Watching the Giants win the Super Bowl in the year of “The Dream Team” felt like some sort of sick distortion of the 1967 hit The Graduate. It was like Dustin Hoffman struggling to choose between Mrs. Robinson and Elaine only instead of choosing the smoking hot 19 year old, like Hoffman does in the end, he picks the 45-year-old Mrs. Robinson.
Yep, you heard right, the NFL gods picked the older, psychotic, alcoholic woman and it’s a damn shame.
So after punching several holes in my wall, setting fire to any Sports Illustrated cover that featured Vince Young, and yelling “WE COULDA BEEN CONTENDERS. WE COULDA BEEN SOMETHING. INSTEAD WE’RE BUMS!” I settled on the all too familiar refrain here in Philadelphia: There’s always next year.
So here are my Top 4 reasons to look forward to Philadelphia sports.
1. The Good Omen
I’ll say it right now: I like the 2012 Phillies’ title chances.
Of course, you might be sitting there thinking, “How can you ever be encouraged about this coming baseball season? This team is offensively challenged and Chase Utley has the hips of Betty White! They are coming off their best regular season ever, and they couldn’t get it done in the postseason. They’ll be another year older and only more likely to get injured.”
That is all very true, but while last year’s group was full of professional veterans who quietly and admirably went about their business; it is my belief that they were without a very important element of a championship winning team. They were missing the bit of fun needed to break the tension of the long season.
It seems like the teams that win championships usually have a couple of characters that keep the clubhouse loose. In ’08 the Phillies had Myers, Burrell, Romero, and Greg Dobbs. These were guys who were a little more engaging (especially Myers). When the Yankees won in ’09 they had virtually the same team that missed the playoffs in ’08 but added AJ Burnett, Nick Swisher, and Mark Teixeira. Teixeira was great but the 2008 Yankees did not lack the offense needed to win titles. They were missing the characters. Burnett struggled at the end of the season and in the playoffs (racking up a 7.00 ERA in the World Series), and Swisher hit .249 for the year and around .120 for the playoffs. Still, the team got better and won the World Series. Much was made about the way these guys changed the clubhouse culture, helping teammates deal with the pressures of a big market along the way.
Obviously, health and production have the biggest roles in success but I do think that a crucial piece in winning is a little clubhouse personality. People forget: baseball, like any sport, is a game. It was made for little kids. It’s supposed to be fun. The Phillies have Victorino and Rollins who are very upbeat. They added Pence last year and I think he definitely brings a refreshing energy. Ty Wigginton, who they brought in to spell Polanco a little at third is an older guy, but by all accounts he is very energetic and Pence described him as “one of the best teammates I’ve ever had.” No word on whether or not Wigginton also hangs out with Playboy playmates, but that would also bring the team a big boost on the awesomeness scale. Thome was added and, while he probably won’t produce a ton on the field, I do think he’ll play a Jamie Moyer-like role in the clubhouse as the sage. Thome will be the guy the rest of the team can lean on for advice and support. He’ll be the guy who the team rallies around when they realize that he’s played his entire Hall of Fame career searching for a title. Finally, Papelbon, while undeniably overpaid, is the eccentric closer who knows how to win. Like most closers, he’s a different guy and is known to clown around.
Oh and what about ‘The Good Omen’? Well, the last time the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl; the Phillies won the World Series. That’s got to count for something, right?
Well I say it does…I hope.
2. The Nowhere to Go But Up Factor
Yep, it’s safe to say that this Eagles season went about as awful as a season could go. Not only did the Iggles fail to meet expectations, but they also finished strong enough to miss a high draft pick. DAMN YOU STRONG FINISHES!!!!
Now, I am by no means a fan of tanking the season, and they were one win away from taking the Super Bowl champion Giants’ place as the proverbial “team that faced adversity all year, staggered through the season, was much criticized, caught fire, and then beat everybody in the playoffs.” If anything, that in and of itself is very encouraging.
What I am saying is that it stinks that while the season was such a disappointment, the Birds will go into the draft with a very mediocre 15th overall pick.
