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Thursday, January 23, 2003

Ah, The City of Brotherly Love

The following was not written by me, but was in fact written by my good buddy Rick, who hails from Philadelphia. If he had more time, he'd have his own blog, but since he's a first-year law student, we'll excuse him. Anyhow, enjoy, and I should back in time to make my all-important Super Bowl predictions.

Some have written that the birth of the sterotypical “Philadelphia Fan,” the beer-swilling boo-bird of a cynic who always expects his team to lose, was born in September of 1964. In that infamous month the Phillies had a six game lead in the National League with twelve to play. All but a lock, right? Wrong. Instead, Gene Mauch’s bunch frittered that lead away and the Phils limped weakly into the off-season, getting an early start on the tees that year.

My father was 19 that year and he experienced that pain first hand. Ever since I’ve been cognizant of the sports world I’ve known him to be a boo-bird and a cynic while I was always the optimistic and hopeful one. He would always get up and leave the TV room in frustration with two minutes left on the clock and I would stay and watch, hoping for a miracle that would never come.

I suppose I grew up ignorant of my sporting heritage because those losses always hurt badly. I wept inconsolably in 1987 when my beloved Flyers lost the Stanley Cup in game 7 to Gretzky’s Oilers. Mitch William’s grapefruit to Joe Carter still hurts to this day. While watching a game at the SkyDome in Toronto last June I literally had to turn my head when highlights from seasons past flashed on the Jumbotron. It was hours before I could speak after the Flyers (again!) completed their collapse against the Devils in the conference finals just two seasons ago. Each time my father would simply smirk, let out a chuckle, and say, “Typical.” Finally, I may be joining him in that opinion. We just can’t win.

There was something different about tonight’s NFC title game because all week there was something unusual pulsing through the streets of Philadelphia: hope. We had the Bucs’s number. This in our house in frigid cold against a team who could not solve us. The game even began in out favor. But then we all learned a cruel lesson that the history between these two teams was nothing when compared to the overall history of the city. In fact, it was as if Fate had set all of this up, the Bucs, the last game ever at the Vet, the high stakes, only to spit in our collective faces.

Indeed, something was very different this time. As the score moved further out of our favor I never felt panic or anxiety, but certainty. We were going to lose. There was no need to watch even the second half of that game to know it. And I finally began to understand my father. I didn’t take him to task for being negative as I once would, instead I joined him in deriding the team. And while I admit that McNabb’s final drive with three minutes to go began to stir that small part of my soul that had not given up entirely, Ronde Barber’s interception-touchdown was not the stake in my heart that it once would have been. With 1:47 left in the game I had to chuckle as I heard the music playing in the background at the stadium: “Jaded” by Aerosmith. Indeed, that was what I had become.

This loss, I think has been particularly damaging for me even if it didn’t “hurt.” See, after the aforementioned Flyers collapse I had to stop watching them, I could no longer care. I couldn’t take the pain of watching the team do so well and then dash my hopes in the playoffs like clockwork. I fear now that the Eagles may have done the same thing to me. For a kid who doesn’t like baseball much, the Phillies are my only remaining hope at remaining a die hard Philadelphia fan. [I’ve never cared much for NBA or the Sixers thus explaining their absence in this piece].

Of course, Philadelphia teams have won titles in the past and a few have even been won in my lifetime, but none have occurred in my memory. The last team to win any title here were the Sixers 20 years ago. The Phils won in 1980, when I was three. The Flyers? 1975. My beleaguered Eagles? 1960, when my long-suffering father was only 15. There are other cities that might try to claim they have suffered worse. I beg to differ. While Boston had to endure 80-plus years of Sox futility, they have the Celtics dynasty and a recent Super Bowl to fall back on. Chicago might be the home town of both the Cubs and White Sox, but Michael Jordan’s Bulls have put six banners in the rafters in recent years. Maybe only Cleveland has it worse.

The titles in this town do not come in bunches, or even by the decade, but by the generation. But the hope that things will change, that there is always next year, pervades. We always seem to put out teams that can compete and get us close to the brass ring, but typically, painfully fall short. Philadelphia it, always seems, is the perfect embodiment of the title character in Rocky. We are tough, we are gritty, we are always in it, but, like our cinematic counterpart, we lose the big one. We leave with our pride intact, but never with the hardware.

At the close of the Eagles game today my father said he hoped he was alive the next time the Birds were in this situation. In the past I used to think he was kidding. Now I’m not so sure.

Hmmm...sounds suspiciously like the Red Sox.


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