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Philadelphia may grease poles ahead of the Super Bowl. Eagles fans don’t care

  • By Laura Benshoff/NPR

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 climb after 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.

Eduardo Munoz / Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA, PA – FEBRUARY 04: Philadelphia Police officers grease traffic light poles as security measure for Super Bowl LII fans on February 4, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia police department is using gear oil to grease up the poles on downtown streets to minimize the damage that fans can do to the city and themselves in the aftermath of the Super Bowl LII that will be played between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.

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 / 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.

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