To be a Philadelphia sports fan, is to know a very distinct type of pain. It's different than the acute sting of blowing a 28-0 lead in the Super Bowl or losing the World Series after being up three games to none. It's more of a dull pain, like a road bump . It's never out of the blue. It's always an eventuality. If I were to say it in less poetic terms, I'd say we suck, but this would fail to capture the true magnitude of Philadelphia's suffering.
Philadelphia Athletics (1901-1954) World Series stats: Wins=5 Losses=3 Appearances=8
Philadelphia Phillies (1883-present) World Series stats: Wins=2 Losses=5 Appearances=7
Not so fun fact: Since 1900, there have been 21 teams that finished a season with a .300(or lower) win percentage . Nine were based in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Eagles (1933-present) championship stats (Super Bowl era): Wins=0 Losses=2 Appearances=2
Not so fun fact: During 04-05 season, the Eagles swept their divisional rivals 6-0 and narrowly lost Super Bowl XXXlX to the Patriots. During the 05-06 season, they did the opposite, going 0-6 against the NFC East. They became the first team in NFL history to flip from divisionally undefeated to divisionally winless in back to back years.
Philadelphia 76ers (1963-present) championship stats: Wins=2 Losses=4 Appearances=6
Not so fun fact: The two worst 82-game seasons in NBA history belong to the 76ers. This isn't the result of one really bad team. This happened twice. They went 9-73 during the 1972-73 season and 10-72 during the 2015-16 season.
Flyers (1967-present) Stanley Cup Finals stats: Wins=2 Losses=6 Appearances=8
Not so fun fact: The Flyers are not Philadelphia's first hockey team. In 1930, the Pittsburgh Pirates moved to Philly for financial reasons. During the newly-named Philadelphia Quakers first and only season, they went 4-36-4. That's the second worst win percentage in NHL history. They were so bad that the franchise folded and Philadelphia was left without a hockey team until 1967.
While these statistics are abhorrent, the past four years have been particularly hard on Philadelphia sports fans. From Chip Kelly and Paul Holmgren gutting their respective teams and leaving the Flyers and Eagles in the lurch to every good Phillies player hitting their mid thirties at exactly the same time, it's been tough. As for basketball, Joel Embid keeps imploring fans to "trust the process." Meanwhile, the Sixers are 0-3, following four straight dismal seasons. Here's a fun graphic from two years ago:
In 2015, the Philly team (4 major pro sports) with the best win pct is the Phillies, who had worst record in MLB pic.twitter.com/88UHqCoBV9
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 27, 2015
The Philadelphia standard is four losing teams. Occasionally, there's a standout that makes the playoffs and we get to cheer for a week until they get knocked out by Seattle or swept by Boston, but usually, we just sit around waiting for the stars to align and for all four teams hit their stride at exactly the same moment. The last time this happened was the early 2000s. The Sixers had Iverson, the Eagles had McNabb, the Flyers had Lindros and The Legion of Doom™ and the Phillies had a rookie named Chase Utley. A story about ritual sacrifice:
On September 28th, 2003 the Philadelphia Phillies hosted the Atlanta Braves at Veterans Stadium . It was the last professional sporting event to ever be hosted there. The Braves were the number one team in baseball. The Phillies were five games back. There was no shot at the wildcard. The doorway to the postseason was boarded up. This was it. They were essentially playing for nothing, nothing but their pride and a chance to say that they didn't lose their final game.
Well, the Braves came out and played like the best team in baseball and the Phillies hitting game was anemic. Heading into the bottom of the ninth, the score was 5-2, At lanta. Batter number one, Mike Lieberthal grounds out at first. Batter number two, Pat "The Bat" Burrell smacks a ground ball to center field and gets on first. It was at this time, that the Phillies third batter, rookie Chase Utley, stepped up to the plate. This was long before the dominant Phillies teams of the late aughts. And it was long before Chase Utley was Chase Utley. But there he was, a scared kid from Pasadena, 3,000 miles from home, standing at bat in front of 65,000 notoriously angry fans, praying for a miracle. Jason Marquis was on the mound. From 60 feet and 6 inches away, Utley stared-down the closer. Ball. Foul. Strike. Ball. Ball. Full count. Foul.
There's a reason divisional matchups are always the most grueling games in professional sports. They serve as a reminder that even if there were no stakes, these players would still be out there, and that sometimes, playing for pride can be a hell of a lot more important than playing for the Commissioner's Trophy. This primal feeling hung low in Veteran's Stadium like fog, as Utley prepared to swing. And on the 7th pitch, something miraculous happened. The young r ookie's bat connected. The crack echoed and careened all through the stands. The ball flew in the dirt down the third baseline. 5-4-3 double play. The game was over. The Phillies had lost their final game at The Vet but there were no boos. The whole place was silent. Then, the fans erupted into applause. As the teams shook hands, stadium operators shot off wholesale quantities of fireworks and the entire arena was screaming in what was clearly some sort of a paganistic death ritual. The fans used Utley as a rookie sacrifice to the sports gods and demolished their colosseum. They applauded their team's loss. It made no sense, until the effects of the ritual became clear. In the seven years that followed, the Phillies made it to the World Series twice, the Eagles went to the Super Bowl and the Flyers went to The Stanley Cup. Between them, they only won one trophy but the early aughts still marks one of the most celebrated eras in Philadelphia sports history.
Now, sitting at the beginning of the 2017/18 season, it feels a lot like 2003 again. Every team has at least one supremely talented youngster on it. Shayne Gostisbehere and the Flyers are winning games against teams like Washington, teams they have no business beating. The Sixers just signed Joel Embid for five years and are betting big on their oft-injured 2014 first round pick. The Phillies were terrible this year but there's a lot of young talent, like Rhys Hoskins, coming up through the farm system. The Eagles are perhaps the biggest surprise of all. After making several high profile offseason deals, the Birds have retooled their entire offense and built it around Carson Wentz. At the beginning of the season, most fans would have been happy with a 9-7 finish and a walk on role in the playoffs. After six games, the Eagles are 5-1 and the fans are screaming Super Bowl or bust. Our managers heard the heavens crying for blood and sacrificed Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and Lesean McCoy and Desean Jackson and Michael Carter Williams . We tanked our teams and muttered incantations. We cursed the sky and silently prayed that all of our offerings would be met with divine reward.
What did we get though? What was our gift? Is it nothing more than another age of optimism? Are we stuck here, living in purgatory, cheering on the big maybe? History says yes but this doesn't diminish the magic of what's happening. Philadelphia sports are in the middle of a renaissance and Carson Wentz has a legitimate chance to validate years and years of collective suffering. Nothing is certain though, and all that's left to do is to hope, pray and, in the words of the prophet Joel Embid, trust the process.
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Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. His editorial work can be found in Pop Dust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. Website: https://matthewdclibanoff.journoportfolio.com/ Twitter: @mattclibanoff
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