Friday, December 21, 2007

The real Philadelphia Story

by Mike Prince

“Now I Can Die in Peace.” This is the name of the book that Bill Simmons wrote after his beloved Boston Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years.

Many Philadelphia sports fans have been living with that same mentality for several years now. “Once I see a Philadelphia sports team win a championship, I can die in peace.”

The Philadelphia Story won two Oscars. The Philadelphia Phillies haven’t even won two World Series titles.

In 1983, the 76ers swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, the last championship that this city was able to celebrate. Since then, the four major sports teams from the City of Brotherly Love have been to their league’s respective championship or series a total of six times.
Six times in almost 25 years, Philadelphia fans have had the chance of a Broad Street parade sitting right at their finger tips. And six times, their hopes and dreams were crushed. Philadelphia sports fans basically have come to a realization after so many years of failure. If you asked anyone in the city their thoughts on when things will turn around, odds are you will get a pessimistic answer.

Take something like this for example. At one point in early 2001, the Flyers, 76ers, and Eagles were all in first place and very likely contenders for each of their respective sport’s championships. Now, imagine at that very same time of the year, you have to go away for business for six or seven years, cut off from the rest of the world, with no idea what is going on in the world of sports.

So now it’s the year 2008. You finally arrive home, meet up with an old friend, and drive down to Passyunk Ave. for your first quality cheesesteak in almost a decade. You then sit down with your friend, look at them with that obvious “tell me what I want to know” look and simply say, “So, what did I miss?”

Very excited, and before you can even finish one delicious bite of your “wiz wit,” your friend is done telling you everything big that happened.

“Nothing really,” he replies.

Now here is the funny thing. As excited as you may have been to hear about the number of trophies the city has captured in your absence, the answer you get is not a very big surprise.
In any other city, a sports fan that has three of his city’s teams in first place at the time, all of which are obvious contenders for many years to come, would probably assume they missed at least one championship (not even to mention their baseball team is also a threat within their division).

Now back to the pessimistic, generally disappointed Philadelphia sports fan.

As you finish the last bites of your whiz-covered Amoroso roll, you hear that the Flyers made the playoffs all but one year since you’ve been gone, including a conference final game seven. You find out that the 76ers were leading in the NBA Championship, and also made the playoffs the following few years. You find out the Phillies made the playoffs for the first time in 14 long years as division champs. Then, you hear that the Eagles made the playoffs all but one year you were gone, including four conference championship games.

Just from looking at those facts, any sports fan would assume that at least one ring was won within those six years. Twenty-four seasons total between the teams, and one would think there was at least one winner in the whole bunch.

But if you asked a guy from Philly to put his money on something, most likely, he’d bet on failure.

It’s not personal. It’s not the desire to lose. It’s not purposeful pessimism.
It’s just what the average person is used to.

It’s the “norm.” The so-called standard for Philadelphia sports, which as one fan once described it as “getting our hopes up as much as possible, only to crush them and break our hearts year after year.”

The city is starved for a championship. It needs it. The people need a parade like a 75-year-old alcoholic needs a new liver. Ask some men who are tailgating for a 4:15 Eagles game at 8:00 in the morning and some of them would be willing to trade their wives for a championship. And if drunk enough, they may even start to actually believe something so foolish.

The truth is, in a city of more than 1.5 million people, roughly 37 percent of the population has never witnessed a championship. People are becoming impatient, frustrated and discouraged. Many have, or at least say they have, lost complete hope for any of the four major franchises.
The problems are clear when looking at the history books.

The Phillies have been around since 1883 (they were also known as the Philadelphia Athletics for a period of time). They have been playing baseball for well over a century now. That’s 125 seasons of baseball. Nearly 1,900 games. The first team in sports history to have over 10,000 losses.

And yet, only one World Series championship. The Phillies won their lone title in 1980, nearly 100 years after the team originated. They haven’t won since.

This means that even the oldest living person in the world, Edna Parker, who is 114 years old, has only been alive for one Phillies World Series title.

Imagine if she was from Philadelphia.

The results have been basically the same for the other major teams. The Eagles won the NFL Championship in 1948, 1949 and 1960. Since 1966, when the Super Bowl was invented, they have never won. They made it to the Big Dance during the 1980 and 2004 seasons, but fell short both times.

The Philadelphia Flyers came into expansion in 1966. Since then, they have won two Stanley Cups, consecutively in 1974 and 1975. Since then, they have made the Stanley Cup Finals on five separate occasions, but have come up short each time, leaving Flyers fans in their early 30s and younger without any memories of a championship.

Finally, the Philadelphia 76ers, the most recent team to win a championship, in 1983, has only been back to the finals once (2001) since that unforgettable year. They managed to win the first game, before losing the next four games and eventually losing the series to Shaq, Kobe and the Los Angeles Lakers.

While these numbers show the lack of success within sports in the city of Philadelphia, fan support has generally been there for the majority. While attendance goes both ways, the fans are always one step away from being there for their team when they need it. While Philadelphia is not known for having bandwagon fans, they do have one particular trait that every fan base should have.

One word: Loyalty.

No matter what the record is, fans always manage to fill the stadium for an Eagles game. Flyers season tickets have been selling out at rapid rates for decades, and the Phillies have been drawing record attendances over the past several years. While the Sixers have fallen off over the past few years, so has attendance. This does not show the lack of support for the team, but it does prove one theory on its fans.

Loyalty can only go so far. The fans lost trust in the team. Since the Sixers made it to the championship in 2001 and brought a city together like it never has before, the Sixers organization has had a long list of disloyalty to its fans. Pat Croce, a fan favorite, stepped down as president in 2001, and eventually was almost forced out of the organization. He could not work with them anymore. They have gone from coach after coach after coach over the past few years, with some not even lasting an entire year. They traded away half of their draft picks of the past several years, giving the fans nothing to look forward to. They had Allen Iverson, a superstar and arguably one of the most beloved Philadelphia sports icons in the history of this city. Since 2002, they never brought in supporting players to give the team what it needed to get over the hump.

In December of 2006, the Sixers traded away Allen Iverson for three players that will probably not be with the team for more than another year. Iverson was the main reason that the Sixers were drawing attendance records year after year. He was an attraction. He brought excitement to the team. He was arguably the favorite athlete in arguably one of the top two or three sports cities in America. The fans have lost trust for the organization, but they still love their team and root for them day in and day out.

While fans still manage to make it to as many games as they can, they are growing weary and impatient. There is only so much failure a fan can take before it becomes too much to handle. To many, sports are life. Sports are everything and mean the world to some.
Four teams. 125 years of games being played. Nearly 300 seasons combined. Two Stanley Cups, four NBA Championships, one World Series, and zero Super Bowls. That’s all Philadelphia has to show for itself.

Still, fans will say that their city is “the best.” They will tell people that no one is better than them and that they are number one, no matter what. They love their teams and no one can convince them otherwise.

Will the fans still be around if Philadelphia goes another 25 years without a championship? Absolutely, yes. While sitting at Chickie’s and Pete’s, a fan-favorite sports bar and grille for home sporting events, one Philadelphia fan says, “It will only make that first win, in however many years it may be, that much sweeter.”

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