? So it's like, yeah, grease them jawns up.

BENSHOFF: Twenty-nine-year-old Sean Hagan took a climb after the Philadelphia Phillies became league champions last fall. He says the pole was greased, but he was able to scale it using a garbage can like a step stool. In a video he took from the top, a sea of upturned faces are watching and rooting for him.

HAGAN: I felt like Stone Cold Steve Austin. I'm sitting there slamming beers, had, like, Broad Street cheering me on, you know? The crowd was raging. It was unforgettable.

BENSHOFF: Police later arrested Hagan and collared others who took their partying to new heights that night, but a judge dismissed the charges against him. Hagan says celebrating a sports victory feels like a rare occasion for his troubled city to blow off steam.

HAGAN: With sports, you know, it brings this city together. It seems like crime stops for the day. You know, everybody's tuning in and really tuning out all the negativity.

BENSHOFF: With that in mind, Philadelphia generally tries to tamp down only the most destructive forms of celebration. For the NFC championship game, it also put up barricades to keep crowds in the street and away from many of the buildings or street signs that could be scaled.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR ENGINES REVVING)

BENSHOFF: But there were still some climbers and other forms of joyful rebellion. Some shot off large-scale fireworks, which are not legal, and police mostly looked the other way as crowds of people drank in the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BENSHOFF: A seven-piece brass band blocked traffic to march up Broad Street.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BENSHOFF: All of this was just a prelude to this weekend's Super Bowl. But that's not in Philly. It's in Arizona.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRACE DEL PIZZO: What's up, Eagles fans? I'm Grace. I'm from Delco, but I go to college in downtown Phoenix.

BENSHOFF: Local college student Grace Del Pizzo made this guide on TikTok for any Philadelphians coming to the game who might be wondering - what has this city got to climb?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEL PIZZO: So you're not going to have much luck climbing a palm tree, as those are massive. But since we're in the desert, all the other trees are tiny. So if all the light poles are taken and you just want to climb a tree, they're available.

BENSHOFF: She says it's no Broad Street, but it'll do. Laura Benshoff, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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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