For to be a sports fan in Philadelphia is to be able to get up and come back for more…again and again. But here in the early summer of our discontent our patience and our forbearance are being tested in memory, at least, as never before.
Our four major professional sports franchises are awash in turmoil and tumult. The Phillies were picked at season’s start to be the worst team in the major leagues and they are trying mightily to live up to that expectation. The 76ers continue with their relentless and shameful campaign of losing on purpose. The Flyers have gone the past 40 years without a Cup and give no hint that this dismal trend will be reversed any time soon. And the Eagles…ah, the Iggles, who can guess what rabbit Chip Kelly will pluck from that top hat next?
Here then is an autopsy, a team-by-team, corpse-by-corpse analysis of the four. You might want to pour yourself a stiff one…
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It is wrong.
It is that simple. It is wrong.
No matter how you dress it up, it is wrong. Wrong…wrong…wrong.
It is wrong on so many levels, ethical and moral being among the obvious.
It is a blatant insult to the players who have spent their lives being told to never, ever, give up.
It is a blatant insult to the fans, who pledge their loyalty and open their wallets.
It is a blatant insult to the NBA, and what is especially alarming is that tanking has taken root and now is spreading. It has become the accepted way of doing business. The problem is you can ring up 60 or so defeats in a season and still have no guarantee that those capricious ping pong balls will deliver a high draft spot and, worse, your pick turns out to be a bust, or say, an ACL in waiting.
No one can say with even a hint of certitude how long these reclamation projects take. But it is revealing, and also alarming, to hear the owner of the 76ers say that the two most recent seasons of 18 and 19 victories represent “progress.”
How long? Take a stab. Certainly not next year. Or two or three…or four…or five…. Even here on the Boulevard of Busted Dreams, where we pride ourselves on taking a punch, there surely is a limit.
So I have a motto for the Sixers:
Tomorrow Never Comes…
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So they’re starting over again. Again. But then aren’t they always? Three coaches in three years now. Not much new there, either. And it’s always the coach. One hangman’s noose is easier to fit than it is for 15 or 20 players. And make no mistake, the players rule.
The last time life on the Boulevard of Busted Dreams was this forlorn was 1972-73, when the Eagles were 2-11-1, the 76ers were 9-73, the Phillies were stumbling around in the basement, and the Flyers missed the playoffs on the last shot of the last game of the regular season.
And then, Glory Be, the Blade Runners, with no advance warning, went out and did something fairly miraculous. They won the Cup. And then they won it again. And the sun came up. The whole culture of sports in this city changed.
We yearn now for a similar sort of deliverance but the Flyers seem always just out of cynic, not sure whether they should be fish or fowl. They eschew the patient, measured building block approach and assure us every year that their sole goal is to win a championship and nothing else, absolutely nothing, will do. Ramp up the pressure, lads.
So they cast about for the quick fix, feed off that desperation…and become their own worst enemies.
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First, perspective. No one can lose like the Fightin’s, not even the Tankers. In this decade the Phillies became the first franchise, of any professional sport, to lose 10,000 times.
And more’s the pity, they were trying. To win, that is.
Parades for the Fightin’s here on the Boulevard of Busted Dreams are few and far between, and when you think on it, it is no wonder that the team has, over the years, developed an inferiority complex. They embraced a small market mentality that served as a convenient crutch. Money Ball is not for them.
Let the Yankees buy all those pennants, as though that was somehow illegal, we’ll scrape by year after year with our penny-pinching payroll, happily rationalizing, wallowing in self-pity.
And then one day they opened their wallets and squadrons of moths fluttered out and close to $200 million were set free. A new stadium financed a payroll that let them play with the Big Boys. Down the Boulevard came the World Series parade.
Those were the days, my friend…we thought they’d never end….
Such irony. Flush with cash they overspent, mismanaged the windfall, ended up choking on some indigestible contracts. They’re looking at a hundred losses this season. And there is a funeral silence settling over The Boulevard.
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What in the name of Bronco Nagurski is this man doing?
He flies blithely in the face of convention, and he is either charlatan or mad scientist, but what we do know for sure is that it is useless to attempt to out-guess him.
We also know for sure that, even here in the city where all things are Iggles, there has never been this level of anticipation.
When he retires at night you wonder, does he stare in the mirror and congratulate himself? Something on the order of, “Well Chip, ol’ sock, you’ve flummoxed them one more time.”
By manner and speech he invites the impression of a smug know-it-all.
Ah, but what if he turns out to be legit? What if there is a strong streak of genius running through there? What if it turns out that after all these years of running the same plays the same way that there’s more than one way to skin a Chip.
It is the nature of those hide-bound folks who make their living in the clubby National Football League to be instantly suspicious of anything outside of their turf. So Chip Kelly, as you might imagine, is a ball of yarn for 31 kittens. They have yet to solve him.
But when they do, or if they do, oh my, they will chortle, “Told you so,” and gleefully show him the door, reminding him on the way out what NFL really stands for:
Not For Long.