Friday, December 17, 2010

For Once, It's Great to Be a Philadelphia Sports Fan

Back in 2008, when the Phillies became World Fucking Champions, it felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted from the shoulders of the Philadelphia fans who have suffered for 25 long years.

I had gone my entire life, all 24-plus years at the time, without ever witnessing a single Philadelphia sports team be crowned champions. When I was growing up, the Phillies were atrocious, making the playoffs only once in 1993 before Charlie Manuel rolled into town, and that season ending in disaster during the World Series. The Flyers were in the dumps before Eric Lindros arrived, then suffered nothing but heartache after he came — Claude Lemieux, sweep in the Final at the hands of Detroit, the concussions, blowing a 3-1 lead against the Devils, Tampa Bay, embarrassing early exits. The Sixers were a laughingstock, with Charles Barkley forcing his way out, until Allen Iverson and Larry Brown came along, but we all know how that ended. And as Eagles fans we had to suffer through seeing Randall and Buddy and that great defense never really materialize into all it could be, Rich Kotite, Ray Rhodes, Mike Mamula, Jon Harris, the list goes on and on – all while the hated Cowboys were winning three Super Bowls, the Giant winning two and even the Redskins getting one. Once they finally did get the coach and the quarterback long coveted, the heartbreak only got worse — Troy Vincent's bum wheel against the Rams, Ronde Barber and Joe Jurevicius in the last game at the Vet, the Carolina Panthers, puking in the huddle. Philadelphia just couldn't win for losing.

But when the Phillies went on that incredible run, it felt like everything had changed. Jayson Stark summed it up beautifully:

The wait that had dragged them all through 25 years and 98 combined seasons of misery and heartbreak, seasons whose only common trait was that they'd all managed to last just a little too long.

It was the longest wait, by far, of the 13 metropolitan areas in America with teams in all four major sports. No other metropolis out there -- anywhere -- was within eight years.

And then, with one pitch, with one euphoric shriek in the night -- in 45,000-part harmony -- it was over. And life in Philadelphia may never be the same.

Honestly, things haven't really been the same ever since. As if overnight, Philadelphia went from a destitute city that few athletes wanted to come play in to the hotbed of professional sports in North America. Think about it: Since that fateful October night, the course of these franchises has done nothing but improve.

The Phillies not only got back to the World Series the following year and the NLCS in 2010, but they brought in Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee again.

Not only that, but all three of those aces made sacrifices to come to Philadelphia, a place few star players ever wanted to come to in the past. Roy Halladay waived his no-trade clause and took less money to pitch for the Phillies. Roy Oswalt waived his no-trade clause to join the likes of Halladay and Cole Hamels. And Cliff Lee, who never wanted to leave in the first place, returned, leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table that the Yankees and Rangers were offering. Not only did these guys want to come to Philadelphia, but they were willing to take less money just to do it. Unbelievable.

Now the Phillies, already the perennial favorites in the National League, have assembled one of the best starting pitching staffs in the history of baseball. Added to a lineup that includes Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco, Carlos Ruiz, et al, this rotation makes the Phillies the odds-on favorites to bring another World Series title back to Philadelphia.

And the Phillies aren't the only good thing going right now. The Eagles are in first place as we speak, taking on the Giants up in the New Meadowlands for the right to remain on top. MIchael Vick is the NFL's biggest redemption story. DeSean Jackson is a superstar, and LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin are quickly following suit.

In a year that many thought the Eagles would be using to rebuild, the Birds are flying high. They finally defeated Peyton Manning. They've soundly beaten division leaders — Jacksonville and Atlanta — and defeated the Giants and Cowboys the first go-round. While the defense looks shaky, the Eagles have the type of explosive, diverse offense that has them among the class of the NFC once again. It's a lot more exciting than anyone could have expected.

During the early going, the defending Eastern Conference champion Flyers, fresh off their run to the Stanley Cup Final, are trumping the Eagles in the standings. Through 33 games, the Orange and Black are the best team in hockey. Their 47 points lead everyone, and there isn't a more complete team in the NHL. They've won 4 straight, with the Rangers in town tomorrow night, and with coach Peter Laviolette manning the bench, there's no letdown in sight.

And to make the Philadelphia sports fan complete, suddenly the Sixers are no longer a laughingstock. The first signs of hope came when they were awarded the second pick in the draft. While Evan Turner hasn't quite panned out as hoped thus far, the Sixers are beginning to slowly turn things around. Winners of three straight, Doug Collins' team is actually pretty fun to watch of late. They won't give anyone title aspirations the way the Phillies, Eagles and Flyers do, but there are signs of life. At this stage, that's all you can really ask for, and the team is delivering.

I cannot definitively say that things will never be the same here in Philadelphia, but what I do know is that there's never been a better time in my life to be a Philadelphia sports fan than right now.

Update: Some not good news to pass along, unfortunately: Chris Pronger needs surgery. He'll be out 4-6 weeks with a broken foot. Not good. Sure glad Paul Holmgren brought in Andrej Meszaros and Sean O'Donnell.

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