Philadelphia Sports before winning the World Series in 2008.

Archive: 2007 or 2008.

It all started with free T-shirts, beer, and endless possibilities only to conclude in missed opportunities, disappointment, and bitter resentment.  In other words, College Night with the Phillies turned out to be pretty much like college itself.

In the past year has been fortunate enough to attend three very different sports, in three very different stadiums, with three teams in very different positions.  However, one variable remains a constant in the City of Brotherly Love.  The fans are as passionate as ever and are, for an outsider, worth the price of attendance even if the teams are not.

The Northeast has a reputation for passion.  New York and Boston’s passion is rooted in some bizarre sense of entitlement.  Just listen to New York’s Mike and the Mad Dog on the radio a day after a local team snaps a winning streak.  A day removed from winning several consecutive games, the callers will feverishly argue that a player absolutely needs to be traded.  Don’t get me wrong, this is entertaining in its own way.  It’s fun to hear two teams with bloated budgets veer off into a rivalry that’s rare this side of European soccer and spew on about Evil Empires.

Philadelphia is equally passionate, although their energy comes from a different place.  For the most part, anybody old enough to graduate from this year’s college class in the Philadelphia region (or any other area for that matter), would not have been alive the last time a Philadelphia team representing one of the four major sports won a championship.  As such, their boos are directed as much inward as they are outward.  Their inward boos asking, why do I continue to put myself through this?

Still, this doesn’t stop Philly fans from hearing that they have winners in town.  The Eagles will have you know that they are the gold standard of the NFL.  They mean this because they are uncommonly competitive and profitable.  This caused an uproar in Philly because in the meantime they forgot to win the Super Bowl – ever.

This year went to an Eagles game at Lincoln Financial Field.  The Eagles were taking on the Carolina Panthers in what was considered their last chance to salvage the season after losing franchise player Donovan McNabb a couple of games before and losing a few games on top of that.  Jeff Garcia was the quarterback on this absolutely frigid night when the lines for hot chocolate far exceeded those for beer.

The fans, known for their short leash, booed their own quarterback mercilessly as they were behind most of the game.  Jeff Garcia, however, led the team to a comeback win in the fourth quarter and kept that magic going all the way to the playoffs.  The fans rewarded him by booing the club after they let him walk for Tampa after the season.  Work hard and they shall love you for it.  This is the spirit of Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, the team that used to share the Vet (Veteran’s Stadium) with the Eagles, the Phillies, make the Eagles look like, well, the gold standard by comparison.  The Phillies are simply one of the worst teams in American history.

Their season started in April and many knowledgeable people suspected that their offense, led by last year’s MVP Ryan Howard, coupled with a strong starting rotation are primed to compete for a playoff position.  They were swept in their opening series against the Braves on their way to a 1-6 start.

I attended the second of three games.  Youngster Cole Hamels was on the mound and he was the same age as many of the fans.  It was College Night and reports show some fans had a little more color than the players did as there were 31 ejections in the stands largely attributed to alcohol consumption.  The Phillies wasted Hamels’ fine start by blowing the lead in ninth and losing in extra innings.

The Phillies may end up competitive.  There is plenty of time left in this young season.  Still one can’t help think that they might have dug a deeper hole with the fans than they have in the standings.

In between these two seasons, an idea sprouted up in basketball that seemed can’t miss for Philadelphia.  Success by ineptness.  The general logic was that if the Sixers finished with one of the worst records in the league they would have a good shot at winning one of the top two picks in the NBA draft lottery.  Cheering for this team to lose was growing easier.  Last year, in fact, two of the highest paid athletes in the world, Allen Iverson and Chris Webber, decided that they simply didn’t feel like playing on Fan Appreciation Night.

Both Webber and Iverson were gone midway through the 2006-2007 season, which for most teams in most cities would have set the Sixers up for lottery gold come draft time. Things started off promising. went to two games on consecutive Fridays.  They lost both by a total of two points.  It was the best of both worlds.  The games proved entertaining while their draft position improved.  Newly anointed leader Andre Iguodala even had a triple double in one of the contests.

Unfortunately, they learned how to play as a team and the younger players matured and the squad became mediocre.  Now the team that was never in any kind of contention for anything remotely playoff related, finds itself in the middle of a weak pack.

Dramatic reinsertion of previous line: Their inward boos asking, why do I continue to put myself through this?

All of this partially explains why the fans act the way they do.  Nationally, the explanation is more convenient.  They are jerks.  All of them.  They threw snow balls at Santa.  They hate J. D. Drew.  The booed Kobe freakin’ Bryant.

Well, Santa had it coming, especially after he chose not to fetch me the original Game Boy.  Still, the event of lure happened in 1968 and wasn’t as bad as people suggest.  Also, it occurred in 1968!

Drew is on his fourth team in five years and if there is any question if people anywhere else in the country like him, start by asking somebody from L.A.

There is a special place in the average Philadelphia fan’s heart for Mr. Bryant.  He spent several years of his childhood overseas.  However, he did spend his share of time in the region.  He was even named after an area steak place.  Years later, he set records while at a suburban high school in the area.  Forgetting this, Kobe once said, albeit in the heat of they playoffs,  he didn’t consider himself a Philadelphian affectively disowning the city.
Now imagine, you’re a town with an inferiority complex, how would you react?

Philly fans look at this reputation with equal parts pride and scorn.  Essentially, they like being the tough kid on the playground, but they know that if people keep talking trash on them sooner or later their mother’s going to hear.

In the end, this whole conversation is about sports.  Only sports.  A hobby or a fleeting distraction meant to pass the time.  It’s not wise to always be negative.  What would be the point?  Just in Philly, you have to find your fun.

Unlike New York and Boston, you don’t celebrate championships in Philadelphia.  You celebrate moments.  Since 2000 there have only been a few of them.  In 2001, Allen Iverson had one of these moments.  In the finals, the Sixers were to play the highly favored Lakers who had come into the series as if they were going to play St. Mary’s JV girls.  The Sixers out hustled the Lakers eventually winning the first game 107-101 not before Iverson
sank a jump shot over Tyronn Lue and tauntingly stepping over Lue after Lue fell to the wood.  This is the kind of moment  the blue collar city adores.  Everybody has seen David beat Goliath by now, but few have seen it done with so much flair. This being a Philly story, the Sixers went on to not only lose the series, but do so without recording another win.

Then there is 4th and 26th.  In 2004, for the right to play in the NFC Championship game the Eagles played the Green Bay Packers.  Behind with only a minute or so left, the Eagles were down to one play.  It was fourth down and the Eagles had to convert lest the game, nay the season, be over.  This happens often enough in football, but it usually isn’t 4th down with 26 yards to go.  One yard is tough.  Twenty six is impossible.  With its mere
mention in this article, you know the Eagles got the first down.  Donovan McNabb completed a pass to Freddie Mitchell for just enough yardage leading to a field goal and an eventual overtime victory.  As it happened in Philadelphia, they interpreted this as the kind of moment in football of which Don Cheadle would talk about in the future. Instead, this being a Philly story, they lost the following game at home.

So Philly fans keep going to games.  They keep cheering and, yes, they keep booing.  But Philly is like no place else.  A moment can happen in any game at any time.  And a moment is all there ever is.  If you happen to watch one of these moments take place you, too, are a part of history.

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