What makes next season exciting, or at least bearable, is the concept that we really cannot be any more disappointed next year than we were this year. Short of finishing 0-16, LeSean McCoy retiring to Africa with Ricky Williams, and Andy Reid cooking his challenge flag, there’s nowhere to go but up, right? Right?!? RIGHT?!?!
They’ll have a defensive coordinator in Juan Castillo, who now has a year of experience under his belt, and unlike last year, will be without the disadvantage of implementing a new system in a lockout shortened offseason.
And hey, if they’re bad, we always have…
3. THE SIXERS!!!!
As recently as last month, no one would’ve thought that anyone would ever say those words. Think about the phrase: “If the Eagles stink, at least we have the Sixers.” That still doesn’t sound right and I can guarantee that there are plenty of you who haven’t bought into this team yet who are saying, “Wow, this guy’s an idiot. The Sixers are NOT contenders.”
Well, I hate to break it to you, but they are. This team can play with anyone simply because they play harder, smarter, and more together than just about any other team in the league. They might not have a superstar but that is not a requirement in this league. People always say that in order to win in the NBA teams need superstars. “It’s a superstar league, you don’t win without superstars,” some say.
What’s wrong with that?
Well, plenty of superstars fall short, some never winning a single title. Why? Because it is the best team, the best collection of pieces that fit together like a puzzle, that wins championships. The most talented teams do not necessarily win in basketball; it’s a fluid game. When the pieces fit together, guys sacrifice their stats, and commit themselves to 48 minutes of togetherness, teams win championships.
The Sixers can match up with any team in the league because, when healthy, they have 9 players who can compete with any other team’s top 9. They have 9 players who can come in and dominate the game for stretches at a time. No other single team in the league has that.
It’s something awesome to watch, which leads me to the 4th reason to look forward to Philadelphia sports…
4. Claude Giroux
We are watching a top 5 player in the league enjoy an MVP caliber season. Appreciate it. Too often as sports fans we long for the “old days,” while failing to fully recognize the talent before our eyes. People always talk about what LeBron James doesn’t have while neglecting to mention how truly special a 6 foot 9 260 pound wing player with absurd athleticism, soft hands, and the ability to pass as well as anybody in league history is. The same went for Elway, Lindros, Magic Johnson and pretty much any other phenomenal player who spent a majority of his career being critiqued for what he didn’t have. Only when these guys left (or declined a little) did people recognize how amazing they were. It’s cliché but it’s true: you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
I beg you: do not take Giroux for granted. Enjoy and soak in every moment of him on the ice. I know you all love him. I do, too. We shower him with “GIROUUUUXXX” chants and the beloved adulation that so few Philadelphia
At the same time, I know that you all are really frustrated when the team fails to bring home the Stanley Cup. We are owed one. We really are. But sometimes you just have to sit back and appreciate when you’re watching someone special.
So, forget about the Giants for a second and remember that we are enjoying a really special time in Philadelphia sports. We have the Phillies in the midst of their Golden Era, the Eagles with a talented roster getting ready to play for a desperate coach in a “nowhere to go but up” season, the Sixers emerging as a really fun, capable team, and the Flyers, always a Cup contender, led by a truly special player in Claude Giroux. Enjoy this.
Remember as recently as the late 90s when the Phillies, Eagles, and Sixers all stunk? Remember our only excitement being the Flyers getting swept by Detroit in the 1997 Stanley Cup finals?
This is a special time – appreciate it.
Yup, you never know what you’ve got til it’s gone.
Don’t believe me?
That’s fine. Just don’t scream when they pave paradises and put up parking lots.
 Jrue, Iggy, Lou Will, Turner, Thad, Hawes, Brand, Vucevic, and Meeks. All of these guys can take over games for a couple possessions a night. Trust me, I watch them do it all the time. When Meeks gets on a roll, forget it! So that’s 9. And I’m not even counting Philly area native Lavoy “You Voted Me the 500th Best Player in the League So Now I’ve Got a Chip on My Shoulder” Allen, who can also come in and do plenty of damage for 15 or 20 minutes a night. Just ask the Chicago Bulls.