In my sports-awareness lifetime, I’ve had the Phillies in ’80 and ’08, the Birds in ’17 and the Sixers in ’83 (Sadly, I’m too young to remember the Bullies’ Stanley Cups in the 70s). Sure, there were appearances in the big ones, but they always fell short.
No matter the sport, we have to prepare ahead of time for disaster. The Flyers could be winning in February, but we know they’ll peak too soon. Andy Reid could take the Eagles to the doorstep almost every year and leave us wanting one more, and then, when he finally did get them there, they still came up short. Even Buddy Ryan got the Fog Bowl.
But more often, the teams are just terrible. Rich Kotite. Chad Ogea. LaSalle Thompson.
Yet, this year, it was going to be different. Perhaps it was due to the strange depression of our COVID-19 lockdown that we allowed ourselves to be optimistic. That we forgot who we were and allowed ourselves to dream.
Even the Philly sports press, so reliably cynical, waxed poetic about our teams’ chances. The Flyers were an unstoppable offensive machine on its way to the Stanley Cup. The Sixers were built for a deep NBA playoff run. The Phillies were ideally set to take advantage of the 60-game schedule — after all, the season would be done well before the now-traditional September crash, and the Eagles are just a couple seasons removed from the Super Bowl, with so many ingredients still in place.
Would there be enough room on Broad Street for all the socially-distance parades? All this unbridled optimism. Forgive us, we forgot ourselves.
The Sixers soon revealed themselves as the same team — Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and the expensive hodge-podge of mismatched pieces we knew they were before the league shut down in the spring. Once Simmons was lost, so were the team’s chances, and ultimately, coach Brett Brown’s job. Because it was definitely the coaching, not the front office.
The Flyers were tripped up in the most Flyer-like fashion, unable to solve a sixth-seeded New York Islanders team. That’s a sentence I could have written before the season restarted — it’s a tradition.
Oh, the Phillies. We really have no excuse. It was the same team we thought it was, a lot of bats, but short 2 ½ starting pitchers and hobbled with a minor league bullpen, the likes of which had not been seen since the 1930 season. Look it up — that’s saying something. A series of trades meant to bolster the ’pen with has beens and never wases had the expected result — It’s now been nine years without a postseason for the Phillies.
In a contender for headline of the year, The Philadelphia Inquirer said the final leg of the season saw the “Phillies continue to crumble in quest to become a mediocre playoff team.” As Jim Mora once said in Indianapolis, “What's that? Ah - Playoffs? Don't talk about - playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game!”
That final day of the season, the stars aligned as former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler’s San Francisco Giants (Gabe — still falling short in September, and oddly, still trying to get the Phils in the postseason) and the Milwaukee Brewers both lost. Worry not, the Phutiles dropped their seventh in eight to put us all out of our misery.
Ah, Jim Mora, my old friend. Even there, you have the Philly connection — in a past life Mora led the Philadelphia Stars of the old USFL — until 2018, the only football championship since 1960. Dare I say, a “gold standard?”
Which, inevitably, leads us to our savior in this mess of a season, the Philadelphia Eagles. Once labeled the “gold standard” of the NFL without winning the big one. The Eagles, always ready to upstage their neighbors at Citizen’s Bank Park. Well, upstage they did, losing to that “Washington Football Team” in Landover.
Yes, Carson Wentz was sacked eight times. Yes, he looked awful, but most of his offensive line was out. Wait ‘til next week, we said.
Next week the offensive line was back, but Wentz still looked awful.
So did the defense.
A week-three tie against the lowly Bengals, I think we know what we are in for. Like so much of 2020. Cue Clubber Lang, who once KO’d Philly’s greatest athlete…